It was never going to be easy for UCLA to replace kicker Kai Forbath, but it wasn't supposed to be this difficult, either.
Forbath, a former All-American and Lou Groza award winner as the nation's top kicker, is in Dallas Cowboys camp now and the burden of replacing one of the top kickers in UCLA history is apparently taking its toll.
Kip Smith, the redshirt freshman who had been the heir apparent, has had troubles since the spring and there is now an open competition for the job between Smith, punter Jeff Locke and walk-on Joe Roberts, but none of the kickers has proven reliable so far in camp.
Coach Rick Neuheisel is keeping a close eye on the competition, too, spending the early parts of practice the last two days watching over the kickers as they attempt field goals.
"I’m looking for some consistency," Neuheisel said. "We haven’t been. That’s a concern of mine right now. Kip, we have high hopes for, but he’s been anything but consistent to start so we’ll just have to keep working him so we’re going to try to create some competition there."
Smith was an All-State kicker in Colorado and once made a 67-yard free kick for a field goal. He made a 56-yarder as a sophomore and was considered a shoo-in to replace Forbath. But after struggling in the spring, Smith has changed his technique and still hasn't quite figured it out.
"So far, it’s not what I would have liked," Smith said. "I think my problem right now is I’m not trusting myself. It’s a new kick."
Smith says he is trying to employ a style similar to that of Forbath, where he swings at only 60 percent strength to increase accuracy.
"I used to be a driver and now I’m a chipper," Smith said.
His misses are coming almost exclusively to the right. Smith said it's a fixable problem, but that it's taking some time to get comfortable with the new approach.
"My problem is I’m not finishing with my form," he said. "I’m just not following through. I’m just coming up and too excited to see where it goes."
Locke, the Pac-10 leading in punting last season, doubles as the team's kickoff man but hasn't kicked field goals since high school. He hasn't fared much better as a field-goal kicker so far in camp as he tries to re-learn the techniques. He also missed all of spring practice because of a hip surgery.
"We've had our fair share of misses so far," Locke said. "With Kai, he was kind of a reliable thing and maybe we took that for granted. Now it's about getting back to the basics."
Forbath made 85 of 101 field goals in his four-year career, including 10 of 13 from 50 yards or longer. He accounted for 35 percent of UCLA's scoring during his four seasons and is tied with John Lee for the most field goals in school history with 85.
Locke said he'd rather have Smith or Roberts step up and take the job so he can focus on punting, but that he'd do the field goal kicking if it's what's best for the team.
"I’m definitely trying to be ready in case one of those guys doesn’t get the job done," he said.
Smith acknowledged it has been tough psychologically to go through a kicking slump. He never has even played in a game, but called his career so far a roller-coaster ride.
"It's kind of shocking right now, but I'm coming around, though," he said. "You can’t get too down about missing kicks. You just have to go in there and think you’re going to make every one."
As far as being in a competition for the job when it seemed a foregone conclusion he would have it, Smith said he was fine with that.
"I wasn’t expecting the spot to just be given to me," he said. "Everybody has to compete for their spot, so I don’t mind the competition."