So Rackers and Gano have crafted a friendship since the Washington Redskins signed Rackers, a 12-year NFL veteran, in April to compete with Gano, the incumbent, for the team’s place-kicking job. They spend their training camp days together, with a daily routine different than the one their teammates follow, and they talk about their craft. But they also know only one of them will be kept when the regular season arrives, and their competition is serious business to them and the Redskins.
“Because we’re away from the team so much, we get to know each other pretty well,” Gano said. “We talk every day. There’s no animosity between us. We both know we’re professionals. I’ve been doing this a while now and so has Neil. I think we both know what’s at stake and we just have to go out there and perform. When we’re on the field, it’s total business. But off the field, we’re friends.”
Rackers said he remembers how he was treated by veteran Doug Pelfrey when he was a rookie with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2000 and the two were competing.
“Doug Pelfrey really taught me how to be a professional,” Rackers said. “He’d take me out to dinner numerous times during the week. He congratulated me when I got the job.”
That’s the approach he has tried to take, Rackers said, in subsequent training camp kicking competitions.
“You can compete and as soon as we step between the lines, the two of us, to go kick, we’re battling,” Rackers said. “But as soon as you step off the field, that’s over. It’s kind of like a football game. They beat the snot out of each other all game. But all the guys that played in college together meet at midfield and pray together. It’s a lot like that.”
The stakes in this competition also are high for the Redskins, who are attempting to make significant improvement in Coach Mike Shanahan’s third season. The success of a season can hinge on whether a handful of field goals are made — or missed — in big moments.
League-wide, NFL kickers connected on 82.9 percent of their field goal attempts last season, the second-best success rate in history behind the 84.5 percent accuracy achieved in 2008. Gano was at 75.6 percent, with 10 misses in his 41 field goal attempts. Five of those misses came on blocks. No other NFL kicker had more than three field goal tries blocked last season.
Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, a special teams standout, said the problem was the blocking in front of Gano, not Gano’s kicking.