GREEN BAY, Wis. — Giorgio Tavecchio laughed it off, but it probably wasn’t a good sign for the young Green Bay Packers kicker that coach Mike McCarthy didn’t know his name.
Sergio. That’s what McCarthy called Tavecchio after Thursday’s practice. Sergio is close to Giorgio, sure, but McCarthy would likely prefer that his bosses not refer to him as Mark in a public setting.
“It’s not the first time a coach has, I guess, misspoken my name,” Tavecchio said with a smile in the locker room. “Sergio is a beautiful name. I don’t mind it either. It’s only a little bit off. It’s not too bad.”
Tavecchio’s attitude has not changed since the Packers signed him in March to compete with incumbent kicker Mason Crosby. The 23-year-old, Italian-born former soccer player has the type of bubbly personality not typically seen in NFL locker rooms. Nothing seems to faze him, and so far through training camp, Tavecchio has held his own with Crosby.
In the two live field-goal competitions over the past week, it’s been even. On Day 1 of training camp, Tavecchio got the better of the veteran. Crosby was perfect in Thursday’s practice, however, while Tavecchio clanked a 51-yard attempt off the left post.
“I thought they both kicked a lot better today,” McCarthy said. “Obviously Mason kicked with excellent accuracy; the height of the football is where it needs to be. I thought Sergio made his kicks, but he doesn’t have quite the lift that Mason has. It’s going to be a good battle.”
Crosby’s league-worst field-goal success rate last season led to this competition. Crosby made only 63.6 percent of his kicks in 2012, so the Packers weren’t going to give him the job like they have every year since 2008.
“It’s a little different and it’s motivating and I’m enjoying the competition,” Crosby said. “I’m enjoying being able to get out every day and get better and get some good balls.”
Crosby had been Green Bay’s only kicker the past five years, even in training camps. As a rookie in 2007, Crosby outperformed Dave Rayner and had been left alone. Until now.
“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,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said.
During the team’s upcoming Family Night scrimmage, McCarthy plans to feature both Crosby and Tavecchio, who will be kicking at Lambeau Field for the first time this year.
Green Bay isn’t really expecting Tavecchio to beat out Crosby. Tavecchio was undrafted in 2012 and has a non-guaranteed deal with the Packers. Crosby, on the other hand, has three years and $7.85 million remaining on his contract.
Aside from the money, it’s certainly possible that Crosby just had a poor 2012 season and will bounce back just fine. The way Crosby was kicking the ball Thursday would suggest he’s already put his past struggles behind him.
“I felt great today,” Crosby said. “I felt like I had a really good day. I hit five really good balls there. I think my biggest thing is carrying over my process, everything I did on Tuesday that I worked on and brought it into the session today. That was really important for me.”
There are several differences between the two kickers. Crosby is right-footed, Tavecchio is left-footed. Crosby has a two-step approach, Tavecchio uses three steps. Tavecchio is also three inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter.
On a couple of Tavecchio’s kicks, the ball came off his foot with a rotation that isn’t normally seen. Because it’s not an every-kick problem, though, Slocum wasn’t worried.
“He hit a couple balls where he didn’t match the ball properly, but he still hit it down the target line, made the kicks,” Slocum said of Tavecchio. “He would rather hit the ball with a solid rotation.
“It can happen to any kicker. It’s a little bit like hitting a golf ball; you don’t always hit the perfect shot, but if you get it close to the hole, or in this case through the uprights, it works.”
Crosby always gets the first kick in practice. He then takes a few steps back and, with just the one exception, has watched Tavecchio match it.
“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 has the advantage over Tavecchio in several ways. Six years of kicking under pressure — even with results that have been inconsistent at times — in NFL games is something that Tavecchio obviously can’t match. For a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, that experience may be the biggest factor.
Even in the height of Crosby’s struggles last season, which included making just 4 of 9 field-goal attempts between Weeks 8-12, McCarthy and the Packers stuck with him. “Mason is our kicker” was a phrase often repeated by McCarthy. And, hey, that also means that McCarthy knew Crosby’s first name, a luxury Tavecchio doesn’t yet know.
Tavecchio knows he’s a long shot to make the team. But, first things first, he wants to do something that gets McCarthy’s attention. You know, something that gets his coach to learn his first name.
“I just try to bring my best self to every moment,” Tavecchio said. “There’s a lot of stuff that’s out of my control. I like to think that when I put my head on the pillow that I did my best that day.”