As the offseason inches towards its end, much of the chatter surrounding Tom Herman’s Texas Longhorns, which aim to build upon the program’s first winning season since the Mack Brown era, has spotlighted the utter importance of increased productivity and consistency at quarterback, running back, and along the offensive line.
Yet again, kicking woes can be lumped into that discussion as well.
This likely isn’t a position Herman expected he and his staff would need to address entering their second season on the Forty Acres after signing former NJCAA All-American Joshua Rowland in 2017, but that’s the reality at hand, and it’s one that could prove to be the difference in wins and losses, as it did last season.
In hopes of finding a fix, Herman seemingly has two options on his hands — a returning Rowland, and three-star Lake Travis product Cameron Dicker.
Despite his unsavory season-long statistics, the most likely top option to begin the 2018 slate is Rowland.
When the curtains closed on Rowland’s debut season in Austin, he ranked 97th nationally and dead last in the Big 12 after converting just 61.8 percent (11-18) of his field goal attempts. The first five weeks of the season is largely to blame for such a porous effort.
On the largest stage of his entire career, Rowland missed his first-ever field goal attempt at Texas from 42 yards during the season-opener again Maryland. His second attempt, from 44 yards, was blocked, and Rowland finished his debut 0-of-2. Things didn’t get any better the following week, as he missed his lone attempt from 43 yards against San Jose State.
After going perfect on two attempts against USC and Iowa State from 39 yards and 49 yards, respectively, Rowland slumped once again against Kansas State, splitting his four field goal attempts.
Through five games, Rowland’s right leg has netted him just four made field goals in nine tries. The following eight outings paint a different picture, though, and to an extent, provide reason for optimism ahead of his senior season.
Beginning with the Red River Showdown, Rowland split the uprights on 7-of-9 attempts (77.7%) to close the 2017 season, with the misses being a blocked attempt against Baylor and from 47 yards on the road against TCU. That miss glued Rowland to the bench against Kansas, but he bounced back notably, nailing each of his three attempts against Texas Tech and his only look from 41 yards in the Texas Bowl. In the months since, if Rowland’s perfect spring game performance were factored in, as he connected from 29 yards and 50 yards, the senior has sent nine of his last 11 attempts through the uprights, and again, one of those two misses was a block.
By that measure — spring game included — Rowland has nailed 81.8 percent of his attempts since starting 4-of-9. For a program that’s seen just one kicker convert at least 70 percent of his attempts since 2013 (Nick Rose in 2015), Rowland’s rough early start will understandably be difficult to ignore, but if his efforts beginning with the Red River Showdown and on are a sign of things to come, Texas may have its kicker for the 2018 season.
If not, Dicker may be tossed into the spotlight a bit sooner than expected.
Although starting a true freshman kicker right out of the gates isn’t ideal, especially considering Texas opens the 2018 season on the road against Maryland and welcomes USC just weeks later — both of which beat Texas in 2017 — any excitement surrounding Dicker’s arrival is warranted. The No. 4-ranked kicker in his class, Dicker is the highest ranked kicker to come to the Big 12 since Austin Seibert sided with Oklahoma as the nation’s No. 4 kicker in 2015.
Dicker’s body of work while at Lake Travis justifies his ranking as well.
Throughout the past three seasons, Dicker connected on 98.3 percent of his 236 extra point tries, and 34 of his 43 field goal attempts found their mark — good for 79 percent, which is a success rate higher than any Texas kicker has enjoyed since Anthony Fera nailed 90.9 percent of his attempts in 2013.
It’s not as if his connections were all chip shots either. Of Dicker’s 34 made field goals at Lake Travis, seven came from a distance of at least 44 yards, including a career-best boot from 53 yards last season against Los Fresnos, which set a school record. If there’s one area in which Dicker may have a leg up on Rowland entering his first season on the Forty Acres and Rowland’s final, it’s leg strength.
Save for a surprise, though, that likely won’t be enough to take over duties as the starting placekicker, at least not to begin the 2018 season.
As Herman has often noted, Rowland typically does nothing but impress in practice, and following his first five games at Texas, the positives far outweighed the negatives that forced the staff to abandon trust their trust in the kicking game at times early on. If the 2018 version of Rowland can mimic his efforts from Oklahoma and on into the spring game, the Longhorns offense may spend many more fourth downs in field goal range on the sidelines.
That all said, it’s worth noting that new redshirt rules and Dicker’s leg strength being Rowland’s weakness could make for a two-kicker tandem at times. With the new redshirt rule allowing a player to see the field in as many as four games while still retaining his redshirt status, it’s possible, if not even likely that Dicker, if he does finish second in this competition, gets his share of looks if Texas can build confidence in Rowland and a lead late in games. Similarly, if Rowland proves reliable from some semblance of 45 yards and in, but is stretched beyond that, Dicker could potentially be used situationally when attempts are beyond what Rowland has proven capable of connecting on.
In any case, however the kicker competition plays out, it likely won’t be ultimately decided until there’s an in-season sample size to consider. Rowland may very well be the first kicker to run onto the field next season, but he’ll be competing for his job each time out.