Posted: 6:30 a.m.
Kicker Shayne Graham had an eventful offseason.
He unhappily became the Bengals franchise free agent, but worked himself into what he called the best shape he's been in a long time while spending much of the winter in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. Then he lost his holder for the last five years when the Bengals cut Kyle Larson in the wake of drafting University of Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber in the fifth round.
Larson was a major reason Graham has shattered most of the Bengals kicking records, but Graham doesn't see a loss of rhythm or timing now that a rookie is holding. Graham has already watched Huber hold on film and hooked up with him a few times already and has been impressed.
"Kyle was like a brother to me. I loved him, loved his wife, loved his family. The business side is what it is," Graham said Wednesday. "I think (Huber) is a good holder. I don't think there'll be any change in our rhythm or operation so I think it should be pretty good. I've seen him around in social situations. My Virginia Tech football team beat up on his UC team in the Orange Bowl. He had a great game that game. He's a good guy. I think he's got a strong leg, he's a good punter. He's willing to work and learn and he's not coming in here thinking he knows everything. He's open to learning and making himself better."
(Huber and Graham hook up officially for the first time Tuesday on the first day of voluntary camp.)
Graham understood that move, but he said he didn't understand why the club franchised him with a one-year deal of $2.5 million that kept him off the market when they "didn't make a serious effort" to sign him.
"I appreciate the fact they felt like there was value in franchising me," he said, "but just a little disappointment there wasn't a serious effort to sign a long-term deal."
With the Bengals deciding that Graham is worth the average salary of the top five paid kickers in the NFL, one has to believe he's looking to be paid among the league's elite after six seasons he has become the Bengals' most accurate kicker of all time. That translates to about $3 million per year judging by the recent deals, yet he says "I got over (the disappointment) and either way I'm part of the team."
Graham, one of the most recognizable figures in the community through his many charitable deeds, seeks long-term security and says this past year was "good timing" for him to get it.
"In free agency, usually how you have to do it, your stats have to be at a certain level, you've got to be healthy and all those things," Graham said, "and when you have those things going into free agency, it was good timing. For the team, I want to perform at the highest level either way. As far as being a free agent and having market value, now you just have to make sure you stay healthy one more year. No stupid injuries occur and you have to make sure you keep your stats up so that you've got that market value. Knowing I could have taken care of that last year and signed a long-term deal ... it's kind of hard to do things like that with all the stresses that go around with it without having that security."
Graham, 31, is coming off a season he missed the first two games of his Bengals career with a groin injury suffered covering an onside kick and he's returned vowing not to miss any more. Although he says he has nothing against the Bengals offseason conditioning program, he opted to rent a home in Florida and embark on a regimen with personal trainers and nutritionists.
He says he pretty much went from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day, which began with runs on the beach, continued with kicking at the University of South Florida, and were interspersed with sprinting. He figures he lost a lot of body fat and feels better than he has in years.
Graham knew some eyebrows would be raised when he didn't get here until two weeks ago after signing the deal.
"It was non-stop every day," Graham said. "Just from the mental aspect of having great weather it was worth it to me. When I came in here, I think there was some concern, 'Oh, he's not working out with the team,' but I feel like I'm in better shape than I have been in the past. I didn't feel like I had to play catch up."
CROCKER FAMILIAR: Chris Crocker says he's used to watching the newest member of the secondary, fellow safety Roy Williams. Before becoming a Bengal, Crocker played for former Dallas defensive coordinators Dave Campo and Mike Zimmer in his various stints through the league and saw plenty of No. 31 on tape.
Crocker can relate to Williams' situation. He too had been discarded by an NFL team, but hooked up with a defensive coordinator he had in a past life that knew how to use him. It just so happens for Crocker and Williams it's the same guy in Zimmer.
"I've seen a lot of his cutups. He's a player. He can play," Crocker said. "The last two years he might have taken a lot of heat for who knows? I've taken heat for things that weren't my fault but you don't know that as an outsider. It doesn't matter what he did in the past. It's the same thing with me. Nobody cares what I did in the past. All that matters is what's going on now."
What is going on now is that before Williams signed last week, Crocker had emerged as a leader on defense with the help of a four-year, $10 million deal. He doesn't see that changing with the arrival of Williams and his five Pro Bowls. He got a chance to work on the field with Williams for the first time Tuesday.
"I'm a competitor. I don't care who they bring in. I'm just focused on what I have to do," Crocker said. "It's definitely going to be a physical secondary. We'll see how it plays out. It's early. We've got to get on the field in OTAs (voluntary camp) and training camp to get our chemistry."
Crocker has noted the strength up the middle of the defense in the acquisitions of Williams, Cowboys defensive tackle Tank Johnson and USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga.
"I thought we were headed in the right direction at the end of last year and those were things to build on," he said. "These guys are players. They can play. They can definitely help. There are a lot of unknowns. We are deep in spots, in the secondary, on the line, at linebacker. At the end of the day we have a lot of competition."