BEREA, Ohio -- Phil Dawson, the only full-time kicker the Browns have had since their return in 1999, wants to make 2012 a special season.
Dawson attended the mandatory minicamp last week after skipping the voluntary OTAs the previous two weeks. He had his reasons for being absent, but they were not out of protest. He can get his kicking in at home in Austin, Tex., and still be with his family. He is not attending OTAs this week with the approval of coach Pat Shurmur.
"I think the world of Phil Dawson," Shurmur said. "He's our kicker. He does a lot of great things for us."
Dawson wasn't thrilled to be named the Browns franchise player last year with the lockout and everything that went with it. He was made the franchise player again in 2012 and this time is smiling.
"I remember telling you guys on the last day (of 2011) I had great conversations with everybody in the building," Dawson said. "We knew how each other felt, and that was a very positive deal. The Browns made the decision they felt they needed to make, so here we are."
The tough part for Dawson and his wife Shannon is juggling family time during the season with one son in fifth grade, one in third and a daughter ready for kindergarten.
"We have a good plan and we'll make it work," Dawson said.
Dawson is coming off what he believes was his best year kicking. He was 24 of 29 on field goal tries, including seven of eight beyond 50 yards. Two misses were preceded by bad snaps from Ryan Pontbriand, who ended up losing his job because of them. Two other kicks were blocked. The miss that had no glitches was against Jacksonville. Dawson is convinced the ball was inside the right upright, but the officials under the goalpost disagreed.
A winter and spring with his family has revived Dawson's enthusiasm - that and the path Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and Shurmur are carving as team president, general manager and head coach. Dawson believes there is finally stability in the front office and coaching staff and expects that to translate into winning - finally. The Browns have had only two winning seasons in 13 years and haven't won a playoff game since Bill Belichick was head coach in 1994.
Heckert says he would like to sign Dawson to a long-term contract. He said the same thing last year. Dawson would like one, too, but so far that hasn't happened. In the meantime, Dawson is talking about being one of those rare players that begins and ends a career with one team.
Technically, Dawson was with Oakland and New England in 1998, but he never made either of those rosters. He was in the Browns 1999 expansion training camp and won a three-way battle for the kicking job.
"I'm not thinking about my career being over at this point, but it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to go play somewhere else, so we'll see what happens," Dawson, 37, said. "I'm not very good at predicting the future. I'm just going to go to work like I always do and hope things get worked out."
Dawson has scored 1,155 points. Groza's team record is 1,349 points - a total that doesn't include 259 points Groza scored for the Browns in the All America Football Conference from 1946-49. Dawson estimated he would need 2 ½ years to break Groza's NFL Browns' record.
"That was a goal I set in 1999 when Danny Kight and Chris Boniol were out here competing against me in training camp," Dawson said. "If I had admitted back then that that was one of my goals you guys would have laughed me out of town and I wouldn't have blamed you.
"A lot of work, a lot of years and a lot of effort have taken place since then. To even be remotely on the horizon close to that is a pretty neat thing."
Dawson was 20 of 20 on PATs last season compared to the 29 field goal tries in 2011.
He would much rather attempt more PATs than field goals. That hasn't happened since 2007 when he was 26 of 30 on field goals and 42 of 43 on PATs. That was also the last year the Browns had a winning record. They were 10-6.