METAIRIE, La. — John Carney applies the language of golf to kicking in the NFL.
When the 46-year-old kicker talks about how he envisions his role in what is now his 23rd NFL season, he refers to himself as a "caddie" for embattled fellow Saints kicker Garrett Hartley.
"Every good golfer needs a good caddie," Carney said after his first practice of the season on Wednesday. "We worked well together last year. I think we both benefited from competing with each other and working together, and we'll continue to do so."
Carney began last season as the Saints' kicker while Hartley served a four-game suspension for using a banned stimulant. When Hartley returned, the Saints kept Carney on the active roster for another seven games before giving the job back to Hartley full time and offering Carney a position as a kicking consultant.
Although Carney was coy about whether he expected to play this Sunday or serve more as a player-coach, he said he would be ready if called upon.
"That could happen and I've trained all offseason to play," Carney said. "So I'm just happy to have an opportunity."
Incidentally, if Carney is active and kicks against Carolina, he'll share the same field with former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who was not yet born when Carney kicked for the Irish from 1984-86.
From the neck up, Carney is showing some age. He shaves his head bald, his goatee is starting to gray, and more lines are creasing his face. His mug shot would stand in stark contrast to the messy-haired, baby-faced Hartley.
Otherwise, however, Carney appears to be impeccably fit.
"He's a machine," said his friend and former teammate, linebacker Scott Fujita, who now plays for Cleveland.
"He's got that old-man muscle," added a smiling Thomas Morstead, the Saints' punter and kickoff specialist.
Morstead said he'd been calling Carney a couple times a week this season for guidance on a variety of kicking matters, so he was pleased to see the veteran back at Saints headquarters. Last year, Carney helped Morstead with his kickoff technique. Now that Morstead holds on field goals, Carney can give him a kicker's perspective on that as well.
"He's been through it all, so it's obviously great to be around him," Morstead said. "With his experience, maybe you don't have to go through some of the mistakes that maybe he's made early in his career. He kind of coaches you up on it and it's awesome to be around him."
Hartley was not in the locker room at the Saints' suburban headquarters while it was open to reporters, but he has spoken highly of Carney in the past, just as Carney has spoken well of him.
"I'm here to help him and help the Saints and there's no stealing anybody's job or anything of that nature," Carney said. "Garrett was phenomenal last year. Around the league, everyone has very much and very high respect for Garrett what he did in the playoffs and the Super Bowl. So he will remain a great kicker in the NFL. I'm just here to help him through this."
Carney played for the Saints from 2001-06, then returning last season when Hartley was suspended four games for use of a banned stimulant. Carney was active for 11 games, then remained as a kicking consultant through the playoffs and Super Bowl, when Hartley made one clutch kick after another. Hartley hit the overtime winner in the NFC title game, then set a Super Bowl record with three field goals of 40 yards or more.
Carney said Hartley was in good form once again at practice on Wednesday.
"He's fine," Carney said. "He's striking the ball well."