It’s been more than four years since Cincinnati Bengals kicker Jonathan Brown gave up soccer to play football at the University of Louisville, yet in that time he has never attempted a field goal in a game.
But that should change Thursday night when the Bengals play host to the Chicago Bears in their preseason opener at Paul Brown Stadium.
Brown is the only other kicker on the roster battling incumbent Randy Bullock, which means the first time in his three training camps with the Bengals he’s getting a chance to show how powerful his leg is and how far he’s come with his mechanics.
During Saturday’s mock game, Brown made field goals of 20 and 49 yards.
“It definitely meant a lot to me,” he said. “I’ve been with the team a couple of years now so I’ve never gotten this close to this point. I was definitely excited to go out there and lock in.”
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In 2016, after earning a contract with an impressive tryout during the rookie camp in May, Brown was hindered by injuries and waived in August.
Last year the Bengals waived Brown less than a week into training camp with Bullock and rookie Jake Elliott locked in a tight competition for the job.
That’s when Brown sought out former kicker John Carney, a veteran of 23 NFL seasons and 478 field goals, to help him with his mechanics.
“I was going to the field a lot and just practicing my steps, just being consistent with them,” Brown said. “I found I was taking (extra) steps back from the football and I would hit a ball, but the next time I’ll hit it felt kind of different, so that’s where the inconsistency came from. Even around the house I’m just practicing take my three steps back, two steps to the side and make sure I’m in the same spot every single time.”
After signing a Futures Contract with the Bengals in January, Brown has been working with special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons on trusting his corrected mechanics and not simply relying on the power he possesses in his right leg.
“Coach Simmons always tells me, ‘Don’t try to kill the ball. You obviously have the leg strength so all you have to is just make contact with it,’” Brown said. “Coach Simmons was showing me film from a few months ago of how I used to be. Rookie mini-camp he pulled the film up and I was kind of embarrassed, like, ‘Dang, that was me kicking up there.’ It’s like day and night now.
“I’ve been trying to focus on ball contact,” Brown continued. “As long as I make contact with the ball, I know it’s going to fly regardless.”
Brown said he mishit the 49-yarder in the mock game, but his leg strength carried it through.
On that kick, and all of the others in training camp, he hasn’t faced a live rush. That will change if he’s called on to attempt a field goal Thursday night.
“I just try to keep every kick the same,” he said. “If you over-think it, you kind of switch stuff up. As long as I stay locked in, stay focused and make good ball contact, just good ball contact, I’ll be good to go.”
No matter how well Brown performs in the preseason games and practices, it’s hard to envision any scenario where the Bengals would go into the season with him as their kicker.
He knows that, and he accepts it. But Brown still is excited for the chance to put some kicks on tape for other teams to evaluate.
“I just go out there and be the best I can be, and if it’s God’s plan for me to be here, than I’ll be here,” he said. “And if not, then he’ll have me somewhere else.”