Posted: 1:45 p.m.
GrahamNow you have to start looking at Shayne Graham, the man they put on the "The Short Bus" five times, over the long haul in a stretch limousine.
His fourth field goal of the 2006 season is going to be the 100th of his career and more than likely makes him the second most accurate kicker of all time. The accent mark is on all time as Graham begins his second season of a physical regimen approaching the benchmark of some of the position's greatest graybeards.
In his NFL sojourns, Bengals strength coach Chip Morton has brushed up against John Carney, John Kasay and Matt Stover, a veritable Mount Rushmore of active kickers, and compares Graham's workouts to a trio that dominates the record book.
"That's good," says Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons, who has also worked with Stover and Kasay. "That's why they're still kicking."
At the tender age of 28 and off his first Pro Bowl, Graham is committed more than ever to his body after last preseason's bout with a groin injury. After he came back (and drilled the first seven field goals of the regular season, by the way), he put in more time with Morton and assistant Ray Oliver on the side in practice before and after his kicking.
TOP ALL-TIME ACCURATE KICKERS
Mike Vanderjagt, eight seasons, 87.5 (217-248)
Shayne Graham, six seasons, 84.2 (100-118)*
Phil Dawson, seven seasons, 83.8 (135-161)
Matt Stover, 16 seasons, 83.1 (380-457)
"It basically gave me more motivation to do more of that stuff when I had down time," Graham says of the injury. "I've always liked working out and wanted to be in shape, but having that extra stuff ... these guys have seen a kicker who typically kicked and is finished for the day. Let them seeing (me work) I think means a lot as far as respect and being part of the team."
But, let's face it, players, like fans, only remember one thing.
"All I know is he kicks the hell out of the ball," says cornerback Greg Brooks, who has spent his fair share of time with Oliver and Morton as he recovers from a hamstring injury. "Not only making them, but the touchbacks, too. That's huge."
Graham, who has dealt with short kickoffs for much of his three seasons here, raised eyebrows and hopes when his first three kickoffs of the preseason went into the end zone, resulting in two touchbacks.
As head coach Marvin Lewis says, a touchback takes an enormous amount of pressure off the coverage team, just like getting a lead takes heat off the run defense.
Graham says the sessions with Morton and Oliver have paid off, and he can feel the strength and endurance in his leg. Around the time of the groin injury, Morton and Lewis approached Graham about perhaps staying closer to home in his training and finding "more appropriate" exercises for the leg.
"Marvin and Darrin both wanted me to look out and do other stuff, and lower the reps on the kicking," Graham says. "I think the fact I've been with Chip ever since last year when I had time to recover from my groin injury, I've put a lot more time into that working out stuff. All my free time in practice is doing some sort of workout drill. I really think it's paying off. My leg is in shape, it's got more endurance. It's a little stronger and I think it's translating into my kicking."
Graham spent more time with Morton and Oliver this offseason and also branched out into a stationary bike program at a local gym. Morton says Graham probably lifts more than Stover but not as much as Carney, a real weight-room rat. Stover is deep into physical fitness, probably more than Graham. Morton says Graham is a more all-around guy in the mold of Kasay, which maks sense since the Bengals kicker spent a lot of time with Kasay, who was the last guy to beat out Graham in that Carolina training camp of '03. Graham arrived here the next day, just hours before the season, and the rest is history.
Graham's career pace on his field-goal accuracy is 84.2 percent and if he gets his 100th field goal at that mark only Mike Vanderjagt will have a better percentage among kickers with at least 100 field goals at 87.5. Which is what Graham's percentage is in Cincinnati at 77-for-88.
Stover, at age 38, is third on the current list at 83.1. Carney, heading into his 19th season at age 42, is seventh on the all-time scoring list. Kasay, 36, is third on the all-time list with 29 field goals of at least 50 yards.
"He's on the right path. Look at how those guys have taken care of themselves," Simmons says.
A game in Buffalo is always a good time to check in with Graham. The Bills are one of the teams that released him a total of five times, whacking him after a 2001 season he made six of his first eight NFL field-goal attempts.
"It's always good to play a team that didn't think you were good enough," Graham says. "But I've got no hard feelings. Buffalo was the turning point. They're the team that allowed me to get my name out there. It was one of the building blocks of my career."
The Short Bus?
"Actually, it's one of those airport vans," Graham says. "With the sliding doors and the bench in the back. That's what they send when they cut you from camp, or they don't sign you after a tryout."
No Short Bus, now.
And, it looks like, no short career, either.