That makes it somewhat fitting that he has a personal distinction that’s also rare for a player at any position in the NFL. Tavechhio’s Wikpiedia page is in Italian.
His occupation is listed as “un giocatore di football americano,” with an altezza of 178 centimeters and peso of 82 kilograms. Translated to English: Tavecchio is an American football player who is 5-10 and 180.4 pounds. (The Lions list him at 5-10, 183. Maybe it’s the language barrier).
In any language, there is a close competition for the Lions’ kicking job between Tavecchio and
Tavecchio, born in Italy to an American mother and Italian father, played American football at Cal-Berkeley. After going undrafted after his senior season in 2011, he had training-camp tryouts with the 49ers in 2012 and the Packers in 2013.
The battle between Freese and Tavecchio could come down to the last kick of the last preseason game. And it could be won by someone who isn’t currently on the Lions’ roster.
Neither kicker stood out early in camp, but they performed considerably better in the last two days of camp last week before Coach Jim Caldwell gave the team Sunday off.
“They haven’t missed any lately,” Caldwell said after Saturday’s Family Day practice that included a controlled scrimmage.
“They’re working at it, and they’re competitive guys. They love the challenge that’s presented to them, and they’re doing a good job of battling out there with one another.”
Until a year ago, when Jason Hanson retired after 21 seasons and the job was handed to David Akers – a relative youngster with “only” 15 NFL seasons on his log before coming to Detroit – longevity for the Lions’ regular kicker was about the same as the Galapagos Islands tortoises. Akers was not signed back for this year.
A few facts regarding relative seniority, competition and line of ascendency attest to the stability of the Lions’ kicking position. For example:
Seniority: Neither Tavecchio nor Freese has ever kicked in a regular-season NFL game. Assuming one of them wins the job, it guarantees that for the first time since 1980 – when Monte Clark began his fourth season as a head coach and third with the Lions – the Lions will have a head coach with more NFL seasons than the Lions’ new kicker. Eddie Murray was a rookie under Clark in 1980.
This is Caldwell’s fourth NFL season as a head coach – his first with the Lions, and three previously with the Colts.
Competition: Not since 1991, when the Lions drafted Richie Andrews in the sixth round out of Florida State, have the Lions have had a legitimate training-camp completion for kickers. Murray won the job for what would be his final season in Detroit. Andrews was released and never kicked in the NFL.
Line of succession: Except for infrequent injury replacements during a season, Murray and Hanson held the job consecutively for 33 NFL seasons (1980-2012).
Freese and Tavecchio are kicking against each other, not history, and Tavecchio is more interested in how he is performing on the field than the language of his Wikipedia page. Every success, however small, is important.
Making a field goal on the last play one practice last week gave him a confidence boost. He’s put together some good days of practice, and Monday was another one.
“He’s been kicking well, besides maybe one day or so where he may not have kicked as well as he’s capable,” Caldwell said. “Since that time, he’s been kicking it pretty well. You probably saw Nate miss a couple here or there.
“Both guys have strong legs. Both guys have real fine potential.”
Tavecchio and Freese both have some factors working in their favor.
For Freese, being a draft pick is a slight bonus. The Lions drafted him for a reason. In 2013 at Boston College, his official record was 40-41 on extra points and 20-20 on field goals. There was an asterisk on both, though. His extra point miss was on a blocked kick. He had a missed field-goal attempt nullified by a penalty. Given a second chance, he connected.
Competing against veteran incumbents in NFL training camps the last two years should help Tavecchio’s development.
Ironically, Akers was the 49ers’ kicker in 2012. Tavecchio was brought in to provide an extra leg for camp. He said Akers was friendly and supportive.
“He didn’t have to give me the time of day,” Tavecchio said. “He went out of his way to make me feel welcome, to give me a few pointers. Whether that me being a star-struck goober, and him just being normal, who knows?”
And Green Bay is a different world because of the support it gets from the community.
“It was like football heaven,” Tavecchio said. “The community is really into football, obviously. That’s a cliché. There’s a ton of people at every practice. The attention was something I’d never really experienced.”