The Panthers have struggled to replace longtime kicker and fan favorite John Kasay since parting ways with him in 2010. He was a favorite because when the game was on the line Kasay had ice in his veins. Even when he no longer had the leg for kick off duties he was worth the extra roster spot just for his ability to split the uprights, at least for a few seasons anyway. Kasay finished his career as one of the most decorated kickers in NFL history and is a sure fire Panthers Hall of Honor inductee in 2018.
So that is the legacy Gano and every kicker that dons a Panther uniform will have to face. Rivera knows he needs to put the pressure on Gano as early as possible so this past Tuesday he tried to do just that. With the team surrounding Gano if he didn't make the kick practice would continue. He drilled it:
Gano handling pressure, wants to be a fit for Carolina - NFL - Gaston Gazette
"That was fun," Gano said. "They let me know it would be happening beforehand, so that’s kind of what I look forward to. Hopefully we’ll get more of those situations because it better prepares you for what’s going to happen during the season."
Rivera said making the field goal helped Gano’s teammates know they can count on him when his number is called. "We put the pressure on Graham," he said. "If he missed the kick, they had to come back for the second set of meetings. If he didn’t miss the kick, then they were excused after the first set. It was great to see him come through for his teammates. I most certainly do expect that he’ll get an opportunity to come through for us during the season."
After stints by Olindo Mare and Justin Medlock ended prematurely we are very hopeful Gano is the guy to finally be the reliable kicker the Panthers so desperately need. I don't know the actual statistics but I'm thinking at least half of a teams games in a given season are determined by the kicker is some fashion. There are usually at least a couple that come down to a last second, pressure packed FG.
Confidence can be a fleeting thing. How a HC manages his kickers psyche can play a huge role. Last year Ron Rivera passed on a last second FG opportunity right before halftime against the Bears in spite of the fact K Justin Medlock had already connected on two FGs in the game. He would later kick three more in the second half only to see the Panthers lose the game on a last second FG by the Bears. Medlock wouldn't hit another FG for the Panthers that season and got cut three weeks later. So is Rivera to blame for the meltdown? Considering Medlock hit three more that game should say no but in the end something happened to the kid.
Gano is on his third team and you can tell he would like it to be his last so I'm sure there is already plenty of pressure. It's just that in today's NFL there is no room for error and Rivera has no slack to work with as his job is one the line. That pressure inherently falls to the kicker as well:
"That’s entirely up to the coaches," Gano said. "I feel good about the way I’m hitting the ball right now. I’m just taking it one practice at a time, one kick at a time. As long as you do that then you don’t really worry about anything. I’m competing with Morgan Lineberry (Abilene Christian). He’s a very solid kicker. I think as long as I’m focusing on making my kicks and nothing else, I’ll leave it up to the coaches. In the end hopefully I’ll be the guy."
Just keep nailing those kicks and it will all work, we hope. He certainly has the leg for it as he was one of the best in the league in kick off distance. Word is he nailed a 63 yarder at Fan fest yesterday as well. Hopefully Rivera won't fret to let Gano rip a long one when the situation presents itself.
One thing is for sure though, before the 2013 season is a wrap the Panthers playoff hopes and Ron Rivera's job will most likely come down to the foot of Graham Gano.