Mason Crosby hasn’t frozen Giorgio Tavecchio out. The Green Bay Packers much-maligned kicker is too nice of a guy to ever do something like that, even to someone like Tavecchio, who’s been brought in to compete with Crosby this offseason.
But for Crosby, who suffered through the worst year of his NFL career last season, the bigger reason he’s not giving the new guy the cold shoulder is, it’s not about Tavecchio. It’s about him.
“It’s the same approach I take every offseason. I have to work on me,” Crosby said during a break in the second week of organized team activity practices this week. “I have to work on the details that I have. I was excited about the competition. It’s not a bad thing to see a guy there kicking next to you every day, seeing what he does well.
“He’s working hard and doing his thing. Our relationship has been great. He’s a good guy and it makes it easy to get along with, so that’s nice. There is never going to be any bad stuff between us.
“He’s a good kicker. He goes out and hits the ball the well, and it’s pushing me to be better. And I think that’s what I’m going to strive to do. Every time I go out, I’m going to try and get better every day.”
There’s little doubt that the Packers will demand Crosby be better this season, in part because he couldn’t have been much worse. He finished the regular season ranked last in the NFL in field-goal accuracy, making only 63.6 percent of his kicks (21 of 33), and that was with him making his last four field-goal attempts of the regular season.
The good news was that Crosby ended the year having made six field goals in a row. He made 26- and 48-yarders in the Packers’ Dec. 23 victory over Tennessee, then connected on 51- and 40-yarders at Minnesota in the Dec. 30 regular-season finale. Crosby then made a 20-yarder against the Vikings in the NFC Wild Card round and a 31-yarder at San Francisco in the Packers’ season-ending loss to the 49ers in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
“We looked hard at the whole process and we really looked at some things at the end of last season when we were still playing regular-season games and made some technique adjustments,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum explained. “I thought he improved then, and it’s been a point of emphasis since we’ve gone through the offseason.
“It was purely technique. There are so many parts in a kick and it was really technique-oriented. Like a golf swing, there are so many moving parts so you have to try and simplify the process.”
Crosby’s strong finishing kick was huge because he had missed at least one field-goal attempt in each of the previous eight games before getting his streak going.
“I want to be 100 percent on field goals. I want to make kicks. It’s my job. It’s my responsibility to go out there and make field goals,” Crosby said. “Every time I take the field, that’s my focus. And especially this offseason. Practice, in the weight room, everything I’m doing, I’m focusing on being sharp, being in that moment and taking advantage of that opportunity. I think it’s going to carry me a long way.
“Through (struggles) like that there’s been successes and failures and careers. And mine, especially this last season you can look at that. For me, I build off of that. I’m learning from it. For me, I can look at the things that I didn’t like that I did during the season and I can eliminate those and really focus on the good things, the positives. And it’s easy for me to see those positives through all of it and build off of that.”
If there was one kick that might have been the turning point for Crosby, it was his 51-yarder against the Vikings at Mall of America Field at the Metrodome. Crosby had made just 1 of 8 attempts from 50 yards or farther before that kick.
“I thought it was a good confidence-builder, much like a batter hitting a home run,” Slocum said. “It’s a good feeling.”
But not good enough to prevent the Packers from bringing in Tavecchio as competition. Even though coach Mike McCarthy stuck with Crosby through thick and thin – when, in contrast, the 49ers brought in Billy Cundiff in the playoffs to compete with a struggling David Akers – he said at the NFL Meetings in March that the team planned on bringing in a kicker, and it turned out to be Tavecchio.
Tavecchio went to training camp last summer with the 49ers but was released on the final cutdown as the 49ers kept Akers instead. Unhappy with Akers, the 49ers dumped him after the season and have signed Phil Dawson as his replacement.
Tavecchio converted 48 of 64 field goal attempts (75 percent) during his four years at the University of California-Berkeley.
“He was in San Francisco last summer and had a solid training camp out there. He’s solid. We’ll get chance to really evaluate him as we move forward,” Slocum said. “He’s well capable. He can do it all. He can kick off and make field goals. It will be fun to watch him progress.”
It will also be interesting to see how Crosby responds, especially in training camp if Tavecchio is still on the roster. Crosby hasn’t faced training-camp competition since he won the job from incumbent Dave Rayner in 2007 as a rookie sixth-round pick from Colorado.
“I can’t focus on what anyone else is doing. Whether a guy is here or not here I’m always competing against someone else out there, so for me, it’s really focusing on what I can do and how I can be consistent and perform,” Crosby said. “I think the competition is good, seeing someone kick. If he’s making kicks and I’m continuing to hit mine through, then we kind of just go back and forth. It’s good to be pushed and I’m happy with that.
“I feel like, through these last few weeks, since we’ve been kicking and working I really feel like I’m taking steps every day. I’m trying to find something I can improve on and get better. I think the competition breeds that and I’m thankful for that.”
Crosby, who made 24 of 28 field goals during the 2011 season, insists that his confidence never really wavered, even when McCarthy appeared to eschew field-goal attempts he’d usually have called for, instead opting to go for it on fourth downs.
Now, it’s his chance to reward the team’s faith in him.
“Obviously the organization sticking behind me kept building that confidence,” Crosby said. “For me, I never lost it. I never lost it in my head. I just kept going out every day trying to do the things I know best and work on those details.
“I finished the season how I wanted to. I’m carrying that over into the offseason and making sure that I eliminate any of those things that might have popped up during the season last year.”