Graham Gano didn’t have to compete for his job at training camp a year ago.
The only kicker on the Redskins’ roster throughout the 2010 preseason, Gano experienced an amount of stability that only a proven veteran is typically afforded.
At 23 years-old and with four NFL games under his belt, Mike Shanahan decided that Gano was going to be his kicker. He opted not to acquire a veteran to compete against the young prospect for Washington’s kicking duties.
Fast-forward a year to training camp 2011.
Gano, coming off a season that saw him miss an NFL-worst 11 field goals, is engaging in a kicking competition with a ten-year veteran. Shayne Graham, the third-most accurate kicker in league history, has been added to battle for Gano’s job.
“Whenever you have competition there’s always going to be that little bit of added pressure,” Gano said after splitting kicking opportunities with Graham during a Wednesday practice at Redskins Park. “I know Shayne’s a great kicker but if I focus on how good he is then I’m not really going to be focusing on what I do. I try to worry about myself.”
A youthful kicker with a strong leg who does a nice job booting the ball on kickoffs, there’s a lot to like about Gano. But missing 11 field goals isn’t acceptable and Gano knows that.
He also knows that Graham was brought in to push him and to add to the stress he’s exposed to during the exhibition season.
“I think I’d be lying if I said there was no pressure, especially with the fans out here,” Gano said about kicking with a job on the line. “But the way I look at the pressure, it’s exciting for me. That’s why I do it. If it was boring I wouldn’t do it. That pressure I get – I kind of feed off of it and it motivates me.”
Making field goals in practice has never been a problem for Gano, who Shanahan defended numerous times during the kicker’s turbulent 2010 campaign. But as Shanahan put it last week, he’s got to start making kicks in the games.
“I’ve proven I can hit the big kicks, the big pressure ones,” said Gano. He connected on three game-winning boots last year. “But as far as consistency goes, I still need to prove that. It starts in practice, I’m definitely more consistent in practice than I was last year and I’m definitely improving. It’s going to carry over to the games.”
Gano’s first chance to kick in a game will come on Friday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’ll alternate kicks with Graham, who was 12-for-12 on his field goal attempts last year.
“I’ve been working hard,” Gano said. “I’m ready.”