Payton: It’ll be hard to take Shayne Graham’s job, but the competition is there

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — Playing in 157 games for nine different teams since 2000, Saints kicker Shayne Graham‘s career field-goal average is 85.5 percent — or a number that will make it very hard to take his job away in New Orleans, coach Sean Payton said Sunday.

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Saints K Shayne Graham (3) kicks field goals with QB Luke McCown (7) holding during the morning Saints Training Camp practice Sunday in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS –Saints K Shayne Graham (3) kicks field goals with QB Luke McCown (7) holding during the morning Saints Training Camp practice Sunday in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

“There’s competition there, but his efficiency and percentage numbers are very good, and I thought he performed very well for us last year,” Payton added about Graham — who was 6-of-8 over four games in 2013 with the Saints, including two playoff contests, after the release of kicker Garrett Hartley.

Graham’s two misses came in the Saints’ season-ending loss at Seattle in the divisional playoffs, but the weather was woefully rainy and windy.

“Those were awful conditions,” Payton said.

Despite the coach’s vote of confidence in Graham, 24-year-old challenger Derek Dimke has served up early indications that he won’t go away quietly. For example, in a drill at Sunday’s practice at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, he was perfect on three attempts from 38 yards out and another from 35; while Graham nailed all three of his tries (one from 35 and two from 38).

Then, in a drill simulating a last-second field goal with the clock running and no timeouts left for their team, both Dimke and Graham split the uprights.

Speaking to the media Sunday, Graham said he doesn’t see himself as competing against Dimke, who’s previously been on the expanded rosters of three other NFL teams but never made the final cut prior to coming to the Saints this offseason.

Instead, he’s in a competition with himself, said Graham, whose holder is backup quarterback Luke McCown.

“Even Derek thinks the same way — he knows that him and I don’t (literally) go head-to-head,” said Graham, who in the past worked out with Dimke before they were on the Saints. “We perform our best; and, really, that is all we can control.”

Graham in a sense has the home-field advantage in the battle with Dimke, whose holder is backup quarterback Ryan Griffin. He grew up in Radford, Virginia, which is fewer than 90 miles away from The Greenbrier.

“The scenery here is what I grew up with — this what I like, and the guys on the team really appreciate it, too, because they’re not used to seeing this kind of place,” Graham said.