Mare's great '08 means little in the fight for starting job
Collins Hill grad Coutu battling veteran

RENTON, Wash. - If it's true that an NFL placekicker is only as good as his last made field goal, Olindo Mare should be magnificent right now.

The 36-year-old former Pro Bowl kicker and all-time leader in field goals and accuracy for the Miami Dolphins made 89 percent of his kicks last season, his first with the Seahawks as the replacement for the departed Josh Brown. That was 9 percent better than Mare's career average, and he wasn't even fully healthy. His leg remained weakened into last season from an injury sustained late in 2007 with New Orleans.

Mare provided Seattle an even bigger boon - and boom! - on kickoffs. His 22 touchbacks tied for second-most in the league.

So why in the name of Lou 'The Toe' Groza did Seattle keep rookie kicker Brandon Coutu on the roster all last year? And why is Mare battling this unproven kid for his job in training camp?

It's no surprise Mare isn't exactly getting a kick out of having to compete. He's months removed from going 24 for 30 on field goals - many made in wind, rain and snow for a team that went 4-12 with a sputtering offense.

'You would think after the year that I had that it would be a, you know, little easier decision,' Mare said after practice Friday. 'I feel like I was as good as anybody in the league last year, touchbacks, field goals - we didn't do a bunch of short ones, either.'

Last week, Seahawks president Tim Ruskell made it clear 2008 might as well be 1908 when it comes to who will kick for Seattle this season.

Then again, he's the guy who made Coutu the fourth kicker ever drafted by Seattle, and first since Brown in 2003. Coutu then made 7 of 7 kicks last preseason.

'(Keeping two kickers) won't happen again this year,' Ruskell said. 'We'll go with one guy, and it'll be a nice battle to watch.'

Special teams coach Bruce DeHaven is more effusive.

'I was certainly glad to have Brandon around, because he's just going to be a Cracker Jack kicker in this league, in my opinion,' DeHaven said. 'I think Brandon is more than ready to kick in the league. He's has the disadvantage right now of going against a guy that is really good, too.'

Friday, coach Jim Mora's message for Mare was a sobering example of life in the NFL.

'Every year is a new year and a new competition,' Mora said. 'It's a really good competition. I imagine it will go all the way through preseason, and then we'll have a decision to make.'

Coutu, a Collins Hill grad, spent last month working on kickoffs and mental preparation with Morten Andersen, the league's all-time scoring leader who retired from the Falcons last season. The two kickers shared the same personal trainer in Atlanta before agreeing to work together there. Coutu said Andersen worked with him on striking his leg through kickoffs more.

'I definitely feel like it helped a lot,' Coutu said. 'I'm very happy with the way I've struck the ball, both on field goals and kickoffs. I feel like my kickoffs are much improved this year than last year. I've worked really hard this offseason.

'I definitely feel like I'm prepared. I'm confident in my abilities.'

The Seahawks were criticized throughout last year for the unusual move of keeping two kickers on the roster and seemingly wasting a roster spot, while the rest of the team was decimated by injuries and were in need of reinforcements.

'Part of the reason for holding onto him last year is that we were getting interest from other teams, so we thought maybe, at some point, prior to the trade deadline. It just didn't happen,' Ruskell said of Coutu. 'So we just kept him, and said, 'OK, we'll have this competition go for another year.' He's a good kicker. He was 7-for-7 last year in the preseason. Teams noticed ... we're still getting calls on the guy.

'So he's either going to be our kicker or we'll make a move.'

Mare gets a bemused smile when he's asked about having a hotshot kid over his shoulder. He said it reminds him of 1996, when he was a rookie kept on the New York Giants' practice squad. Veteran Brad Daluiso ended up making 24 of 27 field goals on a losing team.

'We used to joke around and said, 'That's because we competed every day,' Mare said of Daluiso. 'Kind of a similar-type deal here.

'Brandon had a really good career in college. He was drafted, so two totally different backgrounds. But it didn't bother me, as much I think that it bothered other people that it didn't bother me. We became friends.'