Ironically, it was Gano that lost his job to Slye last summer.
Even more ironic, Santoso wore No. 9 in Friday’s preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers — the number that belonged to Gano from 2012 until his release last July.
“It was a pretty funny joke when I found out [I had his number] and then I was able to tell him,” Santoso said after the 34-9 win over the Steelers. “I was like, ‘I am going to try to do my best Graham Gano impersonation tonight.'”
The 6-foot-5, 258-pound Santoso was so impressive in his Carolina debut that he left little doubt he would replace Slye, who couldn’t come out of his preseason slump.
Santoso, who came into the NFL with the Detroit Lions in 2018 as an undrafted player out of Minnesota and kicked for the Tennessee Titans in 2019, was 2-for-2 on field goal attempts, including a 52-yarder that ricocheted through off the right upright, and 3-for-3 on extra points Friday.
Slye missed his only field goal attempt, a 49-yarder, and was 1-for-1 on extra points.
“He’s a wonderful person, and he’s worked really hard,” coach Matt Rhule said of Slye on Friday night. “He’s made a lot of kicks and he’s done a lot of good things, and he’s just in one of those places right now where he’s struggling. When you struggle at a lot of other positions, people don’t know it, but when you struggle at that position, unfortunately it’s magnified.”
Slye’s struggles began in the preseason opener, when he missed a 43-yard extra point and 63-yard field goal. He missed a 37-yard field goal in the second preseason game.
Rhule put his kicker, who had been working with a sports psychologist to improve his mental approach, on notice that night, and general manager Scott Fitterer signed Dominik Eberle on Tuesday.
Eberle, who also wore No. 9 for about 24 hours, won a head-to-head kicking battle with Slye in Wednesday’s practice. But by midday Thursday, Fitterer had sent a conditional 2022 seventh-round pick to the Giants for Santoso and Eberle was released. The pick becomes official if Santoso is on the roster the first two games.
Deep snapper J.J. Jansen had mixed emotions about the move. While he likes Santoso and was a long-time friend of Gano’s, he respects Slye and tried to console him during the game. Other Carolina players also approached Slye when it became apparent his future was in jeopardy.
“He’s been a brother to these guys and he’s worked with these guys, so they want to see him succeed,” Rhule said of Slye. “It’s the power of the locker room and the brotherhood you’re trying to create.”
Now the pressure is on Santoso, perhaps the biggest kicker in the NFL, to keep the job. And he has Gano to thank for helping put him in this position.
“He helped me so much,” Santoso said. “He just gave me a ton of information. It was really cool walking off the [Giants] practice field Thursday and he was one of the first guys there to give me a big hug.
“He had the biggest, happy smile on his face to see me going to a place like this that he knows is really, really good and they care about the players.”
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