Lions kicking showdown will go down to the wire

By Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
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Allen Park — The competition for the Lions’ placekicker in 2014 remains too close to call, and barring a monumental performance — good or bad — by Nate Freese or Giorgio Tavecchio in Friday’s exhibition against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the battle will continue until final roster cuts on Aug. 30.

After seeing that both handle themselves well on and off the field, special teams coordinator John Bonamego said the decision will “hinge on game performance” in the final two exhibition games.

“It’s really who makes more,” Bonamego said. “Right now they’re neck and neck. It couldn’t be more even.

“It’s almost like you’re waiting for one of them to jump ahead of the other, but they’re competing so hard that that hasn’t happened.”

Tavecchio, who went undrafted out of Cal in 2012, was the more consistent kicker in training camp. During an 11-practice span in training camp starting with the third day, Tavecchio missed just one attempt, a 47-yarder at Ford Field that hit the right upright.

Freese, meanwhile, has shown improvement as the summer has worn on, but after kicking in the first half in the first two exhibitions, Freese and Tavecchio will rotate kicks Friday, a change coach Jim Caldwell said will make the competition fairer.

The Lions also attempted to make the competition fair by giving each kicker one of the punters as his personal holder. Sam Martin holds for Freese, and Drew Butler holds for Tavecchio.

“I think it’s been very fair here and even in the past,” said Tavecchio, who lost training camp battles in San Francisco in 2012 and Green Bay in 2013. “I don’t worry too much about what the coaches are thinking or what I presume them to be thinking because I really don’t know.

“I can tell you I’ve been treated very well here. I felt that it’s been a fair shot. I’ve been treated equally.”

According to Bonamego, neither kicker is especially more accurate or stronger than the other, and the leader in the battle shifts almost daily. The only real way to distinguish them is that Freese is a righty and Tavecchio is a lefty.

In the first two exhibitions, Freese went 3-for-3 on field goals, including a 55-yard bomb from the dirt in Oakland, and 1-for-2 on 33-yard extra points. Tavecchio hit his only field goal, a 25-yarder in Oakland, and both of his 33-yard extra points.

“Right now, I think we’re in a really good position,” Bonamego said.

The Lions are hoping either kicker can become the long-term replacement to Jason Hanson after veteran David Akers struggled to fill his shoes in 2013.

Freese was the only kicker the Lions hosted on a pre-draft visit, following the same steps that led them to punter Sam Martin in last year’s draft. When Akers was struggling last year, Tavecchio was one of the kickers the Lions hosted for a workout, and Bonamego told Lions general manager Martin Mayhew and vice president of pro personnel Sheldon White he wanted them to sign Tavecchio to a futures contract in the offseason.

The Lions signed Tavecchio and John Potter to futures deals immediately after the regular season ended, and Tavecchio beat Potter for the chance to compete with a draft pick, another competition that’s helped him gain experience.

“I think I feel a little bit more composed emotionally,” Tavecchio said of how he’s grown the past couple years. “I’ve really come to know my ticks, my quirks — the good, the bad and the ugly. And I think it’s helped me to come to a place where I can find peace, peace with what I experience, and that helps me to be more composed in each moment.”

After the Lions’ exhibition against the Buffalo Bills next week, Bonamego said there will be an extensive discussion between coaches and the front office about who will be the kicker this year.

“We’ll look at all the data that we have and make the decision that we think is best for our team right now to win,” he said.

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