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In Kicking, Neil Rackers, Graham Gano Focused On Themselves

By ZAC BOYER

zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN – Among the multitude of things Neil Rackers has learned about kicking is to never dwell on the misses. When the football doesn’t pass between the uprights, it’s best to get off the field and move on.

“If you start keeping track of it, then you start wondering about your misses, and what happens when you start thinking about your misses? Then you do it again,” Rackers said. “You know, you just start every day anew and go kick a ball.”

Rackers, set to begin his 13th NFL season, will turn 36 this week. From Cincinnati to Arizona to Houston, Rackers is now in camp with the Washington Redskins, signed in April to provide veteran competition for incumbent Graham Gano.

He was open to returning to the Texans last season, for whom he went 32-for-38 on field goal attempts, but was not offered a new contract.

An 80 percent field goal kicker who has missed only six extra points in his career, Rackers wants to show the 50-yard field goal he sent short in Houston’s wild card playoff loss to Baltimore is not a sign his career is coming to a close.

“I’ve had young guys that have been very successful and I’ve had older guys,” special teams coordinator Danny Smith said. “I don’t care if he’s young or old. If he can kick, he’ll do.”

The Redskins have held an organized kicking drill three times through their first 12 days of training camp, and Gano and Rackers have each made 16 of 19 kicks. They’ve ranged from between 27 and 55 yards, which each tried once and both made; Gano has pushed all three of his misses right, while Rackers went left twice and short once.

Plans for the preseason opener at Buffalo on Thursday were for the two to alternate opportunities. Gano made the only extra point in Washington’s 7-6 victory, while the two split the kickoffs.

Gano made 31 of 41 field goal attempts for the Redskins last year, including a 59-yarder against San Francisco on Nov. 6 that was the longest in team history. But five of them were blocked because of protection issues, which Smith said he believes has been addressed through the offseason and early in training camp.

Gano hasn’t thought at all about the blocks. In fact, he hasn’t focused much on his competition, either. As both demonstrate, what they don’t know can’t hurt them.

“I don’t worry about anything else but my kicks,” Gano said. “If I make all my kicks and my kickoffs are where they’re supposed to be, I’ll leave it up to the coaches, so it doesn’t matter to me what Neil does. He is a good kicker and he’s done it a long time, and I know he’s very successful, so it should be a good competition.”

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