By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – If Nate Freese ever had any doubt he would emerge from training camp as the kicker for the Detroit Lions, he did not admit it Monday.
“As a kicker, you always want to be positive, you want to think, want to have the mindset, ‘This is my job. I need to do my very best every single day or I’m not going to have this job,’” Freese said. “That was my mindset.”
Detroit’s seventh-round draft pick this year, Freese found out he won the job when he spoke with fellow kicker Giorgio Tavecchio at the team hotel Monday morning. Tavecchio had been released.
Kickers have high-pressure, low-love jobs, but head coach Jim Caldwell said he has no problem relying on a rookie in that position, and Freese seemed to back up the coach’s confidence, looking as nonchalant as could be at his locker after Monday’s practice.
Wide receiver Golden Tate said that Freese has handled every challenge thus far with aplomb.
“He’s done a great job,” Tate said. “Coach has definitely put pressure on him by having all of us watch him kick the ball and kind of harass him and try to mess with him, and he’s done a great job at knocking them down. That shows he has mental focus. That’s what we need.
“There’s going to be times we’re on the road and we need a big kick in Green Bay or Chicago in January and we’re going to need him not to make excuses for why he can’t,” Tate continued, “but want the ball in his hands – or I guess on his foot – for the last play.”
Caldwell had characterized the competition between Freese and Tavecchio as close throughout training camp, and the duo rotated kicking duties in Friday’s preseason game. Ultimately, though, the Lions felt best about Freese, who hit a 55-yard attempt in the team’s second preseason game a week before Tavecchio missed a 51-yard attempt in the game Friday.
“It was a tough competition — very, very difficult decision — and Giorgio did a nice job,” Caldwell said. “I think both guys took this thing on in a professional manner, and Nate ended up edging him out. I think they’re both very, very capable guys, but as we looked at all the factors involved, Nate was the best one for us at this time.
“Giorgio had been around a little bit longer, obviously,” Caldwell continued, “but Nate obviously showed that – he made some tough kicks, and particularly the one at Oakland was a very, very difficult one under some tough conditions, off the dirt … We just felt he was the best choice for us at this time.”
Teams make cuts throughout this week to get down to 53, so more experienced kickers may come available, but Caldwell all but ruled out the possibility of the Lions bringing in a veteran to compete with Freese.
“I think this league is one where you don’t ever stand pat, obviously, but obviously he’s the guy we chose, and I think he’s the best guy for the job,” Caldwell said. “Otherwise we’d tell you we’re going to open it up and look around and those kinds of things. But Nate’s done a tremendous job, and I think you’ll continue to see him get better.”