Is seventh-round draft pick Nate Freese Lions' answer at kicker?
Being one of the Lions' draft picks, Nate Freese naturally is considered the favorite to win the team's kicking job as it turns from old-time veterans to probably relying on a rookie this year.
Nate Freese will open training camp in late July in a competition with Giorgio Tavecchio.
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
By DAVE DYE
It's been 597 days since Nate Freese missed a field goal in a game.
Freese, a seventh-round selection by the Detroit Lions, will try to keep that streak going when the preseason games begin August 9 against Cleveland.
Being one of the team's draft picks, Freese naturally is considered the favorite to win the kicking job as the Lions turn from old-time veterans to probably relying on a rookie this year.
Although he did get an extra point blocked and returned for a two-point conversion in one game, Freese was perfect on 20 field-goal attempts as a senior at Boston College.
With six more to close out the 2012 season, Freese ended up making the final 26 field-goal attempts in his college career.
His last miss was a 43-yarder in a 28-14 loss to Wake Forest on November 3, 2012.
"I don't really think about that," Freese said. "I just think about the next kick."
Freese will open training camp in late July in a competition with Giorgio Tavecchio, who went undrafted coming out of the University of California in 2012.
Tavecchio, however, pushed Mason Crosby for the starting job a year ago before getting released late in training camp by Green Bay.
"It's going along pretty well," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said of the kicking duel between Freese and Tavecchio, on the final day of the team's mandatory mini-camp earlier this month. "Both guys are thumping it pretty good.
"Giorgio's doing a nice job and Nate's doing a nice job as well. I think it will be a good, healthy competition."
This is quite a different look for the Lions, who had a 38-year-old kicker last year (David Akers) and a 42-year-old kicker (Jason Hanson) the previous season.
Akers wasn't re-signed after a mediocre performance. He remains a free agent.
Hanson, meanwhile, retired after 21 years as the Lions' kicker.
Having used a draft pick on Freese, the Lions are undoubtedly hoping that he can be not only their short-term but also a long-term solution at the position.
Freese was one of only two kickers selected in this year's draft. The Washington Redskins took Arkansas' Zach Hocker with the 228th pick overall, one spot before Detroit picked Freese.
The biggest question about Freese is his long-distance range. There's no disputing the accuracy he displayed during his college career.
But in an era when kickers are pounding 50-, 55- and even 60-yard field goals on a regular basis in the NFL, it remains to be seen whether Freese can produce from that distance. Most of his college kicks were from shorter range.
Freese admitted that his leg strength needs to improve with continued work this offseason in the weight room and on the field kicking.
He also should benefit from playing more indoors with eight home games at Ford Field.
"Definitely, I'm looking forward to that," Freese said. "I got used to playing in wind and rain and snow (at Boston College)."
Most of the debates raging about the Lions heading into the season will center on whether they have the cornerbacks to contain other passing offenses and whether quarterback Matthew Stafford can avoid costly turnovers.
But in a league where games are often decided in the final minutes, there's quite possibly going to be at least a couple times that the Lions will need someone to hit a big field goal.
Make it and the team will build momentum toward a potential playoff bid. Miss it and they could take a demoralizing step back.
In reality, no one is going to know whether Freese is the guy to handle that type of pressure until he gets the opportunity in a NFL game.