ALAMEDA – Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio is the only incumbent specialist left on the Raiders 2018 offseason roster.
Punter Marquette King got cut. Long snapper Jon Condo was allowed to walk out the front door. So was Sebastian Janikowski, the Raiders' kicker for 17 seasons until Tavecchio became his injury replacement last year.
Tavecchio had a solid 2017, but it didn’t guarantee his job. Undrafted rookie Eddy Piñeiro is charging hard for Tavecchio’s gig, with a real chance to win a kicking competition set to continue through the summer.
The Raiders nearly drafted Piñeiro, a raw, yet powerful talent who missed just one field goal attempt for the University of Florida last year. Instead they paid paid a hefty bonus to woo him as a free agent. Piñeiro seems to be the favorite for those reasons, despite Tavecchio’s incumbent status.
That would seem set to create some awkward moments between these kickers, but both guys called this competition friendly.
“I try to be the best person possible, too,” Tavecchio said. “I think for me, this is obviously a pretty intimate journey, so I don’t keep people out, I don’t try to beat people down. I’m here to serve. That’s my mentality. Directly or indirectly, I think I have transmitted a good amount to Eddy and I hope it’s all been positive.”
Piñeiro says Tavecchio has shared trade secrets and has been helpful to a lifelong soccer player with just two year’s football experience.
“Giorgio is a really good kicker, a really good guy,” Piñeiro said. “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.”
Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia has kickers alternating practice days – there was one exception, and another coming Thursday -- giving reps to one guy each time. That has helped the combatants and rookie punter/holder Johnny Townsend, who must set up attempts for a righty (Piñeiro) and a lefty (Tavecchio).
Townsend is working hard to help both kickers, and avoid perceived favoritism given the fifth-round played with Piñeiro at Florida. His past and present teammate has familiarity Tavecchio doesn’t have, but Townsend is working to make it a level playing field.
“There was no bias there, just being teammates with Eddy in college,” Townsend said. “I know there’s a kicker competition going on so each and every day we go out and compete and work to make each other better. That’s my mindset going through it.”
Coaches and reporters alike are counting makes a misses in each session, a practice that will carry on into training camp and at least some early preseason action.
“I believe we’ll go in through some of the preseason games for sure and give them both an opportunity to kick in game-like situations,” Bisaccia said. “We’ll try to create as many situations in practice as we possibly can and certainly when we get to pads. It’s a process and everything matters. … Right now, they’re nip and tuck.”