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Friendly kicking competition nets results

By By Jason Wilde
Published On: Aug 21 2013 01:28:53 AM CDT
Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -

While some other NFL teams with dueling kickers have cast their lots, Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy and Shawn Slocum are in no rush to decide on the Green Bay Packers’ kicker.

And the fact that the Packers general manager, head coach and special-teams coordinator are willing to keep the battle between Mason Crosby and Giorgio Tavecchio going just might be good news for both of them.

For Tavecchio, the challenger, it’s obvious: It means he still has a shot. And for Crosby, the incumbent, it means his competition will – at the very least – be here for a little while longer, not only pushing him competitively but reinvigorating him and his passion for the job.

Coming off a horrendous season and facing training-camp competition for the first time since he beat out Dave Rayner as a rookie sixth-round pick in 2007, Crosby admitted Tuesday that having the gregarious, over-the-top likeable Tavecchio in camp has been a godsend – which, considering Tavecchio has a photo of Pope Francis in his locker, seems perfectly appropriate.

“With Giorgio, just his excitement and his enthusiasm for all this, it brings me back,” Crosby explained. “You get into this and it’s like, ‘OK, I’m coming into my seventh year.’ You know what the routine is, you know all the stuff. But I’m excited every day I get to come out, every opportunity I have.

“I’m thankful for Giorgio in the sense for that. He’s brought a lot of that youthfulness back into my routine of just, enjoy this thing and go out and kick. I feel fresh, I feel good every time I go out, just looking at that. He definitely is a fun guy. He likes deep thoughts, lots of emotion. It’s been good getting to know him.”

For his part, Tavecchio still wants to win the job. While he may be a devout Catholic and become fast friends with Crosby, punter/holder Tim Masthay and long-snapper Brett Goode, he’s also a competitor who didn’t get much of a fair shake last summer in camp with the San Francisco 49ers, so he’s not giving up on his dream just yet.

That said, Tavecchio recognizes the possibility that his greatest contribution to the 2013 Packers will end up being that he helped his competition get to a good place.

“I am always hesitant to take credit for stuff I do, so it would be hard for me to take credit for something Mason would be doing during the season, but I would definitely look back on these times with him, Tim and Brett as fond memories, and I would take as consolation whether directly or indirectly I maybe somehow had an impact – on the field, off the field, with my work ethic, my attitude, my approach to kicking,” Tavecchio said Tuesday. “But, in the end, it’d be him out there. I won’t take credit.”

Entering Wednesday’s practice, during which the two are expected to go head-to-head again, Tavecchio has made 45 of 51 attempts in live drills in practice, while Crosby has made 41 of 51. But after neither kicker had an attempt in the preseason opener against Arizona, Crosby has been the hotter of the two of late.

Against the St. Louis Rams on Saturday night, Crosby made his three kicks from 34, 48 and 30 yards out – the 30-yarder was partially blocked but still made it through the uprights – while Tavecchio missed from 49 yards out before connecting on a 38-yarder. Then, in practice on Monday, Crosby made 9 of 10 kicks (his lone miss being a 50-yarder) while Tavecchio made 8 of 10 (missing from 41 and 50 yards).

Since going an abysmal 2 for 6 in head-to-head kicks against Tavecchio in the Family Night Scrimmage on Aug. 3 (and 3 for 8 overall that night), Crosby has made 29 of his last 32 kicks in practice (90.6 percent).

“I feel good. I feel good with how I’m hitting the ball, I feel good with all my preparation every day, and obviously having the game going 3 for 3, that was critical, that was definitely something I wanted to do,” Crosby said. “Those are big steppingstones there. Have a great week of work, finish with the game. That’s what I plan on doing here as I keep moving forward. I’m happy with how I compartmentalized Family Night and how I moved on and I felt very consistent.”

After signing a five-year, $14.75 million extension in July 2011 and making 24 of his 28 regular-season field-goal attempts for a career-best 85.7 conversion percentage that season, Crosby followed his best season with his worst, making only 63.6 percent of his kicks (21 of 33) in the regular season last year. When Crosby bombed on Family Night, some fans went so far as to boo when the team gave away his No. 2 jersey in a post-scrimmage fan appreciation promotion.

Now, the tide has turned.

“I definitely moved on quick. It was early in camp, fortunately,” Crosby said. “That’s not who I am, that’s not how I kick, that’s not what I go out and do. That’s not what I put out on the field. It was more that I was disappointed that it happened in that setting. I said, ‘OK, this is one night, this is one practice situation, I kicked bad, so I had to move on.’

“I was happy with how I responded, and I think that’s who I am. How I’ve been kicking right now is who I am and who I want to be. I just have to continue to be consistent and hit the ball the same.”

While the Packers competition will at least go through Friday night’s game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field, other teams have made their decisions. The Buffalo Bills on Monday cut longtime kicker Rian Lindell in favor of rookie Dustin Hopkins, whom they drafted in the sixth round out of Florida State. And last Wednesday, the Miami Dolphins cut veteran Dan Carpenter, keeping rookie Caleb Sturgis, whom they drafted in the fifth round out of Florida.

Under Thompson, the Packers don’t have a clear-cut track record for making such decisions. In 2006, after Ryan Longwell left as a free agent to join the Minnesota Vikings, Thompson committed to Rayner over Billy Cundiff after the first preseason game. But the following year, they took the decision all the way up to the final cut before picking Crosby.

“We’ll see. We’ll work on that,” Thompson replied when asked when he might make a decision. “It’s just when you get comfortable with the decision.

“I think they’ve both done a good job. And I think they’ve even improved over the course of the last (few weeks). I think the competition has made it better. It looks like they’re representative kickers.”

Asked if he believes his kicker is on the roster right now, Thompson replied coyly, “We’ll see. (We) never stop looking.”

While it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Packers could bring in Carpenter, Lindell or another kicker off the street, that appears unlikely at this point. While it’s likely a coincidence, Crosby’s hot streak has come just as the Dolphins and Bills cut their veterans.

“(The competition) can go on forever. I’m not going to say what’s best,” Slocum said. “Right now, we’re right in the middle of good competition, and as I’ve said before, they not only compete with themselves but they compete against the entire league.

“We’re going to play game No. 3 this week and we’ll continue as we see fit. We’ll take the whole body of work – that’s the only way I know how to do it – and make an honest evaluation. We’ll just look at the big picture once we get to the point where we say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to make a decision now.’”

Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde

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