Rex Ryan has been vocal about the new sense of competition he has hoped to instill in his players during training camp, something he hopes will bring out the best in rookies and veterans alike during the Jets' time at SUNY Cortland.
Returning veteran kicker Nick Folk and journeyman Billy Cundiff are no strangers to competing for their jobs and that experience will come in handy as the two duke it out kick by kick throughout training camp to see whose number is called come opening day.
By agreeing to come to training camp with the Jets, Cundiff has now worn his 12th different NFL jersey in 12 years, earning a regular-season roster spot on six of those teams. Folk is entering his fourth year with the Green & White, following three seasons in Dallas, and is coming off a year in which he converted 21 of 27 field goal attempts and all 30 of his extra-points.
"There are only 32 jobs in the entire world for what we do," Folk said. "If you're a running back, you can fight for first or second string and if you're fighting for that you're probably going to make the team, you're not worried much about that part of it. For us, you could have a great camp, kick great in the preseason, and the other guy kicks just a little bit better and you're sitting at home come Week 1."
Such is the reality for NFL kickers. Teams try to capitalize on a yearly influx of young kickers coming out of college, forcing veterans to fight that much harder to kick their way onto a 53-man roster. This trend played a role in Cundiff's decision to ultimately accept the invitation from the Jets to join them at camp.
"I knew there was interest from other teams so it was just a matter of staying ready, knowing that teams around the league like to have a young guy in minicamp and OTAs and they like to see if they want to go that route, then they make a decision before training camp," Cundiff said. "For me, I was an old guy and I thought this my best option."
Neither kicker seems disheartened about the possibility of not traveling back to Florham Park in a few weeks, understanding that it is not just the Jets coaches who will be counting how many footballs they put through the uprights.
"In training camp you really don't play for whatever team you're with, you play for the NFL," Billy Cundiff said this week. "People are always watching. Of course you want to play for the team you are in camp with, but if that doesn't work out things might work in your favor somewhere else."
Nick Folk shared similar insight into the inner workings of the kicker carousel in the NFL.
"That's a big thing that I was taught as a rookie, you're not just auditioning for the Jets, were at practice here but everybody is auditioning for every team. Trades can happen, anything can happen and if they don't value you here, someone else might."
The philosophies shared by both Folk and Cundiff are part of what many consider a "fraternity" among kickers. Being an NFL kicker can at times be a very lonely occupation and it is tough for those who have never experienced the highs and lows to fully comprehend the emotional roller-coaster these athletes go through. It is this mutual understanding that supersedes any animosity they might feel toward their kicking adversaries.
"Every kicker has a respect for each other," Folk said. "Everyone knows how tough our job is day in and day out. Preparing every day mentally like it's a game, like you have to make these kicks because your job is on the line is tough."
"The environment is pretty friendly. We understand what the situation is," Cundiff said. "Nick has been in plenty of competitions and so have I. We're just trying to make sure we support each other and enjoy the process as much as we can." Both kickers have been impressive early on in training camp, with Cundiff missing the only kick in the last three practice-closing field goal periods. Each will have a chance to show where he stands under slightly higher pressure as the team prepares for its annual Green & White Scrimmage on Saturday at 6 p.m. in the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex.