HOUSTON (AP) — Texans coach Gary Kubiak must choose a kicker during training camp, and for a team with Super Bowl aspirations that could be a pivotal decision.
Houston drafted Texas A&M standout Randy Bullock in the fifth round, then signed veteran Shayne Graham to challenge Bullock for the job. Kubiak is looking for a replacement for Neil Rackers, who signed with Washington in the offseason. Rackers went 32 for 38 for Houston last season.
Kubiak will get his first look at his kickers in action when Houston (No. 6 in the AP Pro32) opens the preseason at Carolina (20, AP Pro 32) on Saturday. He'll decide Thursday night how he'll split the opportunities for Bullock and Graham, and says he'll be watching kickoffs as closely as field-goal tries.
"We'll do everything we can to make it right down the middle," Kubiak said. "It's hard. You can't give them games because one may get more kicks than others, so we'll probably just rotate back and forth."
Bullock is the most accurate kicker in Texas A&M history, connecting on 63 of 80 attempts (78.8 percent) in four seasons. He set single-season school records for points (142), field goals (29) and extra-points (55) in 2011 to win the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the nation's top kicker.
Graham, 34, has bounced around the league as an injury replacement following seven years in Cincinnati, which included a Pro Bowl invitation in 2005. He went 12-for-12 for New England in 2010 after Stephen Gostowski went on injured reserve with a thigh injury, and kicked briefly for Miami and Baltimore last season.
He's made 214 of 249 field-goal tries in his career (86 percent), but he doesn't think his experience offers much of an advantage in the competition with Bullock.
"Nothing's ever a given, nothing is ever guaranteed," he said. "I still have to perform, it doesn't matter what I've done in my past. You still have to perform, you still have to treat every kick like it's a new kick. I've been to the Pro Bowl, he's been a Groza winner. We've both proved ourselves in the past, but that means nothing right now."
Kubiak had a tougher decision to make before the 2010 season, and opted to keep Rackers and cut Kris Brown, who was the last player from the Texans' inaugural 2002 season.
Kubiak called that a "tough, tough call," given Brown's close ties to the franchise history. There's no such dynamic here, although Bullock is a Houston native and starred at Kubiak's alma mater, Texas A&M. The Texans took the rare step of using a draft pick on kicker after Bullock "put on a show" during a pre-draft workout, according to Kubiak.
Bullock is under the impression that none of those connections count for anything.
"As far as I know, it's open," Bullock said. "It might help me a little bit, but at the same time, he (Graham) has done what he's done, he's got a long resume. It's a good opportunity for me, but at the same time, I've got to show up every day and be ready."
Graham, meanwhile, says he's had competition in training camp more often than he hasn't during his career, and he prefers it that way.
"It's a way to keep yourself sharp," he said. "A knife, if you just keep the knife out in the sun, it'll get dull. But if you put it against other metal, that sharpens it. Really, you do keep each other sharp, and that's good for both of us in the long run."
By all appearances, Bullock and Graham have been friendly from the start of camp, chatting as they wait their turns at practice and sharing information about their routines and preparation.
"We get along great," Graham said. "There are times when I give him advice on certain things, just warming up procedures, to day-to-day, keeping yourself ready. We don't give each other technical advice, because everybody is different.
"But he's a good guy and we get along great," Graham said. "We don't have any animosity toward each other. We know that our kicking is going to be our only competition, not what we say to each other."
Notes: LB Brian Cushing sat out Wednesday's practice with flu-like symptoms. ... WR Andre Johnson took about 20 repetitions Wednesday morning. Kubiak says he'll remain cautious with Johnson, who sustained a mild groin strain last week, and he'll decide Thursday whether he'll play at Carolina. ... CB Johnathan Joseph left practice early with a mild groin strain. Kubiak said the injury wasn't serious.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.