NASHVILLE – In one sense, Randy Bullock provided welcome relief for the Tennessee Titans in 2021.
In another, he continued a troubling trend for the team.
The 32-year-old kicker connected on 26-of-31 field-goal tries, an 83.9 percent success rate. That ranked 22nd among NFL kickers with at least 10 attempts but was still a noticeable step up from the previous two years. The Titans’ field-goal percentage was an abysmal 44.4 percent (last in the NFL) in 2019 and 71.4 percent in 2020 (31st in the league).
Bullock also played in every game but one last season, which provided stability at a position that – prior to his arrival – had used the following since the start of 2019: Ryan Succop, Greg Joseph, Cody Parkey, Cairo Santos, Ryan Santoso, Stephen Gostkowski, Sam Sloman, Sam Ficken and Michael Badgley.
So what was the problem?
All five of Bullock’s misses came from 40-49 yards, a range that holds particular importance to Tennessee – and to the rest of the NFL.
Attempts from that distance grow in significance when offenses don’t have time to even crack the red zone, but still need three points to tie, win or clinch a game. The 40-49 yard distance is challenging, but still close enough that teams expect a reasonably good success rate.
Bullock’s 61.5 percent success rate from 40-49 yards last season (eight-for-13) was noticeably lower than the NFL average of 77.6 percent.
“We’re always looking to get better from a range of 40-49 yards,” special teams coach Craig Aukerman said. “That’s where we call our money zone. If we can be consistent making field goals in that zone, we feel like he can have a pretty good season. You know, 50-plus, we want to make those kicks, too. But really the money zone is from 40-49 yards, so we really put a focus on that in the offseason for (Bullock).”
Bullock’s five misses from 40-49 yards were second-most in the league last season, trailing only Cleveland’s Chase McLaughlin, who was four-for-10 from that range.
Unfortunately for the Titans, Bullock’s struggles from 40-49 yards continued a recent trend that began in 2019 and continued through 2020. During those two seasons Titans kickers connected on just 10-of-20 field goals from the so-called "money zone."
A look at how Titans kickers have fared over the past three seasons on field-goal attempts from 40-49 yards, compared to the NFL overall:
(x-Bullock was 8-13; Michael Badgley was 0-1)
At this month's mandatory minicamp, Bullock was the only healthy kicker on the roster. Undrafted rookie Caleb Shudak – who hit seven-of-seven field-goal attempts from 40-49 yards and four-of-six from 50-plus yards last season at Iowa – suffered an injury while kicking during an OTA session. The extent of the injury is unclear.
It certainly sounds like the kicking job is Bullock’s to lose, something the Titans appear comfortable with – especially if he can pay more dividends in the money zone.
“Love Randy,” Aukerman said. “Randy had a consistent season for us last season, and I know he’s going to strive to get better. Our players really like Randy. He’s one of those guys that’s going to run out there and try to make all of his kicks. Our players enjoy him. I know (holder Brett Kern and long snapper Morgan Cox) have a really good relationship with him, so we’re excited to get him back.”