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Ben Graham Remains Alive and Kicking


Ben Graham was kind of like a kid — well, one of those slightly older, bigger kids — in a candy store in the Jets' new fieldhouse at Friday's practice.

Graham said many weeks ago that the first thing he wanted to do when he got to work in the structure was to hit the inside roof, 96 feet over the turf field, with a punt. He promptly did that Friday, but only once.

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"The last thing I wanted to do was to hit a light," he said, "and have all the glass come shattering down."

Then he warmed up some more, kicking from one sideline across the field to the other sideline. Graham soared several 50-yarders just shy of the off-white ceiling.

"Ben even put a few high up on the opposite wall," James Dearth, his long-snapper, said. "He put a scuff mark about 25 feet up."

It seems that Graham has found his footing again as a Jet, although the team's punting situation remains unsettled with both him and the injured Reggie Hodges on the active roster.

Asked earlier in the week if he feels he has to punt for his job every day, he put some personal feeling into a string of familiar athletic phrases: "I don't know. I can only worry about what I can control. I can only take control of my own life and my own destiny with the day I punt the ball, so I've only got myself to blame or pat on the back when I look in the mirror at night. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."

Head coach Eric Mangini, who released Graham and signed Hodges on Sept. 16, then re-signed Graham for the Monday nighter when Hodges injured his thigh, didn't have a definitive answer on Graham's future on Thursday.

"It's going to be a function of how well he does. It's really always a function of that for anybody in the league," Mangini said. "This is a great opportunity. I really like Ben. I like the way he responded to the uniqueness of this situation. It's a tough situation, but he's a great guy. He's a pro. He came back in and did a good job with the opportunities he had."

The next question was if Graham will punt against the Cardinals. The coach said yes. That became more definite when Hodges was downgraded Friday to out for the game.

Graham, who took the plunge along with his family and made the transition from the Australian Football League to the NFL before the 2005 season, seems alternately to be taking this all in stride — "That's what I signed up for," he said — and then to be coping with the insecurity of the situation.

"It was a tough week for my wife and me," he said. "It is what it is. We just deal with the cards we're dealt and move on."

He acknowledged he had a "bad game" against New England, but after re-signing he rebounded with a strong two-punt game vs. the Chargers. His first kick was fair-caught by Darren Sproles with gunner Ahmad Carroll ready to pounce after beating his man downfield, and his second was downed by Wallace Wright at the 'Bolts 5.

Both results came off his patented drop punt, his first two of the season. Of his 22 end-over-enders since the 2007 season-opener, 18 have been inside-the-20 kicks and nine of those are inside-the-10 efforts.

Still, his net and hang time were down, and after the Patriots started in Jets territory after all four of his punts, he was released for the first time in, as he put it, "my 18th professional year as a sportsman." He was asked if his left leg is about to call it a career and his was forcefully direct:

"Hell, no. No way. I'd feel it, and I'd tell you if I felt it. But my body's in great shape. I've had no problems with that whatsoever."

So Graham will kick again, against the Cardinals at the Meadowlands on Sunday. Then during the bye week or perhaps during the week before the Bengals come to town, he and Hodges — and special teams coaches Mike Westhoff and Kevin O'Dea, plus Mangini, of course — will decide which sportsman will carry on to handle the punting for the remainder of the season.

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