Opting for potential over past production, the Green Bay Packers have decided to go with Dave Rayner as their place-kicker, even though the second-year veteran has never converted a field goal attempt in an NFL regular-season game.
The Packers released the more experienced Billy Cundiff, who spent most of the past 3½ seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, leaving Rayner as the lone kicker in camp. There are no plans, at least for now, to add a veteran kicker to challenge him, a fact that Rayner conceded surprised even him.
"It's all about opportunities, and he is young," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. "He has a strong leg, and I think he has a winner's substance to him. I like his personality. I like his approach. And I'm excited to see how he does."
Part of the rationale in releasing Cundiff after only one preseason game was actually to see how Rayner responded with all of the kicking responsibilities left to him. Green Bay could still bring in a veteran, like free agent Paul Edinger, who auditioned for Packers coaches in the spring, but the team wants to see how Rayner handles the pressure, beginning with Saturday's preseason game against Atlanta.
Rayner, 23, was a sixth-round draft choice of the Indianapolis Colts in 2005, and the former Michigan State standout handled the team's kickoffs for 14 games. Viewed by some as the eventual replacement for Mike Vanderjagt, Rayner was waived by the Colts after they signed Adam Vinatieri this spring, and was claimed by the Packers, who lost Ryan Longwell to Minnesota in free agency.
With the Colts last season, Rayner attempted just one field goal, missing from 59 yards. During his college career, he converted 62 of 90 field goal tries and 148 of 151 extra point attempts.
Cundiff, 26, had connected on 60 of 82 field goals and all but one of his 101 extra point tries in his tenure with the Cowboys. The conventional wisdom at the outset of training camp was that the more experienced Cundiff would win the job. While some local media outlets charting the competition had Cundiff with the better success rate in practices, the Packers decided that Rayner's leg strength was compelling enough to give him a chance to lay claim to the job.
In the team's Thursday night practice, his first without Cundiff around, Rayner converted with of his 10 field goal tries, missing wide left on attempts from 47 and 49 yards. Among his connections were kicks of 43, 47 and 52 yards.
Rayner admitted it was difficult at times to accept being pigeonholed as just a kickoff specialist. He emphasized that the Colts chose him to supplant Vanderjagt, whose contract expired after the 2005 season, but that the plan was sidetracked when Vinatieri, one of the best clutch kickers in recent history, became available in free agency. He sees the release of Cundiff, though, as a vote of confidence in his abilities to deliver field goal conversions instead of just kickoffs.
It is a gamble the Packers seem willing to take for now, even after the stable situation to which the club had become accustomed during Longwell's nine seasons.
"I just hope this is the start of a long [tenure] here," Rayner said. "They're showing a lot of faith in me. I know nothing is settled yet but, if I kick the way I can and not worry about whether they're out looking for someone else, things will take care of themselves. If I do my job, they won't have a reason to look around."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.