It was a storybook first season: Traded late in preseason, Cody Parkey was brilliant as a rookie for the Eagles, all the way through his Pro Bowl experience. What does he do in 2015 for an encore?
We all know the story and how Parkey emerged after the Eagles traded with Indianapolis just prior to the third preseason game last summer, how Parkey won the job and then went on to have the greatest rookie season, and, in some categories, most productive kicking season period, in Eagles history. It was absolute brilliance from Parkey, the boy-next-door-faced, earnest professional who keeps all of it, the whole story, very much in perspective. Being great in the NFL, Parkey is well aware, does not end after one season. The very best in the league do it on a consistent basis. They are great for years and years.
So that's the challenge for Parkey after he wowed in 2014 with four 50-yard-plus field goals and nailed 32-of-36 field goals and made 17 consecutive attempts at one point and was perfect on kicks when the Eagles were tied. The Eagles needed his leg and scored 150 points, a franchise record, and kicked off well and, save for the two-kick hiccup at Washington, was darn near perfect.
"I feel very motivated," Parkey said at the end of the team's spring training sessions. "My mindset is not to just be here or to be average. My mindset is to be the very best and I have a lot of work to do to get there. It's not a one-year thing with me. You have to do it every game, every week and year after year.
"My work doesn't stop, even during the break. Last year was taxing. I kind of tapered off in the weight room last year and it maybe hurt me a little bit, as weird as that sounds. I think I need to keep after it in the weight room and maintain my leg strength. Last year was a long, long season. I understand that now and I'll be better for it."
Parkey was a revelation last season as he provided the consistency and the big leg to replace a faltering Alex Henery, who, it should be noted, was good on 24-of-27 field goals in his rookie season of 2011. Parkey's emphasis for 2015 has been on his mechanics -- a never-ending job for kickers -- and his leg strength for the long season. Parkey has the requisite ice-in-veins mentality and he's not one, even in his peach-fuzzed NFL years, to start to feel like he's "made it." That's not what the kid is all about.
You want to think that he has the right stuff for long-term greatness, a la David Akers, who is the best in franchise history and one of the greatest kickers in recent years in the league. The way of kickers in the NFL, though, suggests that the sailing is not always as smooth as it appears. Henery was a model of consistency in his first couple of seasons as an Eagle before losing his mechanics. Akers required time and patience before he became great.
Parkey's greatest gift is the way he connects on every kick, with a solid thump and great distance. The vast majority of his kicks will come from between 40 and 50 yards, and he needs to be great in those situations. Parkey has the leg to make kicks of 55 yards plus in the right conditions, but his bread and butter is in the kicks he should make, that he has to make for the Eagles.
"I want to make every kick," he says. "That's the way I think. I want every kick to be perfect. It's not about what I've done. My focus is on every kick, that moment. We have a great team with Jon (Dorenbos, long snapper) and Donnie (Jones, holder). I know what I'm getting every time. The ball is in the right place at the right time for me. It's a great system. They make my job so much easier. I just have to kick the ball."
Ah, but it's never that easy. Every facet of Parkey's delivery has to be perfect -- the timing, the plant step, the connection with the football, the follow through. Parkey has kicked thousands of balls in this offseason, perfecting his muscle memory, improving his distance. Every kick is charted. Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp is on top of his second-year kicker, knowing that Parkey is chasing that elusive goal of perfection.
"Cody is a professional," Fipp said. "He comes in every day and gets after it. There is no complacency at all. He is only as good as his next kick. That's the approach he takes. He works at the details and he is critical of himself."
The goals are lofty, for sure. Following up on a historic rookie season is not as simple as rolling through the offseason and showing up for Training Camp. Parkey is in his hometown of Jupiter, Florida doing what he's done to reach this point: Spend every day kicking footballs, challenging himself and fine-tuning his every movement. A big season waits for a kicker who strives to take another step toward sustained greatness.