Graham, Bogotay battle for Browns’ kicking job
BEREA (AP) — For the first time since 1999, the Cleveland Browns will have a new kicker this season.
NFL veteran Shayne Graham and rookie Brandon Bogotay are battling for the job that was previously held by Phil Dawson. Their competition continued Wednesday at the second day of the Browns’ minicamp.
“Phil Dawson and I have gotten along for many years, but my goal isn’t to pick up where he left off or to fill his shoes in Cleveland,” Graham said after practice. “My goal is to perform to the best of my ability. That’s all I can worry about, and that’s what my focus is fully on.
“Whether it winds up being Brandon or myself kicking for the Browns, we have to go out there and prove that we can get the job done.”
Dawson, a fan favorite in Cleveland, signed with the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent in March, ending his 14-season stay in Ohio. The first-time Pro Bowl selection departed as the second-leading scorer in franchise history with 1,271 points.
Dawson made 29 of 31 field goals last year, including all seven tries from 50-plus yards, but was not offered a new contract by Browns CEO Joe Banner.
Enter Graham, an unrestricted free agent who scored a career-high 138 points with the Texans in 2012, and Bogotay, a former Georgia Bulldog.
“Believe me, I’ve known how popular Phil is in Cleveland for a long time, and I hope the same people can cheer for me in the future,” said Graham, who played in the AFC North from 2003-2009 with Cincinnati. “But I can’t go out and worry that they might not like me. If I do, then I’ve already lost the whole battle mentally.
“I’ve played in this stadium nine or 10 times, so I know which way the wind blows, the way the field is, and the different cleats you have to use. I believe I’m up to this challenge.”
Though both kickers are right-footed, the similarities end there.
Graham, 35, has spent 12 seasons in the NFL — suiting up with the Bills, Panthers, Bengals, Giants, Patriots, Dolphins, Ravens and Texans — and has scored 1,103 points. His career field goal percentage of 85.4 ranks fifth in league history.
The 24-year-old Bogotay was not chosen in the 2012 draft after playing three seasons at Georgia. A kickoff specialist, he only attempted three field goals, making one, and went 7 of 7 on extra points as the backup to current Vikings kicker Blair Walsh.
“You try not to think too much about Shayne and I going after the same job, but it is there in the back of your mind,” Bogotay said. “I need to keep everything day-to-day and concentrate on the things I can control. The one thing I do know is I learned from a great one in Blair, and I’m going right back to train with him once this minicamp is over.”
Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski said he is intrigued by Bogotay’s strong leg, which booted 51- and 54-yard field goals during two-minute drills at the late-morning practice. Among the team executives watching were Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III, who stood between the fields, along with his father, James.
Chudzinski admitted the decision could come down to weighing Bogotay’s potential against Graham’s track record, which is why his assistants are charting every kick they attempt.
“Brandon’s leg is stronger, but with Shayne here, he’s a veteran guy who has been through a lot and been through a lot of games,” Chudzinski said. “It’s been close. It’s been back and forth. Both of those guys have been kicking well, but it’s going to be ongoing all the way through the preseason.”
Graham understands the situation, having been cut 11 times since turning pro in 2000. He remembers being in Bogotay’s shoes during unsuccessful attempts to make the Saints and Seahawks after going undrafted out of Virginia Tech.
Since the Browns are also auditioning new punters and holders, the only people who can relate to Graham and Bogotay are each other.
“Being new to this, Brandon asks a lot of questions, and I try my best to answer them,” Graham said. “There is no reason to have animosity toward each other. We get along great and we’ve been good to each other.
“At some point, we both know a decision will have to be made, but until then, I’m going to be there for Brandon and treating him as a teammate.”
NOTES: Browns RB Trent Richardson (lower right leg strain) is not practicing this week, but vowed to be ready for the start of training camp on July 26. “Coach is holding me out for precautionary reasons. It’s not that big a deal and there’s nothing for anybody to worry about,” Richardson said. “People are talking about me having other injuries, but none of that has happened. All you can do with this injury is rest, and that’s what I’m doing.” … TE Jordan Cameron (left hamstring) left the two-hour session early after pulling up lame in the end zone. … CB Joe Haden (left hand) appeared to jam his left thumb while defending WR Josh Gordon, but continued to play. … G Jason Pinkston worked with the first-team offense on the left side, while CB Chris Owens was on the left side in the first-team defense. G John Greco and CB Buster Skrine manned those spots Tuesday. … The three-day minicamp concludes Thursday.