Rayner Ready To Battle For Job


When the Packers drafted kicker Mason Crosby out of Colorado in the sixth round late last month, incumbent kicker Dave Rayner didn't even know about it until five days later.

That's because Rayner was on vacation and out of the country, with his cell phone turned off. Then he got a message the Friday following the draft notifying him about the fight he would have to keep his job, a battle that officially kicks off with the full-squad minicamp this weekend.

But don't mistake Rayner's disconnect at the time of the draft with a laissez-faire attitude toward the upcoming competition for the kicking job. He's ready, as well as confident he can improve on his 2006 performance.

"I'm getting stronger and better now than I was last season," said Rayner, who made 26 of 35 field goals (74.3 percent) in his first season as a full-time kicker. "I'm going to go into this season like he's going to have to kick really, really well to beat me out.

"Competition is never a bad thing. It's not going to hurt anybody."

That's been the mantra of the entire coaching and personnel staffs, in line with the theme of improving from within. Just because a given position wasn't a liability last year doesn't mean it can't improve, and the best way to improve is to have quality competitors push each other to maximize on their abilities.

"He did a pretty good job for the first year," special teams coordinator Mike Stock said of Rayner, who also made 31 of 32 extra points and recorded 11 touchbacks on kickoffs, the most by a Packer since 1997. "But again, it's all about competition. I don't think anybody here likes to think 8-8 was good enough, and I'm not just saying that in regard to him, but everybody. So I think that's why this is happening."

Crosby brings an impressive leg and statistical record with him from Colorado, and many draft reports had him being selected long before the sixth round. Bringing him in presents a no-lose situation for Green Bay, because Crosby will either push Rayner to be even better or prove he's NFL-ready as a rookie and perhaps the team's kicker for many years to come.

Either way, Rayner isn't dismissing Crosby as an extra kicker brought in just to give him a rest during kicking drills, nor is he going to simply step aside and let the youngster with the powerful leg take his job away.

"I guess I'd say I'm not shocked, because I knew there was going to be competition brought in," Rayner said. "I was told from the beginning, 'You're not ever going to be the only kicker in camp, no matter if you're a 10-year vet or what.'

"Did I think they were going to draft a kicker? No. From what I understood, they were going to bring in a free agent, or a guy that's kind of bounced around the league. Am I worried? No, because it's going to be about me anyway. It's going to be my job to lose, and if I kick well then I'll win the job."

{sportsad300}Rayner has spent time during the offseason refining his skills, like all kickers do, but he said the drafting of Crosby has changed his schedule slightly. Because the competition will be legitimate, rather than use training camp to simply get ready for the regular season, Rayner plans to make sure he's in "game shape" a little sooner.

"I think it puts a little bit more of a rush on things, Rayner said. "Obviously, they drafted him, they think highly of him, so I don't want to go into camp sloppy and give them any reason to say, 'He's not been working hard.'

"I'm going to go into it - maybe not at my full tip-top season shape in the beginning of training camp, because I don't think you can do that body-wise - but I'm definitely going to go in ahead of where I was going to, just to be sharp when training camp comes so there's no excuse."

If there's any mental advantage, it probably goes to Rayner because he has been through this type of competition as a pro before, having beaten out veteran Billy Cundiff here last summer. As a rookie in 2005, Rayner had been the kickoff specialist for the Indianapolis Colts and was never really a threat to veteran Mike Vanderjagt for field goal duties, making last year his first as a full-time kicker.

But with nine missed field goals in 2006, seven of which came from 45 yards or less, Rayner views that first year not as one to be satisfied with, but as one to build on.

"I had a pretty good year, I feel comfortable, and I'm confident in what I can do," he said. "It's going to be a good competition. But like I said, he's going have to work his butt off to beat me out."

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