Lions kickers take aim at new uprights

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The two times Giorgio Tavecchio and Nate Freese step onto the Ford Field turf this week, the goal posts they are trying to kick into will look different.

The first time they kick there, on Wednesday night, the posts will be the same height as last season, just painted highlighter green as part of a Detroit Lions promotion. Then, the more important change happens.

Between Wednesday night and Saturday night, the Lions will install the NFL’s new mandated goal posts, up from the old height of 30 feet to the new, 35-foot height. It might not sound like much, but Saturday night will also be the first time the Detroit Lions kickers will line up with the new posts in the new height.

The Lions have been practicing thus far this season with the older, smaller goal posts at their practice facility.

“The only challenge is seeing if the ball is close to pulling wide left or wide right, it’s tough to tell because we tend to hit it higher up than the uprights,” Tavecchio said. “But beyond that, if you back up, sometimes it looks like it’s a smaller target because it is technically smaller than what you’d face in a game.”

Tavecchio, who is in a close competition with Freese to handle the Lions’ field goal duties, said he didn’t think lining up with the taller uprights during games will make much of a difference how he kicks the ball.

The biggest difference, he said, is “they look a little bit more present in your depth of vision.” So if anything, that might be able to help. Tavecchio said he spent part of the offseason in Berkeley, California, training with taller uprights to help understand the difference.

If anything, the goal posts should help officials judge whether or not a field goal is good, because often the ball sails well over them. That should present the biggest change.

“It definitely will matter,” holder/punter Sam Martin said. “Right now you kick a ball over the uprights, it’s considered good and they are going to be higher now. One that might be good right now might ding off the post and not be good.

“It can definitely be a factor.”

To train, Tavecchio seemed less concerned with the height of the upright as much as the width. To help his accuracy -- he already possesses a strong leg -- he worked with narrower uprights. It is something he initially picked up during training camp with the San Francisco 49ers two seasons ago and carried into his own training now.

All of this helps both his aim and his depth of vision. Tavecchio said he also uses kicking at various visual targets as a way to both break up the monotony of kicking between the uprights and to embrace ways to help with his accuracy.

The taller uprights may or may not help with that.

“I don’t know if it is better or not,” Tavecchio said of the taller uprights. “In the past I’ve used narrower uprights, which have proven to be a really useful training tool because it is the whole concept of make sure you aim small, miss small.

“Use the arena-size uprights and then when you use the full-size uprights, it looks like you’re kicking onto the deck of an aircraft carrier.”

Starting Saturday, it will be a depth and field of vision that has just a little bit more texture to it.