October 1, 2014

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Browns fill void at kicker with Billy Cundiff; OL Jason Pinkston placed on short-term IR

Billy Cundiff will replace Phil Dawson again. This time, he hopes it lasts longer than five games.
Cundiff agreed to a one-year contract with the Browns on Tuesday after a competition with Giorgio Tavecchio. He will join the team for practice today and kick Sunday in the season opener against Miami at FirstEnergy Stadium.
To clear a spot on the 53-man roster, the Browns placed guard Jason Pinkston on injured reserve/designated to return. He sustained a high ankle sprain Aug. 15 against Detroit and will be eligible to return to practice Week 7 and play Week 9 — Nov. 3 against the Ravens.
Starting right guard Shawn Lauvao had arthroscopic ankle surgery Aug. 9 but is closer to a return than Pinkston is. Oniel Cousins will start in the interim.
Cundiff, 33, has experience kicking on the shores of Lake Erie. In 2009, he filled in for an injured Dawson and went 6-for-6 on field goals during five games with the Browns, including an 18-yard winner with 22 seconds left in a 6-3 victory at Buffalo.
Cundiff knew that gig was short-term because Dawson was entrenched within the franchise. That’s no longer the case, and Cundiff has a chance to stick around for a while.
Dawson was allowed to leave in free agency in March after 14 years. He’s the franchise leader with 305 field goals and an 84 percent conversion rate, second with 1,271 points and third with 215 games.
The hole he left wasn’t able to be filled throughout the offseason, training camp and the preseason. The Browns’ kicking situation was so unsettled, they didn’t have one on the roster Sunday and Monday after cutting veteran Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay, who spent training camp with the team.
“We’ll have a kicker within the next few days. I’m not concerned,” coach Rob Chudzinski said Saturday.
Cundiff is that guy.
He started his career in 2002 as an undrafted free agent and spent three-plus seasons with the Cowboys. He spent five games with the Saints in 2006, bounced around, then was out of the league for two years until joining the Browns in 2009.
He parlayed the perfect performance with Cleveland into a full-time job in Baltimore. He finished 2009 with the Ravens and was a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 2010, when he made 26 of 29 field goals.
Cundiff returned to Baltimore for 2011, but the season ended with a rushed 32-yarder that would’ve tied the score in the final seconds of the AFC championship game. The kick was pulled left, the Patriots went to the Super Bowl and Cundiff was scorned in Baltimore.
Cundiff wound up in Washington last year, going 7-for-12 in five games. He spent this preseason with the Jets, going 3-for-3 before he was waived Aug. 28.
In 106 regular-season games, Cundiff is 139-for-184 (75.5 percent) with one blocked and 217-for-218 on extra points. He struggles as the kicks get longer. He’s made all 51 field goals under 30 yards, 42 of 56 from 30-39, 37 of 52 from 40-49 and only 5 of 21 from 50-plus.
In the postseason, he’s 12-for-14.
He has excelled on kickoffs with 44 touchbacks in 2011 and 40 in 2010. The kickoff was moved up 5 yards to the 35-yard line before the 2011 season.
Tavecchio is a 23-year-old without NFL game experience. He spent the offseason and camp with the Packers, going 1-for-2 in the preseason, but veteran Mason Crosby kept the job.
The Browns are looking to go younger at the position, but with so little time before the season elected to go with Cundiff’s experience.
Veteran Dan Carpenter was scheduled to participate in the competition but signed with Buffalo after Dustin Hopkins was injured Monday.
There’s been a lot of angst among fans about the lack of a kicker less than a week before the opener, but the Browns downplayed the situation. Even long snapper Christian Yount said getting the timing down with a new kicker isn’t an issue.
“In places I’ve been before and situations I’ve been before, we’ve had different kickers throughout the course of the season,” Chudzinski said. “It is probably the one position where a guy could come in. There’s not a lot of interaction with teammates and getting to learn systems and all those type things. It’s pretty much an individualized skill.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.