For most of the season Dave Rayner was surprisingly reliable. He salvaged drives when the offense fizzled in the red zone by hitting 15-of-16 kicks from 0-39 yards through 14 games. Not bad for someone who attempted one field goal in his NFL career prior to the season.
But his striking consistency shattered in the final two games. Yes, he nailed a clutch 44-yard winner against Minnesota. But he missed four of six kicks in the 0-to-39-yard range against Chicago and the Vikings, while also clanking an extra point off the left post.
Thompson took no chances this offseason, drafting Colorado's Mason Crosby with the 193rd overall pick in the sixth round. Projected by some as a surefire first day pick, Crosby is known for his freakish leg strength. With the Buffaloes, there wasn't a kick Crosby didn't like. From 50 yards and beyond he went 11-for-16 (including a 60-yard conversion) before a subpar senior year.
"I noticed when he had something happen, when he missed a kick, or didn't kick it quite the way he wanted to have it, he came back, rebounded," special teams coordinator Mike Stock said. "I like the way he reacts to some adversity he faced."
Considering Mike McCarthy prefers to play rookies ASAP, Crosby enters training camp as a major threat to Rayner. Last season, the former Indianapolis Colts kickoff specialist had hardly any competition from journeyman Billy Cundiff. This year's dual between strong-legged kickers should be neck-and-neck throughout camp and a real joy to watch. Stock could find himself in the middle of a Home Run Derby.
Unlike other positions, kicking is totally objective. You either make kicks or you don't. You're either Scott Norwood or Adam Vinatieri ... every media outlet will pronounce you as such on Monday morning.
But Rayner is in an unusual spot.
Up until the final two weeks in ‘06, his job for this season was secure. Rayner had made 78 percent of his kicks and become the one constant on an unpredictable offense. Now suddenly his career has reverted back to where it was last summer - utter uncertainty.
Rayner must recapture his swagger because Crosby's won't deteriorate. The rookie boldly attempted 25 kicks from 50-plus in four years at Colorado. For comparison, Vinatieri has dared to attempt only 18 such bombs in 11 NFL seasons.
Next up: Dunne focuses on running back Noah Herron on Wednesday on PackerReport.com.