The Houston Texans found themselves in the market for a new placekicker this offseason following former K Neil Rackers’ decision to sign with the Washington Redskins. That led them to draft a kicker for the first time in team history, as they selected former Texas A&M kicker Randy Bullock with their 5th round draft pick. Bullock, who hails from the Houston area’s Klein High School, won the Lou Groza Award for the best kicker in the NCAA his senior season. They then signed veteran K Shayne Graham as a free agent to compete with Bullock in training camp. Graham is a 13 year veteran who has kicked for several teams. Of all of the position battles in camp and so far through the preseason, this one may be the most tightly contested.
Life as a kicker can be unassuming and in some ways cruel and unfair (See fictional kicker Ray Finkle in the movie Ace Ventura Pet detective). He is usually the most overlooked man on the team, until it comes time to attempt that game winning kick at the end of a game. Make it, and that is what he’s supposed to do. Miss it, and he becomes the goat and usually takes the blame if his team loses (ala Ray Finkle). The pressure that comes with making a field goal in a tight game may be unmatched in any other sport. Throw in weather elements in outdoor games such as wind, rain, and snow which can make the task even more difficult. With prime time road games this season in cities such as New York vs the New York Jets, Chicago vs the Chicago Bears and Boston vs the New England Patriots, there is a very high likelihood that whoever is kicking for the Texans will be called on to make a clutch kick in one of the aforementioned situations.
According to Head Coach Gary Kubiak, the competition between Bullock and Graham is neck and neck after two preseason games. Bullock is 2-3 this preseason with a long of 52 yards and his miss form 51 yards out. Graham is 4-4 with a long of 49 yards. The distance each kicker has on his kickoffs will also factor into the decision on who wins the job. Ideally for the Texans, Bullock would win the competition since they drafted him to do so. A team would prefer not to cut one of their players that they invested a draft choice on, but he is going to have to earn the spot. Kubiak has already stated that the job will not be conceded to anyone and the kicker who shows the coaching staff the most in practices and preseason games will come out victorious.
This kicking competition will be one that goes down to the wire and the winner won’t be named until after Thursday’s preseason finale vs the Minnesota Vikings at Reliant Stadium. With the final roster cutdown to 53 players on Friday, it is also very likely that whoever loses the competition between Bullock and Graham will not be out of a job for long and will be kicking for another team this season. Both have had strong camps and preseasons and have shown to be very good kickers. The Texans loss will be another team’s gain, and each man will look to continue to make the coaching staff’s choice even more difficult tonight in New Orleans. Although they will be kicking indoors in the Superdome, it will be another good opportunity to evaluate Bullock and Graham in a hostile environment on the road. Who knows, maybe the next time after tonight that the winner will be lining up to attempt a field goal for the Texans in the Superdome will be in February to win Super Bowl XLVII. No matter who’s kicking, that would be a scenario that the Texans would love to see play out.