The Minnesota Vikings took the first kicker in last year's NFL draft, but that didn't stop them from cutting Daniel Carlson at the first sign of trouble. The Auburn alum was off the roster following a rough go against Green Bay, suddenly on the street despite great power, accuracy and pedigree.
That transaction raised Rich Bisaccia's eyebrow. The Raiders special teams coach considered a top talent, someone who could solve his in-season kicker issues with Giorgio Tavecchio cut in camp and Eddy Piñeiro and Mike Nugent on injured reserve. Bisaccia had an in with Carlson after helping recruit him to Auburn. That, the Raiders thought, would separate them from the competition when bringing him in for a workout.
Carlson still said no.
This wasn't about the Raiders. He declined offers from everybody, as a matter of fact, choosing to work out kinks away from massive crowds and quick-to-judge head coaches with nothing invested in him.
"My agent and I obviously talked about it a good bit," Carlson said. "We just felt like at that time I could take a break, work on some things that I wanted to work on. Once you get into the season, you're just getting ready for Sunday. You're getting ready for Sunday, so it was nice to be able to step back, be able to work on a couple little things and then be able to… I knew an opportunity would come. Obviously, I didn't know where from, but I just wanted to make sure when that came I was ready and would be ready for the rest of the season."
He made some tweaks and was eventually able to double back to the Raiders when he was ready. Patience proved a virtue for player and team.
Carlson was awesome after joining the Raiders, with a franchise-record 94.1-percent conversion rate. He hit 16 of 17 field goals in silver and black, including a game-winner as time expired on one of their four wins.
Carlson wants to match that effort in 2019 and for years to come as the Raiders kicker. He won't compete for a gig this season but is still pushing for improvement and consistency through near-constant self-evaluation even now, when sailing on the calm.
"I think he's working on getting a master's in himself," Bisaccia said. "I think he knows faster than anybody else what's good about what he does and when it's not the hit that he's expecting to make. I think he can self-correct quickly and just our professional opinions we thought he was really a good player coming out. He was certainly a draft-able kicker and then when he became available we couldn't get him for the first workout, he wanted to go work on a few things on his own and when he was ready for a workout we got him in. He did a tremendous job and now he's ours."
Carlson doesn't subscribe to the ain't-broke-down-fix-it model. He wants to build on last season's success over simply replicating it. That more than anything else remains his drive heading toward the 2019 season.
"I wouldn't say you ever maintain," Carlson said. "I think you're always getting worse or better. I think yes, I learned some things that worked last year and I want to keep those things going. But at the same time, I always want to improve. I've been working really hard this offseason. Obviously, I took a little break after the season ended and kind of got back to it. I want to continue to build off of what I had last year and the things that were going well. Still continuing to improve every day. I think for the most part I've been able to do that."
Carlson's able to get nit-picky these days, even looking at attempts that earned three points. He grades each one, and despite the pass-fail nature of his profession, he doesn't view it as a zero-sum game. He also understands every kick won't be perfect but needs even the subpar efforts to fly straight and true.
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Carlson is always working on an ironclad mental approach and consistent form that can be more challenging for someone standing 6-foot-5.
"Being taller you have to be very, very exact," Carlson said. "Continuing to be able to do that nine out of 10 times, but now hopefully I'm going to be able to do it 99 out of 100 times. Just trying to get better each and every day."