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Mare welcomes competition


CHARLOTTE - Two years ago, kicker Olindo Mare faced the prospect of losing his job.

The Panthers would love to get the same response from Mare that his former employer did.

Speculation ran rampant that the Seattle Seahawks were going to release Mare after he missed a pair of field goals in an early-season loss in 2009, but he bounced back by making 30 consecutive field goals over the next 13 months – a streak tied for the sixth longest in NFL history.

Wednesday, three days after Mare missed his second short field goal of the season with the game on the line, he found himself sharing the practice field with undrafted rookie Adi Kunalic, who re-signed with Carolina on Tuesday.

"The last time something like this happened, I made 30 in a row. Maybe I need this to help me focus. We'll see," Mare said. "These things make you stronger, and they make you better.

"It's competition, just like in camp when we were together. If you're scared of competition, then you've got the wrong job."

When Kunalic arrived at training camp in late July, Mare tried to convince him that the job was up for grabs. This time around, Mare didn't need to do any such thing.

"When we got to camp, he said, 'Just so you know, this is an open competition. At the time I was thinking, 'Not really, but I'll take it how it is,'" Kunalic said. "But I was never like, 'I'm just going to give up on this.' If I had done that, I would have been gone by Week 2 or 3 (of the preseason), and I guarantee you I wouldn't be talking to you guys right now.

"We both realize what's at stake, and we're both professionals. We're both going to try to make the team and are both trying to be the kicker for the end of this season and next year."

Head coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers were already considering bringing back Kunalic for offseason camps in 2012, and Mare's difficulties simply expedited the decision.

Rivera said he should have a better idea Friday which kicker he'll use when the Panthers visit the Houston Texans on Sunday.

"They both kicked the ball well today. We'll just keep going forward," he said. "The bottom line is that everybody on this team is accountable for what happens on the football field, and competition seems to bring the best out in people.

"So we figured we'd bring a little competition in, and hopefully the level of kicking will be better."

Mare said that upon further review of his miss in last Sunday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons, a 36-yarder that he pulled wide left with 5:12 to play, he has a better understanding of what went wrong.

"I just rushed. I tried to get it off too quick to make sure nothing happened," said Mare, who has had two field goals and an extra point blocked this season. "It should have been just like any other kick. If you try too hard, that's what happens. I tried to do more than I should instead of just doing my job and walking off the field, and that's the result. That can't happen."

!Monday morning, Kunalic got a call from his agent that the Panthers wanted to talk to him.

Since the Panthers waived him in the final roster cutdown, Kunalic had been preparing for the possibility of another shot while pursuing other interests as well. The University of Nebraska product had been working out at the school five days a week while also overseeing a social media company that he founded during his senior year.

"I'm really just grateful for the opportunity to be able to be back with the team," said Kunalic, who hit both his field goal attempts and all three of his PATs in the preseason. "It just shows that I did make an impact in camp and that they have trust in me to be able to kick the ball.

"They've just told me to keep kicking. They obviously like what I did in camp, and they have brought me back because they see a future there potentially."

Mare, a 15-year NFL veteran in his first year with the Panthers, certainly hopes he has a future in Carolina.

"I've been through ups and downs for a few years now – it's never just a ride to the top," Mare said. "We're in a visible spot, and if you're worried about what people are going to say and worried about failure, you're probably not going to succeed anyway. You can't be scared of it."

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