Inside the Panthers

Graham Gano says Panthers’ kicking job is his. But will it be at end of the week?

Panthers kicker Harrison Butker connects on a field goal while Graham Gano waits his turn during a training camp practice. Ron Rivera says their competition is even.
Panthers kicker Harrison Butker connects on a field goal while Graham Gano waits his turn during a training camp practice. Ron Rivera says their competition is even. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Graham Gano has been the Carolina Panthers’ placekicker for the past five seasons.

He’s not planning on giving up the gig.

A day after Panthers coach Ron Rivera called the kicking and punting competitions even, Gano didn’t flinch when asked if he thought the job was still his.

“I do,” he said after Monday’s practice. “I’ve been here for quite a while. Last year was a really great season (except for) the first game and the last game, when I had the broken ankle for four or five games.

“It was frustrating at the end, but I was on pace to have my best year as a Panther,” he added. “But I’m healthy now and feel like I’ve been hitting the ball as well as I ever have.”

Gano is competing with rookie Harrison Butker, the former Georgia Tech kicker whom the Panthers drafted in the seventh round after Gano missed eight field goals in 2016.

Gano’s biggest miss was a 50-yarder that would have won the Super Bowl rematch at Denver in Week 1. He ended the season with a 1-for-4 performance at Tampa Bay, then had foot surgery in January.

Gano was born with an extra bone in the back of both ankles, a rare condition that athletes frequently on their toes, such as kickers, ballet dancers and skaters.

Gano’s preseason began eerily similar to his Week 1 experience vs. the Broncos: He missed a 50-yarder against Houston when he banged the ball off the left upright.

Butker made a 51-yarder against the Texans, and neither player has missed a kick in the two preseason games since.

“He’s good. He’s got a really good leg on him,” Gano said of Butker. “It’s been a really good competition. It’s been fun to come out here and compete with him.”

The Panthers would create about $3.2 million in cap space by cutting Gano, while Butker is set to make $465,000 this year.

Gano, 30, said he’s not concerned with Rivera’s comments this week about the competition being even headed into Thursday’s exhibition finale against Pittsburgh.

“I just focus on what I’m doing,” he said. “I’ve put together a really, really great training camp and I feel good about what I’ve done.”

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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