Tim Masthay, Brett Goode, Mason Crosby and Giorgio Tavecchio were just about to leave for practice when special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum walked into the Green Bay Packers locker room. With him was an unfamiliar face – that of new kicker Zach Ramirez, whose arrival Sunday means the Packers’ kicking competition is now a three-way race.
“They introduced us right before we went out to practice,” Goode said. “It was just, ‘OK, let’s go.’”
The message was clear: Even after a month of training camp, the Packers still aren’t sure if Crosby or Tavecchio is good enough to be their kicker. Hence, the head-to-head-to-head competition.
“How do I feel about the kicking position? We had three kickers (on) the practice field today. I think that illustrates how exactly we feel about the kicking position,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after practice. “There’s a job available and someone needs to jump through the door and take it. That hasn’t happened yet.”
With a significant south wind at their backs in practice, the three kickers attempted 11 kicks apiece from 35, 41, 45, 48, 50, 34, 39, 47, 53, 60 and 63 yards. Crosby went 10 for 11, missing wide left from 53; Tavecchio went 9 for 11, missing wide right from 45 and wide left from 63; and Ramirez went 10 for 11, with his lone miss coming from 45.
“This is a different situation. (But) I never question what the thoughts are upstairs,” said Crosby, who made only 21 of 33 field-goal attempts last season for a league-worst 63.6 percent success rate. “For me, it’s just focus on what needs to be done. I want to make this team and I’ve got to keep kicking like I did today. That’s all I can think about. But yeah, it’s definitely a different a situation as far as bringing him in right at the end here. But we’ll see what happens.”
Ramirez, a 6-foot, 212-pound rookie out of Portland State, was named an FCS first-team all-American by The Associated Press after making a school-record 24 field goals on 27 attempts (88.9 percent) as a junior in 2011. But he was limited to six games by a knee injury as a senior in 2012, making 4 of 7 field goals.
Ramirez said Sunday he tore the medial collateral ligament in his right (kicking) knee on an extra point, the first kick of the first game of the 2012 season. While he returned later in the year, he wasn’t 100 percent. The only NFL interest he garnered was a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks in May at the team’s rookie camp, but he wasn’t signed to a contract.
“I was nowhere near full strength, even two weeks after the last game. Body weight was still down, my leg still didn’t feel comfortable, wasn’t the same,” said Ramirez, who outdueled free agent Delbert Alvarado in the morning workout inside the Don Hutson Center. “This is all I wanted, basically another opportunity. I went to Seattle and got my shot. They didn’t like what I did but they didn’t explain too much what was wrong, it was kind of, ‘Great job, we felt like this guy kicked better than you.’”
That could be the end result here, too. McCarthy wouldn’t say if he would take all three kickers into the preseason finale at Kansas City on Thursday night, but Ramirez showed enough in his workout to pique the Packers’ interest.
“Ramirez is someone that we worked out in the past. We were impressed with him (then),” McCarthy said. “He kicked this morning in a workout and when we take him up from the workout, (we) felt the second time around, we needed to take a closer look. I thought he did a heck of a job. I thought all three kickers did a heck of a job in today’s practice.”
While Crosby estimated that kicking downwind added 5 to 10 yards to each kick, the competition was still impressive. Ramirez showed he has leg strength to rival Crosby’s, as both crushed their longer kicks. Crosby’s 63-yarder might have been good from 75 yards; Ramirez sent one of his 50-yarders across Armed Forces Drive and into the Resch Center plaza area.
“I’m totally confident. I’ve practiced from that range before,” Ramirez said, adding that his longest kick in practice has been 72 yards. “The 70 yarders, I have some on YouTube, so it’s nothing new. Every time you line up they expect you to make it. They wouldn’t tell you to go kick a ball if they didn’t think you could make it.”
Now, the question is which kicker will make it. The Packers reportedly pursued veteran Dan Carpenter before the ex-Miami Dolphins kicker signed with Arizona; the Cardinals cut Carpenter Sunday after he had a field-goal attempt blocked against San Diego on Saturday night. While news of Carpenter’s release broke after the Packers had signed Ramirez, it’s hard to fathom the Packers adding a fourth kicker. Then again, having three in camp seemed unlikely.
The Packers still have 10 more roster moves to make before Tuesday’s mandatory cutdown to 75 players, having officially released backup quarterback Graham Harrell, wide receivers Alex Gillett, Omarius Hines and Justin Wilson, running back Angelo Pease and defensive tackle Gilbert Peña.
For his part, Crosby isn’t thinking about the possibility that he could end up on a similar cut list in the next week. He’s also not worrying about the competition, no matter how many kickers there are in camp.
“For me, regardless of the individual who they bring in as far as who I’m competing against, it’s more of a self-evaluation,” Crosby said. “I feel like they’re probably the same way. It’s just you evaluate what you can do, what you can control, and you go out and try to execute every time you take the field.
“For me, today was a good day. Yeah, I was a little surprised – to say the least – (that) there was another guy here as we’ve gone through camp. But I think the competition was good today and I felt like I hit the ball as well as I have all camp.”
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.