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Friday, July 25, 2014
Detroit Lions camp preview: Specialists

By Michael Rothstein

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing the Detroit Lions entering training camp, which begins at the end of July. A reminder -- unless a player is an entrenched starter, so much of what will happen over the next month or so will be entirely fluid as players attempt to make an NFL roster.

Position: Specialists

Starter: P – Sam Martin; LS – Don Muhlbach; K -- TBD

Depth (in training camp): P – None. LS – None, really. K – Nate Freese, Giorgio Tavecchio.

Likely roster spots: 3.

What to expect in camp: Barring injuries, Martin is the team’s punter and Muhlbach is the long snapper. Even the returner competition is fairly squared away unless Jeremy Ross makes a multitude of errors in camp.

The only true competition here is at kicker, where Detroit continues to search for a viable replacement for Jason Hanson, who retired following the 2012 season. David Akers was not the answer last season. The Lions searched for replacements during the season, holding tryouts, before sticking with Akers throughout the year. Last season during camp, Akers’ competition with Havard Rugland aka "Kickalicious," had never kicked in a college or NFL game before.

This season, the Lions are headed toward a young kicker no matter who wins. Freese is a seventh-round pick out of Boston College. Tavecchio, born in the fashion capital of Milan, Italy before playing college ball at California, is his competition.

Freese is more accurate. Tavecchio has the stronger leg. One of these two will be Detroit’s kicker for at least the 2014 season. It may be the most intriguing position fight of 2014.

What Detroit needs to see: Either Tavecchio or Freese needs to show enough of a combination of leg strength and accuracy to convince the coaches they are the right player to win the job. For Tavecchio, that is consistency and accuracy. For Freese, it is displaying a strong enough leg to be a player who can make kicks from beyond 50 yards.

If all things end up equal, Freese will win the job and the roster spot because the team invested (minimally) a seventh-round pick in the kicker and accuracy can often trump distance. Tavecchio, in order to win the job, will likely have to be markedly better than Freese throughout the preseason.

Some reporters have to chart every pass in quarterback competitions every fall. For Detroit this season, every kick by these two players will be scrutinized and measured.