Work in Sports
Hyped rookie kicker struggling with accuracy
"He's a great kicker. I'm not going to waver on that. I know it hasn't worked out the first five ballgames from a percentage standpoint," Gruden said. "But I see great talent and I see a guy who is going to be a great addition to our team. It just may take a little bit longer than maybe we expected."
Gruden said Monday he had not spoken with his kicker yet about his two missed field goals Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
The Raiders ended up winning 34-28 in overtime for their first 4-1 start since 1995, but they could have claimed victory a lot sooner had it not been for missed field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Janikowski was the 17th overall pick in the draft, and the first kicker taken in the first round since 1979.
Although he'd had a few brushes with the law, the Raiders were willing to overlook his faults because of his kicking power and accuracy. In his final year at Florida State, Janikowski was 23-of-30 and converted all 47 extra-points to lead the team in scoring.
The Raiders signed him to a five-year deal worth a reported $6.05 million, which included a $2 million signing bonus.
But his rookie season has been a disappointment -- so far.
Early in training camp, he bragged that he could make a 65-yard field goal. The longest of his six field goals has been 37 yards. He has missed field goals of 41, 50, 49, 41 and 35 yards.
Punter Shane Lechler, Janikowski's holder, is getting tired of talking about his friend's apparent problems.
"It's only human to be frustrated," Lechler said. "You just have to keep your head up and move on."
Lechler insisted that Janikowski was the best kicker in college football and eventually he'll get his game together. The key is getting over the mistakes.
"You've got to block it out. You've got to put it behind you," he said. "That's the hardest thing as a competitor -- you've got to learn to put it behind you."
On Sunday against the 49ers, Janikowski made his two first-half field goals, from 23 and 35 yards.
But late in the fourth quarter with the score tied 28-all, Janikowski's 41-yard attempt went wide left.
In overtime, with the stakes even higher, Gruden sent Janikowski in for a 35-yard try on second-2. The kick went wide right this time.
Gruden said he was concerned about losing position on the next play and decided to go with the field goal -- even though quarterback Rich Gannon complained angrily about the decision.
"It's a 35-yard field goal and I'm not going to sit here and second-guess myself forever," Gruden said. "It's a call that I made and will live with, and if I had it to do again, I'd send Janikowski out there to end the football game."
In his favor, Lechler said the wind at 3Com Park -- known for its unpredictable gusts -- was a nightmare for the kickers on both sides.
Janikowski, however, wasn't saying anything. He ducked out quickly after Sunday's game and on Monday he drove off after meetings without talking to reporters.
"The big thing is he has great ability," Gruden said, "and is playing for a team that has won four games and lost one."