CHARLOTTE — After setting a franchise record with eight made field goals of at least 50 yards, kicker Joey Slye entered the 2020 offseason with a goal in mind.
Slye's leg strength has never been in question. But he admitted he had consistency issues last year, missing three field goals from 40-49 yards, three field goals of at least 50 yards, and four extra-point attempts.
"I had some ups and downs last year, and (I've been) just trying to tighten that window between what my best ball is and what my worst ball is," Slye said.
So Slye turned to a trusted source: Dan Orner, a Charlotte-based kicking and punting coach. A former UNC kicker, Orner has been working with Slye for nearly a decade, starting when Slye attended kicking camps at 15.
"That is the time where I always joke around with him — he was still a linebacker and a fullback. Now, he's still got the linebacker and fullback mentality as a kicker," Orner said with a laugh. "It's been a good marriage from the beginning in terms of me being a coach for as much or as little as he needed."
The longstanding relationship is apparent when hearing both Slye and Orner talk about their craft. Slye noted that kicking involves teaching himself how to go through the process properly every day. Orner used the same language, equating it to a golf swing.
"Most golfers have a caddy to remind them about wind, to remind them about situations. And all the golfers have gone out to the range before they even tee off on a tour to make tweaks day-by-day," Orner said. "But at the same time, we always talk about just having two or three things that we know are moneymakers."
For Slye, that's his power. So Orner worked with Slye to channel his leg strength into consistent movements to improve accuracy.
"He's really putting his body in position so that he can replicate (the movement in each kick)," Orner said. "It's getting the right amount of technical swings in, but also having one or two swing thoughts in your mind as you're approaching the ball."
At the start of the offseason, Slye came to Orner with a plan. Slye then stuck to it, despite the pandemic.
"It wasn't just going out kicking a set of balls," Orner said. "He came in saying, 'Alright, Monday all we're going to do is work on contact,' and we went after that with a vengeance. And Wednesday, we came in and just tried to figure out what his optimal tempo is — similar to Steph Curry shooting 100 jump shots before the game.
"For him, it's just trying to find that good rhythm where whether it's 80, 85 percent running to the ball so that way he can replicate the swing the best."
Orner has also coached new Panthers punter Joseph Charlton for years. When Charlton signed with Carolina late last month, he came to Charlotte to work out with Slye and establish the kicker-holder relationship.
"Soon as (Charlton) got signed — I think the ink was still wet — Joseph came out to the field in Crocs, and he was already getting some holds with Joey," Orner said. "I think the initial comment from Joey when (Charlton) first got two or three snaps was like, 'Holy cow, he is so smooth, and he's got really good hands.'"
And while there are no preseason games for Slye to test what he's worked on, head coach Matt Rhule has so far been impressed with his kicker.
"Joey's, obviously, a pro. He's been here, a tremendous weapon kicking the ball off — big powerful leg," Rhule said. "I love his process. I love the way he takes notes, the way he really critiques himself."
The notes Slye takes are meticulous, and they serve as a reminder to do the right things every day.
"The last thing you want to do is not go through that process and then get caught up in the fact that you might've rushed it, or you didn't think about what you should have done," Slye said.
With a full season already under his belt and a strong offseason, Orner believes Slye is ready to find the consistency he was missing as a rookie.
"Going from college to the pros is a major acclimation period. I think essentially that's why you see some of the top kickers in the league take two or three years," Orner said. "It's taken some of the best guys ever in the league to find their swing and find their rhythm to really get their groove."
View photos from Friday's practice at Panthers training camp.