SPARTANBURG — Panthers kicker Olindo Mare makes no excuse for the two late-game field goals he missed last season.
But Mare, a 16-year veteran, figures the 350 kicks he’s made ought to count for something, too.
Mare had the unenviable task of following John Kasay last season after the Panthers cut the last remaining member of their inaugural team. That task got tougher and the critics louder when Mare missed a pair of potential game-winning kicks in the fourth quarter of home losses to Minnesota and Atlanta.
The Panthers brought in Adi Kunalic to compete with Mare after the misses, but Mare kept the job. CFL veteran Justin Medlock is in camp kicking against Mare in a competition that coach Ron Rivera described as too close to call after a week.
Mare, 39, said he can’t concern himself with trying to replace Kasay – or hold off Medlock.
“The competition’s always open. I don’t know what coach isn’t looking for younger, better, bigger, stronger. That’s their job,” Mare said Thursday. “But there is something to be said (for) having made 300 or 400 field goals. It’s worth something I would hope.”
Mare made 22 of 28 field goals in 2011, missing his two attempts of 50 yards or longer. He figures if not for the two that were blocked, his field goal percentage would have been 86 percent – better than his career mark of 81.2 percent.
Mare said the blocks – he also had an extra point blocked – made him hurry his approach and led to one of the fourth-quarter misfires.
“We had some injuries. And when that happens, you’re throwing new guys in. And it’s hard,” Mare said. “When you get two or three in a row blocked, you have to speed up and you have to do different things. And I did that, and it didn’t work.
“It cost us a game on one of them, trying to fix it by myself. Live and learn. I’ve missed kicks before, and it happens. Hopefully, you learn from those mistakes and trust what you do.”
Overall, Mare thought he had a “pretty good” year in 2011 after signing a four-year, $12 million contract a day before the Panthers released Kasay. The Panthers said they made the move to create a roster spot.
The team kept two kickers in Kasay’s later years, with Kasay handling placements and Rhys Lloyd kicking off. Mare, who does both, was second in the NFL last season with 53 touchbacks – a total he thinks he can improve by 5 or 6.
First, he has to beat out Medlock, a fifth-round pick of Kansas City in 2007 who hasn’t attempted a kick in a regular-season NFL game since making 1-of-2 field goals in his Chiefs’ debut.
Medlock was cut the following week and spent the past three years in Canada. Medlock, a left-footed kicker, made 49 of 55 field goals last year for Hamilton, including a CFL-best 57-yarder.
“Justin has done a very nice job. He’s a strong-legged, young guy who kicks the ball very well,” coach Ron Rivera said.
Medlock and Mare have had good starts to camp, with each making at least 89 percent of his field goals.
But Rivera said he would put more weight on the exhibitions. Rivera does not plan to let the kickers know who’s attempting the field goals beforehand to make sure they’re focused.
Medlock, 28, who played at UCLA, expects it to be a good competition.
“Olindo’s a great kicker. He’s played in the NFL for 17 years. So obviously he’s doing something right,” Medlock said. “This would be my first year, I guess, technically. I just have to keep doing my thing, keep kicking it through the uprights and kicking kickoffs through the end zone hopefully, and we’ll see what happens.”
Mare has admired Kasay since Mare entered the league in 1997, but knew following him would be rough for anyone.
“To come here and replace a guy that’s done so well, and when you’re established on a team, in a community from the get-go, it’s difficult. I didn’t come in here saying, ‘I’m going to be better than John Kasay. I’m going to replace him.’ Because I’m a totally different kicker,” Mare said.
“I signed a four-year deal. And hopefully those four years I can prove that 20 years from now we’ll say, ‘Hey, remember that guy after John Kasay? He did pretty well, too.’ ”