Bogotay, Graham Getting One Last Shot To Fill Dawson's Big Right Shoe
By Steven King
The Cleveland Browns got kicked around in their last game.
Now they want to get their kicks – in more ways than one – when they meet the Chicago Bears on Thursday night at Soldier Field in the preseason finale.
The Browns were dreadful in a 27-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts last Saturday night. The one-sided score doesn’t begin to tell the story. It was much worse than that. They were completely outplayed – and looked bad doing it – in every aspect. There was absolutely nothing positive.
Considering it was the so-called “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski yelled, “Cut!,” and has ordered his starters to re-do the scene. They probably would not have seen action against the Bears, but now many of them will play 10-12 snaps in hopes they will look like more the bunch that performed so well in opening victories over the St. Louis Rams (27-19) and Detroit Lions (24-6). And if so, then it might give the club a much-needed boost heading into the regular-season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 8 at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Many of the position battles have already been settled. Of those that have not, maybe the most interesting one is at kicker where veteran Shayne Graham and rookie Brandon Bogotay are competing.
In the offseason, it appeared that the 35-year-old Graham – in his 12th season – had the edge and a big one at that. The former Cincinnati Bengal is a proven commodity and has kicked in Cleveland and in the AFC North
Bogotay, on the other hand, is an NFL neophyte who has spent his time kicking in the warmth and sun of the Southeastern Conference on dry fields while playing at Georgia. What in the world did this 24-year-old know about the cold, tricky winds at First Energy Stadium – probably the toughest place in the NFL to kick?
So far, it’s been pretty much a wash statistically in the preseason, with Graham making all three of his attempts while Bogotay is 2-of-3.
But something that has happened off the field in the meantime may have swayed the competition greatly in Bogotay’s favor. Cleveland has cast off many of its older veterans in a youth movement second to none. Graham isn’t the future; he’s the present. And the 2013 Browns, under the direction of CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi, aren’t nearly as much about the present as they are about the future.
So unless Bogatay has a nightmarish effort against the Bears or aggravates a groin injury that has already limited his time, he will be the kicker in the opener.
But if they deem him not the answer, then they may go with Graham temporarily while bringing in a lot of young kickers for tryouts until they can find someone they do want. We’ll just have to wait and see.
The problem is – and Banner and Lombardi know it all too well – is that they let Phil Dawson, maybe the best kicker in the league, go in the offseason when they decided not to re-sign him. Dawson, essentially the only kicker Cleveland has had in the expansion era dating back to 1999, was 29-of-31 on field goals last season and made the Pro Bowl.
His career percentage is 84 percent – tops in team history and No. 9 all-time. He was a goldmine, especially on a team that has really struggled to score touchdowns. With Dawson’s sure foot, the Browns knew they could get at least three points once they got to the opponents’ 35-yard line.
He is the best kicker in team history, even better than Pro Football Hall of Famer Lou Groza. With all the change that has gone on for the franchise in the expansion era, Dawson was the one rock. Season after season, the club went into training camp knowing it already had its kicker, and a very good one at that. He is the only member of the 1999 expansion team still playing anywhere in the NFL.
The first time Bogotay, Graham or some other kicker not already on the roster shanks a chip-shot attempt this season, the club will come under even more criticism than it already has for not retaining Dawson.
Indeed, quarterback isn’t the only position in Cleveland that will be in the spotlight this season and, for that matter, even in this final game of the preseason.