Chris Perkins: Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders staying mentally strong despite struggles

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			Chris Perkins: Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders staying mentally strong despite struggles
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Jason Sanders is doing OK mentally.

Physically, well, only time will tell.

It’s been a rough first part of the season for the Dolphins veteran kicker. But he’s confident the second part of the season will be smoother.

“I’ve been kicking the ball well,” said Sanders, an All Pro in 2020.

“I just need to get the job done.”

Sanders is 13 of 17 on field goal attempts this season, which is understandable when you consider he’s 0 of 3 on field goal attempts of 50 yards or more, including one that was blocked.

The painful missed field goal attempt is the 29-yarder he pulled wide left in the 35-32 victory at Chicago.

Even more painful is Sanders’ 27 of 30 showing on extra points, including two misses in last week’s 39-17 victory over Cleveland.

His 76.5% success rate on field goal attempts is second-worst in the league among kickers with at least 15 attempts (Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell is 12 of 16 for 75%).

Sanders, however, is steeled by his own confidence, and the team’s confidence, that he’ll be there when needed, something that becomes more important after this week’s game against hapless Houston, a time when the Dolphins move into the most dangerous part of their schedule.

After the Texans, the Dolphins (7-3) have that crucial three-game road swing at San Francisco (6-4), at the Los Angeles Chargers (5-5) and at Buffalo (8-3). That’s followed by a Christmas Day game against Green Bay (4-7), a trip to New England (6-5), and the season finale against the New York Jets (6-4).

It’s safe to say Sanders will be needed at least once.

“The position is pretty blunt,” said the five-year veteran. “Everybody sees it. But as long as you keep doing your job, taking it one kick, one swing at a time, good things will happen.”

Coaches and teammates believe the same thing. And they’ve been positive about Sanders.

They take their cue from rookie coach Mike McDaniel, who has been positive about almost everything all season, including during their three-game losing streak.

McDaniel has been unwavering in his support of Sanders. The Dolphins haven’t brought in other kickers for tryouts, and they haven’t publicly criticized Sanders during this rough stretch.

“He’s given me no reason to believe that he won’t get the things corrected,” McDaniel said.

That attitude about Sanders is contagious.

“One of the coolest things he told me,” said fullback Alec Ingold, one of Sanders’ golf buddies and closest friends on the team, “is he’s always going to be one swing at a time. He never lets anything before faze him or anything after.

“He said that and I was like, ‘Damn, I’ve never heard that from a kicker.’ But that’s exactly how he should be thinking.’ “

Regardless, Sanders is the only kicker this season with at least 25 made extra points that has missed more than two.

Minnesota’s Greg Joseph, a former Dolphins and Florida Atlantic University kicker who attended Delray Beach American Heritage, is 24 of 29 on extra points.

Sanders, Joseph and Chicago’s Cairo Santos are the only kickers to miss three or more extra points this season.

But again, positivity reigns in the Dolphins’ lockerroom, perhaps to the point of exaggeration.

“I don’t think he’s struggled at all,” center Connor Williams said of Sanders. “I think he’s been perfect for us. He’s done everything we could have asked. I think we’re lucky to have him.”

And for the most part, players give Sanders space and allow him to do his thing.

“I don’t personally go up and talk to Jason before or after kicks,” outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips said. “I know kicking is a real mental job. You don’t want to say too much to him or do anything like that. I just let him handle his business. That’s just the nature of the game.

“Sometimes you’re going to be performing well, sometimes you’re going to perform not so well. I have complete trust and confidence in him that he’ll do whatever he has to do.”

Sanders has made several crucial kicks in his career. He’s also caught a touchdown pass (from holder Matt Haack in a 2019 game against Philadelphia), so you know he’s clutch.

The bigger question is whether he can make the routine kick.

Sanders’ mentality leads you to think that won’t be a concern. His recent performances, however, raise the concern level a bit.

Teammates acknowledge the stresses of Sanders’ job.

“That’s the biggest mental game of anybody in this lockerroom,” Williams said.

Miss a kick and you might not get another chance at redemption for another week. You might have to live with that frustration and aggravation for seven days. Other position players can wipe out their frustrations on the next play.

“It’s easy for me to run as hard as I can and take my emotions out on a lineman,” Ingold said.

Kicking is largely a mental game, and Sanders says he remains as confident in his skills as his coaches and teammates. We’ll see what happens down the stretch.

“You’ve just got to stay locked in,” he said. “You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. You’ve always got to keep your feet on the ground and keep working at it one at a time.”

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