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Packers kickers getting their kicks

By By Jason Wilde
Published On: Aug 01 2013 05:26:40 PM CDT
Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -

Giorgio Tavecchio has made one more field goal than Mason Crosby during the kickers’ two head-to-head battles so far in training camp, but the Green Bay Packers incumbent has the edge in one important area over his challenger.

Coach Mike McCarthy knows actually Crosby’s first name.

Discussing Thursday’s competition – in which Crosby made all five of his field-goal attempts while Tavecchio doinked a 51-yarder off the upright – McCarthy praised both kickers as being “a lot better” than they were in the first practice of training camp on July 26, when Crosby went 4-for-6 and Tavecchio was 5-for-6.

“I thought, obviously Mason kicked with excellent accuracy but (also) the height of the football is where it needs to be,” McCarthy said. “I thought Sergio made his kicks, but he doesn’t have quite the lift that Mason has.”

Sergio?

“Did he call him that?” Crosby replied with a smile when told of McCarthy’s slip of the tongue.

“It wouldn’t be the first time someone has mispronounced or misspoken my name,” Tavecchio said. “I’ve (also been called) Giovanni. But at least they’re nice Italian names.”

The Packers signed Tavecchio, who spent training camp with the San Francisco 49ers last summer but lost out to veteran David Akers, to provide direct competition for Crosby after he made just 21 of 33 field-goal attempts in regular-season play last year for a league-worst 63.6 percent conversion rate. So far, Crosby believes the head-to-head competition has benefitted him.

“It’s good to go back and forth and see that, and it’s really helped me in a sense focus in on what I need to do and how I need to perform,” Crosby said. “If anything, that’s definitely a positive. I think the competition is always a positive. It’s pushing me to do my best every day, every time I go out, and there’s nothing but positive things that can come from that.”

Crosby hasn’t faced direct competition since 2007, when he was a rookie sixth-round pick and he beat out incumbent Dave Rayner to win the job.

That year, Crosby and Rayner went kick-for-kick in practice but also in the annual Family Night Scrimmage, which provided even more of a pressure-packed environment than practices had. That night inside Lambeau Field, Crosby hit 9 of 11 field goal attempts, including a pair of 52-yarders, while Rayner went 8-for-11, missing both of his 52-yarders.

This Saturday night, Tavecchio and Crosby will do the same.

“It’s going to be a good battle,” McCarthy said. “We’re going to feature those guys on (Saturday) night like we did years ago with Mason and Dave. It’ll be a similar format.”

Family Night also will mark the first time Crosby and Tavecchio will have kicked inside the stadium in camp.

“It’s always good to get back in (the stadium),” Crosby said. “That helps us to kind of get a warmup to what it’s going to be like during games, what it’s going to be like in preseason and going into the regular season. We’re so lucky to have Family Night and that practice setting to be able to go out and kick in front of 70,000 people. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to getting out there and hitting (kicks) with the new (south) end zone completely finished. I’m definitely excited about it.”

When Crosby and Tavecchio first squared off on the opening day of camp, Crosby made kicks from 33, 36 and 44 yards before missing from 50 and 53 yards away. He then kicked the 53-yarder again and made it. Tavecchio, meanwhile, hit from 33, 36, 44 and 50 before missing from 53. He then made the 53-yarder on his second try.

After those misses, Crosby went back and broke down tape of the kicks, then tried to apply what he saw to a kicking session on Tuesday that the specialists had at one end of the field while the rest of the team was in normal practice mode. Crosby said he then carried over what he did on Tuesday into Thursday, when Crosby made 33-, 37-, 43-, 47- and 51-yarders.

“Obviously I wasn’t happy with how overall I hit the ball (the first time). My first three were really good, and the last one was solid, but those two long ones I wasn’t happy with those,” Crosby said. “I feel really good about where I’m at right now. Felt really good about the set today for sure.”

Tavecchio was good from 33, 37, 43 and 47 yards out on Thursday, then his 51-yarder hit the upright. Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum let Tavecchio have another chance, and he made it.

“There was a little bit of (defensive) pressure (on the miss), but he should have made the kick,” Slocum said. “I didn’t want him to end on that, so we kicked another one.”

Crosby and Tavecchio have obvious differences that go beyond the fact that Crosby is right-footed and Tavecchio is left-footed. Crosby is bigger (6-foot-2, 207 pounds) than Tavecchio (generously listed at 5-10 and 182) and Crosby is a two-step kicker while Tavecchio takes a three-step approach. It also appeared that Crosby did get better lift on his kicks, but Slocum said the difference in that area is negligible.

Like Crosby, Slocum believes Tavecchio’s mere presence has helped the incumbent with his focus, which may have been an issue when he went into a funk last year.

“When you have competition in your face at a position, it probably allows for you to have heightened awareness of the situation you’re in,” Slocum said.

While the current tote board – Crosby 9 of 11, Tavecchio 10 of 12 – may be even, there will be more kicking sessions and the score could swing one way or the other. For Crosby, the alternating kick-for-kick delivers a pressure and competitive environment that he believes will continue to keep him dialed in.

“Obviously I went through it six years ago when I was rookie, and I think it is an interesting kind of dynamic,” Crosby said. “I just try to take a step back and focus on my next rep and then move on to that. It is interesting in that sense and we as kickers we don’t get that on the field. In games you don’t get to line up next to a guy and have a kick off. So it’s a little a different and it’s motivating and I’m enjoying the competition, I’m enjoying being able to get out every day and get better and get some good balls.”

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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