Alex Henery in, Nate Freese out as Lions kicker

The Detroit News

After three games and four missed field goals, the Lions are parting ways with rookie kicker Nate Freese.

The Lions plan to sign former Philadelphia Eagles kicker Alex Henery after he impressed during a workout at team headquarters in Allen Park last week.

Coach Jim Caldwell confirmed the roster decision during his news conference Monday afternoon.

"(Henery) will be handling our placekicking duties from here on out," he said.

A fourth-round pick out of Nebraska in 2011, Henery made 74 of 86 field goals for the Eagles from 2011-13 — 86 percent — and missed one of 117 extra points. He lost his job this summer to Cody Parkey, an undrafted rookie from Auburn, after going 1-for-3 on field goals in exhibition games.

The Lions drafted Freese in the seventh round, 229th overall, out of Boston College in May hoping he could become the long-term replacement for Jason Hanson after veteran David Akers struggled in 2013. In the same way the Lions found punter Sam Martin in 2013, the team targeted Freese early in the draft process, and he was the only kicker they hosted on a pre-draft visit.

Freese was 3-for-7 in the Lions' first three games and missed a 41-yarder at the end of the second quarter in Sunday's 19-7 win over the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field. The kick was wide left and never had a chance.

"It's sometimes a difficult thing to put your finger on," Caldwell said of Freese's struggles. "In this particular sport at this particular level, it's difficult. You get heavily scrutinized. The pressure mounts on you as well.

"He's a guy that is very capable. It's pretty obvious that we thought he was very, very good at what he does."

Caldwell said he thinks Freese will still be a good NFL kicker and could kick for a long time once he settles in.

"A lot of positives about him, and I think they're still there," he said. "But, obviously, performance is what counts in this league."

After Freese missed two 49-yarders in a 24-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 2, Lions worked out three veteran free-agent kickers last week —Henery, Rob Bironas and Garrett Hartley. Bironas died in a one-car crash in Nashville this weekend.

Freese won the kicking job this summer over Giorgio Tavecchio, who lost training-camp competitions in San Francisco in 2012 and Green Bay in 2013. Tavecchio made more field goals than Freese during camp, but Freese won the job with strong performances in the exhibition games, going 6 for 6 with three makes from 50-plus yards.

"It's a meritocracy. They competed against one another, and we think he did the better job," Caldwell said of Freese.

On Monday, Caldwell was asked about Freese looking emotionally shattered on the sideline after another miss, but the coach disagreed with that assessment.

Caldwell said it's rare for a team to use a practice squad spot on a specialist, so for now, Freese's time in Detroit has reached its abrupt end.

During the tryouts last week, Caldwell said the three kickers went through a battery of tests, and Henery was accurate and decisive with his right leg. In 2013, Henery went 28 of 31 on field goals with a long of 51.

"He's going to be able to do the things that we require him to do," Caldwell said.