- The Washington Times - Friday, November 11, 2011

Graham Gano concluded his first full NFL season on high alert. The Washington Redskins‘ kicker was on shaky ground after 2010 because he missed 11 field goals, tied for most in the NFL. Coaches believed in his potential, but he had to validate it with production in 2011 — or else.

“I never had a season like I had last year in my career playing football,” Gano said. “I knew that it was uncharacteristic of me. It made me mad and upset and made me want to get better and more consistent to show people what I could do.”

So far, so good. Gano has made 12 of 13 field-goal attempts that have traveled full distance (three of his four misses were blocked).

“That’s one of the reasons why we stayed with him is that the first year is very tough,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “You get into the NFL and, all of a sudden, you start hooking them and you start pushing them. It’s kind of like your golf swing under pressure — you can play with your friends all of the time, but when you get in front of a lot of people, it changes; or if you’re playing for a lot of money. He’s handled himself great this year, and I like what I see.”

The apex of Gano’s emergence occurred in last Sunday’s loss to San Francisco. As time expired in the first half, Shanahan gave him a chance on a 59-yarder instead of having the offense try a Hail Mary. Gano drilled it with at least a yard to spare.

It was the longest successful try in Redskins history. He celebrated by running around the field, a release of emotion that was well-deserved.

“It’s exciting, especially being in the record books for a franchise with such tradition like this,” he said. “That’s an opportunity every kicker wants. To be able to go out there and hit it was pretty special to me.”

Gano attributes his success to some mechanical adjustments he made during the offseason. Special teams coach Danny Smith, however, doesn’t like for Gano to talk about those. Just make the kick, Smith says.

“It’s not as complex as it was before,” Gano said. “I feel so much more comfortable doing what I do now.”

Gano also credits second-year long snapper Nick Sundberg’s consistency and the stability holder Sav Rocca has provided after the Redskins went through three holders last season.

Although Rocca’s botched hold led to a block in the Dallas game, he quickly mastered how Gano likes the ball tilted.

“They’re minute things, but they make a difference,” Gano said. “You’re talking about inches in making or missing a kick.”

At the season’s halfway point, Gano realizes he can’t let up. He has to maintain his accuracy over a full season to entrench himself as the team’s long-term kicking solution.

“I always want to be perfect, but I feel pretty good about it,” he said. “As long as I can keep building on it and improving, I’ll be happy.”

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