An intense battle is under way between incumbent Texans kicker Kris Brown and challenger Neil Rackers, but the competition hasn’t turned venomous.
“I try like hell to win every day, but when we walk away from this field, it doesn’t mean we have to be enemies,” Brown said.
Brown is the last player remaining from the original Texans roster, and he has played in all of the franchise’s 128 games. But his time in Houston could come to an end if Rackers outperforms him in training camp and preseason games. The two will go head-to-head this week for the first time in training camp, and the stakes are high.
“We get along great, but once we go out and kick, we shut it off and do our job,” Rackers said. “May the best man win.”
After their limited competition at minicamp and during organized team activities, special teams coordinator Joe Marciano said the coaching staff is not close to deciding which kicker will get the job this season.
“They’re neck and neck right now,” Marciano said. “Absolutely neck and neck.”
Rackers and Brown are virtually identical on paper. Both are 33. Brown is a 12-year veteran; Rackers enters his 11th season.
Physically, they are two inches and four pounds apart, with Brown (5-11, 214) slightly shorter and stockier than Rackers (6-1, 210).
Numbers tell the story
But for kickers, accuracy is what really counts. Brown has a .773 career field-goal percentage and a .980 mark on extra-point attempts. Rackers’ résumé is slightly more impressive with.782 and .983 figures, respectively.
From those career numbers, last season’s are arguably the most important. After a career year in 2008 (.879), Brown slumped in 2009 to a career-worst .656 field-goal percentage.
His struggles led to the Texans’ offseason pursuit of Rackers, who made 94.1 percent of his field goals for Arizona last season. The Texans signed him to a two-year deal in April.
Rackers had other options, but he said he chose Houston because of what he saw in the Texans’ 28-21 loss to the Cardinals last season. Marciano speculated that the favorable weather conditions for kicking in Houston also might have been a factor.
“When it first went down, I wasn’t very excited about it,” Brown said of Rackers’ arrival. “But now I’m embracing it and trying to come out every day with a good attitude.”
So far, the kickers have been competing in scripted situations to simulate different conditions. Marciano has been in charge of creating pressure, which has included narrowing the goal posts to Arena Football League widths and taunting the kickers.
“These are all just like fourth-quarter kicks out here,” Marciano said. “There’s no lack of pressure.”
Brown said the element of pressure is nothing new because he has dealt with it his entire career. He has brushed it off before and said it can either help or hurt a kicker. Rackers views the battle with an anxious excitement.
“It’s fun,” he said. “In this job, once you get comfortable, you’re in trouble. We’re going to push each other hard, and the Texans will make a decision on who’s going to help them win games.”
Decision won’t be easy
Rackers praised Brown for helping him and his family get acquainted with Houston and assisting in their getting settled here.
Despite all of the respect and politeness the kickers have for each other, one will be released before the season starts. The choice ultimately belongs to coach Gary Kubiak, who realizes his decision might not be an easy one.
“I don’t think we’re going to see a situation where one guy is head-over-heels better than the other,” Kubiak said. “We’ve got it mapped out, and we’ll see what happens over the course of the next month.”