It's been nearly two decades, but the Oakland Raiders will once again have a training camp battle between two kickers.
Not since 2000 have the Silver and Black entered the summer with a legitimate battle for the right to be the team's primary placekicker, but here we are, so let's meet the participants.
The Incumbent – Giorgio Tavecchio – 5'10" – 180 pounds
After Sebastian Janikowski was placed on the Reserve/Injured list before the Raiders Week 1 game against the Tennessee Titans, Tavecchio stepped in, and was literally perfect in his professional debut.
On that beautiful day in Nashville, the former California Golden Bear went four for four on field goals – including two from fifty-plus yards –and added two extra points for good measure, en route to a 26-16 win for the Silver and Black.
For a player who had been through several training camps with a handful of NFL teams, that Week 1 game was certainly a Cinderella moment for Tavecchio, but the fairy tale didn't stop there, as he kicked in all 16 games for the Raiders last year.
In total, Tavecchio went 16 for 21 on field goal attempts (76.2%), and although he missed just a single extra point in his first season as a Raider, the Italian national will have to fight for his job going forward.
But even though he's in unchartered territory at the moment, Tavecchio is approaching work as usual.
"In my mind, I always compete against myself," he explained. "When I step on the field I try to be and find the best me possible. That's really where my focus has been this Spring and over the years you kind of know what to expect in the offseason. So, it's less looking around and more keeping your head down and putting your nose to the ground and trying to improve and find your best every day."
The Contender – Eddy Piñeiro – 6'0" – 185 pounds
Piñeiro joins the Silver and Black after quite the collegiate career.
Originally signed by Nick Saban on the spot after a memorable performance at a kicking camp, Piñeiro eventually played his college ball at the University of Florida prior to signing with the Silver and Black as an undrafted free agent.
And while he came to the Raiders by way of the undrafted route; he certainly possessed the talent for the team to think about pulling the trigger and selecting him on Day 3 of the NFL Draft.
"We had three kickers, excuse me, three punters rated that we thought would get drafted," Assistnt Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia explained. "It went that way. We had two kickers that we personally thought would get drafted. One got drafted and Eddy was still there. So, we feel fortunate that we got a chance to get him, regardless of how we got him. I know coach talked about costing us a lot of money to get him, but we're just glad we got him. It's been a good competition."
The former Florida Gator missed just two field goals in college – he remembers both of them by the way – and now he's ready to test his mettle as a pro, going kick for kick with Tavecchio in the process.
"Giorgio is a really good kicker," Piñeiro said. "Really good guy. Learned a lot from him. It's a good battle. He has a good leg, so do I. He's accurate. It's going to be fun."
-Energy is the name of the game, even during Minicamp, and the Raiders linebackers no doubt brought said energy to the field Wednesday. Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson in particular were vocal participants in the day's session, and that type of thing is contagious, just ask the other players on the defense.
-One of my favorite things to do, regardless of what time of the year it is, is to watch the offensive line and defensive line battle it out, and so I spent some time Wednesday doing just that. Here are a few, quick takeaways; Kolton Miller is holding his own so far. He certainly has room to get better – every rookie does – but there were a handful of plays where he stonewalled the dude going against him.
-Also, I know we talked about energy a little earlier, but Bruce Irvin might take the cake for most energy on a day-to-day basis. Hearing him chirp at the offense provides consistent amusement throughout a two-and-a-half hour practice.
-And in conclusion, Kelechi Osemele is an absolute beast on the football field, simple as that.
-Day 2 of Minicamp was a good day for the defense, passes were getting batted down left and right all day, but I think the highlight came when Dallin Leavitt picked off a pass, ran down the sideline with most of his teammates in tow, then proceeded to punt the ball in celebration. The rookie has had a nice couple of weeks; let's see if he can carry it over into training camp.
-Leavitt wasn't the only defensive back to haul in an interception Wednesday; after earning some high praise from Head Coach Jon Gruden Tuesday, safety Erik Harris followed it up with another big day today, picking off another pass during an 11-on-11 session.