- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2012

Graham Gano put it together in his head as he saw veteran Neil Rackers leaving the Washington Redskins‘ practice facility Monday morning. The two kickers spent the preseason competing for one job, and the sight of Rackers with the contents of his locker represented the end of the battle.

With that, Gano kept his spot.

“We had a good little talk. I was saying he was a big professional about it. He wished me the best of luck this year,” Gano said. “We thought it was going to come down to the last week, but it’s coach’s decision.”

It was a unique competition in that the Redskins only had two field goal attempts in the first three preseason games, both taken by Rackers. The 36-year-old hit from 28 and missed from 54, both at the Chicago Bears on Aug. 18.

Last week, he lamented the missed opportunity.

“It’s disappointing to not have the ball go through the uprights, but at the same time I hit kicks from there and further out at halftime and that ball broke right down the middle,” he said. “If you hit it where you’re aiming, I guess you could call that a mental error. But it’s part of being a kicker at times.”

So is the fact that a notable miss and kicks in practice can be the difference between making a roster and getting cut.

On Monday, the Redskins had to trim to 75 players, and Rackers was one of the first reported to be gone. His locker was empty and Gano was left with not much to say.

“It’s tough. These days are always tough. You make friendships with the guys, a ton of guys throughout the preseason, then to see them get let go, it’s really hard,” Gano said. “I’m sure he’ll get an opportunity somewhere; he’s a great kicker. You wish that we could both be here all year long, but you know that’s just the business. It’s tough. I’m just happy I get the opportunity to be here.”

The opportunity means Gano sticks around for the start of a third season; he has spent some time with the Redskins since 2009.

In 2011, Gano made 31 of 41 attempts, and that 76 percent conversion rate tied him for the second-worst among kickers with at least 30 tries. Ex-Redskins kicker Shaun Suisham made 23 of 31 attempts.

Gano, 25, believes he’s better this year.

“I feel like I’ve improved for sure. I think more mature as a kicker in this league,” he said. “I feel like I did a good job last year, but I’m just looking to improve this year and keep getting better.”

Gano said he didn’t know whether the Redskins would bring in another kicker to provide more competition; instead his focus is on Wednesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He and Rackers were both hoping for more chances to kick in game action, and perhaps Gano will get that Wednesday, but he won this competition without a field goal attempt in the preseason.

“I think every day Neil and I went out, we knew that practice was going to play a key role in it,” said Gano, who admitted he has never won such a competition without even making an attempt in a game. “That’s the thing, we’ve kicked a lot in practice over the offseason and over the preseason. I’m not sure what played into their decision.”

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