CHARLOTTE – Apparently, kicker Graham Gano's back is feeling better.
On one of the Panthers' two natural grass practice fields Thursday, while getting in work on the side with his fellow specialists, Gano drilled a 70-yard field goal with some room to spare.
"It's all in the hold, really," Gano said, noting that he has made a 75-yarder before. "When (punter) Brad (Nortman) gives me a good hold, that makes it easy."
Gano, who sat out the Panthers' preseason opener with a sore back, made it look easy last year when he was a consistent weapon in his first full season with Carolina. Now, after signing a four-year contract extension in the offseason, Gano is poised to pick up where he left off when the Panthers host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night.
"It killed me last week to be sitting on the sideline, watching the other guys, so I'm really amped up to get back out there this week," Gano said. "I've been getting good treatment and rehab, strengthening all the muscles in the back. I'm feeling really good and am excited about playing Sunday."
The Panthers signed Graham for the final six games of the 2012 season, and after a solid finish, he returned last season and truly put it all together. In addition to making all six of his field goal attempts from 50 or more yards (and 24-of-27 overall), Gano recorded touchbacks on 77.8 percent of his touchbacks – the highest percentage in the NFL since 1994.
"Statistically it was my best, and I feel like throughout the two years building up to last year, I just kept improving," said Gano, who kicked two-plus seasons for the Washington Redskins before coming to Carolina. "I'm looking forward to keeping on improving."
The Panthers chose to bring Gano to camp unopposed this season, using the roster spot that could have gone to another kicker to strengthen the depth at another position. Jordan Gay kicked in place of Gano in last Friday's preseason opener, and while Gay does have placekicking experience, he was brought in primarily to spell Nortman at punter.
"It's always good to have competition, but I definitely like the confidence they're showing that they have in me," Gano said. "Now it's my job to come out here every day and work hard.
"I just give God thanks for giving me this opportunity. My family loves it here. I love the stadium, and the fans are great. I take this very seriously, and I'm looking forward to being here for a while."