For young kicker Garret Hartley his NFL career has not come easy. Undrafted out of the University of Oklahoma in 2008 Hartley was picked up by the Denver Broncos after the draft but was released before the start of training camp in late July.
Meanwhile the Saints were busy trying to find a consistent kicker after the downfall of Martin Grammatica and the failure of draft pick Taylor Mehlhaff. In 2007 and 2008 the kicking game had cost the Saints more than one win on one more than occasion.
Hartley, after a tryout, was signed to replace Mehlhaff late in October of the 2008 season. He would respond with a perfect performance for the year going 13 of 13 on field goal attempts and 28 of 28 on extra points.
After such a solid rookie year with the Saints Hartley was tabbed as the new place kicker entering the 2009 season. Those plans were halted however after Hartley tested positive for Adderall, a substance banned by the league, he was issued a four game suspension to start the season.
In his place the Saints re-signed John Carney and started the season with him as the starting kicker. Karney had a decent outing for the Saints in 11 games going 13 of 17 on field goals and 50 of 52 on extra points but his inconsistency lead to the team replacing him with Hartley before their week 13 game against the Washington Redskins.
Once again Hartley responded very well as the starter for the remaining five games of the season but what really stood out was his perfect post season play.
Hartley was repsosible for getting the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl when he booted a 40 yard field goal in overtime to beat the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game.
Then in the Saints 31-17 win over the Colts in the Super Bowl Hartley set a new record becoming the first kicker to convert three field goals of forty yards or more (46, 44 ,47 yards).
Again heading into the 2010 season Hartley was locked in as the starter but reports started to surface this off-season of his inconsistencies converting field goals in practice and scrimmage games.
Not much was made out of it but hind sight is always 20/20.
The Saints kicked off the season in a rematch of the NFC Championship game against the Vikings firing on all cylinders, the defense played very well and the offense not so bad, but Hartley was 0 of 2 on field goals of 46 and 32 yards in the 14-9 win.
After inconsistencies in the preseason followed by his shanking of the two field goals against the Vikings should the Saints be concerned?
The short answer is yes, but at least for now the Saints are playing it cool and standing by Hartley as the kicker. In fact head coach Sean Payton has this to say about Hartley a day after the Vikings game.
A year ago I would have had three kickers in today, conceded Payton. But he kicked well in the postseason … he’s our kicker.
Certainly his performance is one everyone wants to forget and for now Hartley should be given a pass by the team and fans alike. If the problem extends into the coming weeks then it may be time to hit the panic button, in the meantime however you can bet the Saints coaching staff will be keeping a very close eye on him.
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