By Tarik El-Bashir
While training camp battles in the secondary and among a trio of running backs figure to receive much of the spotlight in the coming weeks, there’s another competition that promises plenty of intrigue: kicker.
The Redskins signed veteran Neil Rackers in April to compete with incumbent Graham Gano, who was 29th in the NFL in accuracy last season (75.6 percent), a year after ranking 30th (68.6 percent).
On Friday, Coach Mike Shanahan said the job is up for grabs.
“Right from the start, both kickers know they have an opportunity to make this football team,” Shanahan said. “This is the way it’s supposed to be.”
Gano’s unimpressive numbers in 2011 were no doubt affected by the five attempts that were blocked. Although it could be argued the breakdowns were caused by blocking breakdowns, not the kicker, Shanahan apparently was concerned enough to bring in Rackers, who was not re-signed by the Texans after making 32 of 38 attempts (84.2-percent) last season.
Rackers, 35, said a miscommunication between his former agent and the Texans during contract negotiations contributed to a departure he described as unexpected.
“They threw out a number evidently and my agent threw out an astronomical number so they just decided, ‘Hey, we’re going to go in another direction,” he said. “That’s business.”
Gano is 10 years younger than Rackers and boasts a more powerful leg. But he’s connected on 73.8 percent of his attempts in three seasons with the Redskins, while Rackers has made 80-percent of his kicks in a 12 season career that’s made stops in Cincinnati, Arizona and Houston. Three times, in fact, Rackers has made 90 percent or more of his kicks, including the 2005 season in Arizona, where he made 40 of 42 attempts.
“I liked what they had to say,” Rackers said of his discussions with the Redskins prior to signing a one-year deal. “I like the idea of NFC East football. It’s real football. I think it’s a team that’s got an opportunity to do some special things.”
“I’ve been on two teams that no one assumed would do anything – the Texas and Cardinals,” the St. Louis native added. “The Texans went to the playoffs for the first time and the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl. I see a lot of similarities between the Redskins and those teams.”