Focusing on His Next Kick, Not His Last

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 1, 2008

The 30-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide left in Seattle, a pivotal moment in what turned out to be Coach Joe Gibbs's final game, does not haunt Shaun Suisham. The missed kick helped swing momentum to the Seahawks as the Washington Redskins' fourth-quarter lead in the first-round playoff game quickly faded, but Suisham isn't obsessing over it.

Entering his third NFL season and second with Washington, Suisham, 26, refuses to define himself by any one moment, particularly that miss, which preceded 22 unanswered points by Seattle in a 35-14 loss. Instead, Suisham is looking ahead to this weekend, and his first opportunity to kick a field goal since his Qwest Field misadventure, even if it's only in an exhibition game.

Suisham's status on the team is secure -- he is the only place kicker in training camp -- and he has the support of special teams coach Danny Smith, as well as Coach Jim Zorn. Suisham, a native of Canada, has become something of a fixture about town -- he and his wife are spotted regularly at Capitals and Wizards games -- and he hopes his play this season will make others forget that rainy evening in Seattle.

"This is the truth -- and of course I want to make every single kick I attempt -- but I'm going to miss some," Suisham said while resting in a pool of ice water following practice this week. "And as long as I do everything to prepare, and do everything I can to put myself in the best position to make that kick. . . . Hopefully I'm going to make it, but if I don't, I'm going to let that go and just prepare for the next opportunity. And I'm excited that's coming up this weekend" against the Indianapolis Colts in the Hall of Fame game.

Even in the hours and days following his miss in Seattle, Suisham aimed to put some mental distance between himself and that kick, trying to measure his career with a long view rather than dwell on his immediate failure. He said he does not mean to come off as cavalier, or naive about the kick or his role on the team, particularly in a playoff situation.

"Some people might think I'm crazy, or don't care about my job," Suisham said, "and I'm not sure how people would view it, but I've just found that this is the best way to deal with being a kicker in the NFL. I've got myself in great shape, and I really care about what I do, but missing a kick is going to happen, and it's a missed kick, and you just wait for that next play. That's all you can do. I'm really in a good spot right now where I'm enjoying it here and I have fun doing it, and I want to keep that going."

It's an approach Smith says is central to developing the hardened psyche an elite kicker must have.

"That's the mentality the good kickers have, and I think that's part of a maturation process," Smith said. "Last year was Shaun's first full season in the National Football League, and he'd never been through a full 17-week schedule and that was his first playoff game.

"I think that's all part of maturation process. The good ones do that, and I'm sure he's working at doing that. It's not easy to do as a coach or a player, but I would say that's part of the process and we'll get through those things."

Suisham, from Wallaceburg, Ontario, entered the NFL in 2005 with Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent and spent parts of two seasons with Dallas, attempting just six kicks, before being signed to Washington's practice squad late in the 2006 season. Suisham was a full-time professional kicker for the first time in 2007, making 29 of 35 field goal attempts, including 18 of 20 inside 39 yards, and improving the length of his kickoffs.

He tied a team record with five field goals in a win over the New York Jets in November -- doing so in the challenging environment of Giants Stadium -- and twice connected on overtime field goals in the regular season. His teammates came to embrace him and the franchise hopes it has found a long-term solution at a position of constant turnover in recent years.

Zorn admits he has not seen much of Suisham kicking live -- though he was an assistant with Seattle at the time of the missed field goal in January -- but trusts Smith, a friend with whom he worked in Detroit. As a rookie head coach, Zorn has not yet experienced the agony of losing any game -- let alone a playoff game -- on an errant kick. Obviously, it's an experience he'd like to defer as long as possible.

"I know he's got a consistent leg," Zorn said. "He's a decent kickoff person, getting us down inside the 5-yard line with some height on the ball. I had a visit with him [Tuesday] and we were trying to rattle him, but I see good things.

"One thing you look for in a kicker is confidence. I don't want to see a guy with a worried look on his face, because then I worry. And secondly, you want to see a guy who comes in and gets a good rhythm -- the snap, the hold and the kick are exactly the same all the time."

With the new 80-man roster limit, most teams cannot afford to keep multiple place kickers or punters in camp. It means Suisham will have to assume all kickoff and field goal duties during the five preseason games, which he is looking forward to.

"If that 80-man rule was in effect in 2005 when I started, I don't think I would have even got a shot," said Suisham, who was then a rookie trying to unseat established place kickers. Now he is being looked at to execute on a regular basis, under pressure, regardless of what happened in January, or last week.

"If you've got a good kicker, and we get in field goal range, then you just go about your business [on the sideline], because you expect it," Zorn said. "And that's what I'm going to do."

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