By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — Cade York may no longer have a powerful leg to stand on with the Browns.
York’s struggles this summer have eroded Cleveland’s confidence in him and coach Kevin Stefanski’s failure to commit to the second-year kicker for the season opener has raised more questions about his future.
Despite York’s misses in exhibition games, the Browns had been adamantly supporting York, a fourth-round draft pick who had an underwhelming rookie season in 2022.
That changed Sunday.
After York missed an extra point (it was nullified by penalty) and had a late field-goal attempt blocked (it looked low) in a 33-32 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Stefanski was asked if the 22-year-old will be Cleveland’s kicker in the Sept. 10 opener against Cincinnati.
He didn’t say yes. He didn’t say no.
“We always keep those internal as we get through this week,” Stefanski said on a Zoom call. “But I’ll reiterate I think Cade is very, very talented.”
Talent has never been the problem with York. Accuracy is the issue.
While York has looked as good as ever in practice, he’s not carrying it over into games. He went just 4 of 8 on field-goal tries in Cleveland’s four preseason games and missed potential game-winners the past two weeks.
On Saturday, York, who briefly left with a shin injury in the first quarter, had his 43-yarder with 57 seconds left deflected by Chiefs defensive tackle Phil Hoskins at the line of scrimmage. Stefanski was vague in pinpointing what went wrong.
“Obviously didn’t hit it like we wanted to and that’s something I know we want to be able to finish there as a team, so it was disappointing,” Stefanski said. “But it doesn’t change our mentality that each one of our players is going to continue to work at this thing and get better.”
That’s been the company line for weeks as York’s situation has spiraled further off course. The Browns’ stance is that he’s like any player working on his craft in the runway up to the regular season.
However, York’s inconsistency last season — he went 24 of 32 on field goals — along with the team’s attempts to protect him from outside criticism, seem to point to there being deeper complications.
During the TV broadcast, Browns general manager Andrew Berry, who used a precious pick on the former LSU standout, reiterated his supported and indicated the team was prepared to begin a critical 2023 season with York.
But that endorsement came before the latest late-game failure, and now Berry may be forced to sign a veteran or at the very least have one on standby as a backup plan in case York continues to be off the mark.
Veterans Robbie Gould and Mason Crosby headline a group of proven kickers available to the Browns. There could be others for Berry to choose from this week as NFL teams trim their rosters to 53.
To his credit, York has remained confident in his ability and that he’ll turn things around.
“I want to be a weapon,” he said in Kansas City. “I know how good I am. That’s been the most frustrating thing the last month, struggling with that.”
York also grew testy with a reporter when he was pressed about why he’s not performing as well as hoped.
Stefanski said he understood York’s frustration.
“He works very hard, wants to come through,” Stefanski said. “So of course he’s going to be frustrated. I’ve been in that situation when you have to answer some questions when you’re frustrated, so we have to be pros in that situation. But these are human beings, so we do sometimes let frustrations get the better of us.”
Cleveland thought its long-term kicking situation was solved when it drafted York.
At the moment, that seems short-sighted.