- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2011

As much as anything, kicking is about timing. So it was nice of Bryson Gano, Graham Gano’s newborn son, to come into this world two days before the Washington Redskins‘ preseason game Friday at Indianapolis. Bryson’s father, after all, is battling to keep his job, and a game-day delivery might have proved a distraction.

“The due date was the 24th,” Graham said before Sunday’s workout. “I was going to be in Baltimore then [to play the Ravens]. So we’ve been praying for a while that I’d be able to be there for the baby’s birth.” (The couple already had decided, though, that, under the circumstances, football had to come first - especially now that there’s another mouth to feed.)

Fortunately for the Ganos, Brittany went into labor during Wednesday’s practice. Graham jumped in his car, made it to the hospital in time to see his 5-pound, 12-ounce offspring draw his first breaths, then flew with his teammates to Indy, where he continued to make a strong case for himself by booting three field goals in a 16-3 win. He’s 6-for-6 in this preseason and looking like he might be the answer for the Redskins at what has been a problematic position.

He’s certainly been steadier than he was a year ago, when he had the lowest success rate of any qualifying NFL kicker (68.6 percent) and had key misses in several close losses. Good thing, too. Veteran Shayne Graham was brought in to challenge him early in camp - he was cut after missing two field goal tries in the preseason opener - and now Clint Stitser, who had a brief trial in Cincinnati last season, is competing with Gano.

After losing five games by a field goal or less last season, Mike Shanahan is determined to get his kicking game straightened out. But clearly, he’s not ready to give up on Gano. As he put it, “He did a great job kicking off, and he did make some good kicks” - including three in overtime to beat Green Bay, Tennessee and Jacksonville. “He wasn’t as consistent as you’d want, but that’s usually the case in your first year.”

Indeed, few kickers transition smoothly from the colleges to the pros. They usually bounce around for a couple of years, maybe longer, before finding steady employment. Mark Moseley, as famous a kicker as the franchise has had, spent some time with the Eagles and Houston Oilers before settling with the Redskins. People tend to forget that. Heck, before coming here, Gano was in camp with Baltimore, had tryouts with Atlanta and the New York Giants and even spent some time in the United Football League.

“I think it’s just a matter of consistency,” Gano said. “You’ve got to be consistent in all areas. In college, you might have some guys who are very good at kicking field goals, but their kickoffs are kind of shaky. So you have to have an all-around game, and that’s what I’ve worked on. I’ve made an adjustment in my technique, and I’ve done a lot of strength training and explosive training.”

Which brings us back to the subject of timing. Often, what determines the fate of a kicker - whether he makes your roster - is where he’s at in his career. After knocking around for a while, is he ready to take his game to the next level? Can he kick under pressure? Can he shake off a miss? Has he raised his accuracy to the 75- to 80 percent range? Until he can answer “yes” to all these questions, he’s going to have a hard time sticking with an NFL club.

Consider David Akers, one of the best kickers of the past decade. He was a Redskin, you may recall, for one game in 1998 (after tryouts with Atlanta and Carolina in ‘97). But he missed two long field goal attempts in that game, and the coaches decided he wasn’t ready for the big time (at which point they signed the more experienced Cary Blanchard).

The following year, after a stint in NFL Europe, Akers was picked up by Philadelphia - and booted for them, fabulously, for 11 seasons. Did the Redskins make a mistake? Not really. They were just unlucky. They caught Akers at the wrong time.

That’s what’s going on with Gano right now. Yes, he struggled last season, but he’s also 24. So it behooves Shanahan to be patient with him a while longer - as long as he can stand, basically - lest he rue the day he let the kid get away.

“You can’t keep waitin’ and waitin’ forever,” special teams coach Danny Smith said. “Hopefully, it’ll kick in [for Gano] this year. It just clicks at different times for different people, and hopefully it’ll click for him this year with the pressure we’re putting on him with other kickers.”

So far, Gano has passed every test in this preseason. But two games remain, and there’s no telling what kickers might show up on the waiver wire two weeks hence. Nothing, in other words, is guaranteed - and won’t be until Graham is the last kicker standing.

“They told me before the season I was going to have competition,” he said. “But everywhere I’ve been, every single year, I’ve had competition - college [Florida State], high school, everywhere I’ve gone. Competition only makes you better, so I welcome it. But in my mind, I believe I’m the [No. 1] guy. If I didn’t, then I probably shouldn’t be here.”

The timing was wrong for Akers. Will it be right for Gano? If so, the Redskins have a chance to fix their kicking problems for the long term - perhaps even until Bryson Gano is playing Pop Warner.