Mark Moseley can't believe the Redskins really are prepared to cut him, not after eight years of pressure kicks and clutch performances.
"I think they are just trying to make a better kicker of me," Moseley said, attempting to rationalize Washington's decision to pick place-kicker Dan Miller in the 11th round of April's draft.
"Was I so bad (last year) that I'm no longer an NFL kicker? Was I so bad that they had to use an 11th-round choice to replace me instead of using that pick to bring in the young talent they need more at other positions?
"It bothered me and surprised me, but I don't take it as a slap in the face. I'm a long way from being done. If I left here, I know there would be teams out there wanting me. But I don't want to leave. I want to stay in Washington. They want to motivate me, that's all. I can feel a great year coming, all the way to Hawaii (and the Pro Bowl)."
Punter Mike Connell doesn't have to search for reasons to explain the Redskins' decision to match him against six challengers at the start of this training camp.
Statistics give all the reasons Connell and the Redskins need: the team was 20th in the National Football League last year in net punting and Connell was next to last in the National Football Conference and 22d in the league with a 40-yard average, although that was the highest mark of his three-year career.
"Unacceptable rankings," said Wayne Sevier, the special teams coach. "We have to do much better than that."
The decision to replace Moseley, whose kickoff chores also are being threatened, would be controversial and, considering his past heroics, risky. Coach Joe Gibbs, who will make the choice between Moseley and Miller, admits "it would be very, very difficult" to change to a rookie kicker.
But there also is no question that, for the first time since he took over the kicking chores in 1974, Moseley isn't assured of seeing his name on the opening-day roster. This is a bona fide challenge, because the Redskins aren't certain anymore about Moseley's longevity or the health of his leg.
The decision to replace Connell wouldn't be surprising. The Redskins were unhappy with him early last season and mounted a special effort to bring quality punters to this camp.
But Connell also is a fierce competitor who survived threats his first two years with the team. It would be premature to think he won't be able to survive this time, too.
The Redskins didn't wait long to cut five of the seven place-kickers they brought to Dickinson College. Sevier wanted the showdown to be between Moseley and Miller as soon as possible.
"No one should sell Dan Miller short," Sevier said. "This guy is a quality kicker with a very strong leg and excellent accuracy. He may kick soccer style but his ball goes straight (because the ball hits on top of his foot) instead of veering to the left like most soccer kickers. I'm confident he could make it from 60 yards. If we had an average kicker here and not Mark Moseley, it would be an easy decision to keep Miller."
Miller and Moseley present an intriguing contrast. Miller is slight (5 feet 10, 172 pounds) and Moseley husky (6-0, 205). Miller, who learned to kick by copying sidewinder stylists off television, hasn't relied on weights to build his leg. Moseley, one of two straight-on kickers in the league, is an advocate of offseason weight work.
But it was that dedication to weights that may have put Moseley in this position. He had troublesome leg pulls last year, stemming from overmuscled legs, and rarely could practice kicking during the week. His efficiency decreased and Sevier wondered if the injuries would be chronic.
"I've switched now to a Nautilus program in the offseason instead of free weights and I feel great," Moseley said. "For the first time in seven years, my hips and my back don't ache every day. I've rested more. At 34, I still can kick 'em 60 yards."
The Redskins are less concerned about distance than they are about Moseley's early-game troubles last year. In the 15 games he tried field goals, he missed his first attempt eight times.
Moseley: "Worrying about those early kicks is meaningless. There is no reason it happened that way. It's a fluke statistic. I'm sure they can't forget the times I bailed them out at the end of games."
Miller, of course, is unproven under pressure in the NFL, although at the University of Miami he was successful five times outside 49 yards. In camp, he is more concerned "with being accurate from 45 or 40 yards in. That's where most of the kicks will come. I'm just concentrating the best I can to show I'm consistent. I know this is a challenge. It's like a heavyweight championship. I have to score a clear-cut victory. If it's close, they will go with Mark, I know that."
Connell's major competition probably will be from free agent Jeff Hayes, who did both the punting and place-kicking last year at North Carolina.
That was the only season Hayes punted in college and he became the all-ACC punter with a 41.8 average.
But Sevier also has been impressed lately with the work of Al Bollinger, a free agent from Auburn whose consistency has overshadowed a lack of great leg strength.
Hayes also is a fine kickoff man. Opponents returned only 17 of his 64 kickoffs last year.
"We are going to look at Connell, Miller and Hayes on kickoffs," Sevier said. "Jeff also can place-kick in emergencies. And if he can kick off well enough, it might allow Mark to rest his leg more and lengthen his career."
Moseley: "All my leg pulls have come on kickoffs, but I don't want to give them up. They are part of my complete duties and I wouldn't feel like I was doing the job I was being paid for if I didn't kick off."
Even if Connell manages to withstand his present challengers, his worries may not be over. The Redskins like two other punters, Dave Smigelsky of Baltimore and Maury Buford of San Diego. One or both could come here.
Linebacker Monte Coleman, one of the key players in the Redskins' drive to improve their defense, slightly pulled a groin muscle in the morning practice. It is likely Coleman will be out a few days. His spot in the No. 1 linebacking corps was taken by Rich Milot.