Jan 4, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Orleans Saints kicker Shayne Graham (3) kicks the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles in the second quarter during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Saints won 26-24. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
With the excitement of training camp beginning to surround the New Orleans Saints‘ fan base, it’s time to examine the positional battles that will be taking place once practice in full pads kicks off in July. Between the 2014 NFL Draft and the free agent market, the Black and Gold have added a whole assortment of talent to the equation. Thomas Morstead will be in charge of punting and kick off duties again, but who will be drilling the field goals when the new season arrives?
Veteran Shayne Graham made his way around the league before taking his talents to the Crescent City (originally signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2000) late in 2013 to replace Garrett Hartley. He was two for two on the season with New Orleans and went on to nail four field goals against the Philadelphia Eagles to help lead the franchise to their first ever road playoff win. He was a bit shaky in the next playoff match against Seattle (0 for 2), which made some fans question his ability to kick under pressure, but the weather was certainly a factor.
The 36-year-old kicker ranks fifth all-time in the NFL with 85.5% of his field goals made and owns several franchise records with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Saints resigned Graham to a one-year deal in February, but that does not mean he’s locked in as the starter for 2014. Entering his fifteenth season, Graham sits atop the depth chart for now. He impressed at minicamp, but there is a new face in town that could be a threat to his job security.
Derek Dimke signed with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent in 2012, going two for two during the preseason, but was released before the regular season began. He was part of the New York Jets offseason team in 2013 before being relieved of his duties and then going on to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to battle for a starting role. With the Bucs, he was six for seven on the preseason before the team cut him.
Dimke was one of four others to workout alongside Shayne Graham when the saints dumped Garret Hartley. Sean Payton and company liked what they saw and signed Dimke to a futures contract in January. The former University of Illinois star is the most accurate kicker in Fighting Illini history (84.9%). He also holds the school record for most consecutive PATs made and ranks sixth all-time in scoring. If Dimke can continue the strong play that he displayed at minicamp, Graham may be in some trouble.
Training camp is creeping up and the battles are beginning to brew. Who will be booting the pigskin through the uprights in 2014? The veteran or the new guy? Both kickers have a legitimate shot at making the roster, but only one can reign supreme. This without question will be a position to keep an eye on.