Draft status will not alter kicking battle

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Jim Caldwell needs to shelve his feelings this month, as difficult as it may be and as unrealistic as it may seem. Players and coaches are bonding and developing relationships throughout training camp, with the understanding of how the NFL business works.

Almost half of the players on the Detroit Lions right now won’t be here in a month as the cruel portion of training camp slowly works its way to the forefront. And at one spot -- kicker --, Caldwell can’t let his feelings get in the way when he's judging whether to keep seventh-round draft pick Nate Freese or free-agent signee Giorgio Tavecchio.

“I talked to the guys [Sunday] night a little bit, is that we all get feelings but feelings don’t count in this game for the most part,” Caldwell said Monday. “You like data. You like hard, firm data. You like to challenge them in a number of different situations so you really get a good feel for what he’s capable of doing.

“But we’re looking at results, more so than anything. That’s the thing I think is extremely important.”

When it comes to kickers specifically, data could be close to everything. And if the Lions go by data, then Tavecchio should be leading the competition to become Detroit’s new kicker, not Nate Freese.

In public practices -- where pressure is theoretically the highest so far considering there is a live audience -- Tavecchio has shown both the stronger leg and more consistency, making almost all of his kicks over the first week of practice. Meanwhile, Freese has struggled, including getting a kick blocked at Wayne State last week and missing two field goals on Monday.

Caldwell explained more goes into the kicking competition than merely the numbers. He is viewing how the kickers handle pressure and how they are in meeting rooms with special teams coaches John Bonamego and Evan Rothstein.

That pressure will rise on Saturday night, when Freese and Tavecchio theoretically will attempt field goals in the preseason opener against Cleveland. That should give Caldwell even more data to go on, as he and the coaching staff try to take emotions and feelings out of what could be a tough decision between two young players.

Caldwell said Freese’s status as a draft pick shouldn’t play much into their decision. Considering Freese was a seventh-rounder, there isn’t as much invested in him from a guaranteed money or value standpoint as there was in Sam Martin, last season’s fifth-round pick as a punter who turned into a value selection for Martin Mayhew.

“It’s never one of those situations where we strictly look at because a guy was drafted or not drafted and how you judge him,” Caldwell said. “The guy’s an outstanding player? He’s going to play. Here’s something I think everybody realizes.

“Coaches are in the business of winning. If we don’t win, there’s a problem. Nothing good ever happens if you don’t win, right? So what we’re going to try and do is get the best player out there playing for us to give us the best chance to win. We don’t care where he came from, who he is. We’re just looking for results, and that’s what counts.”

Every one of Tavecchio's and Freese’s kicks over the next few weeks will be counted, charted, weighed and measured to figure out who will be Detroit’s kicker in the fall.