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Kicking competition is open at Lions camp

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) The Detroit Lions started training camp without an experienced kicker for the first time in more than 20 years.

The competition for the spot could be one of the best in camp.

Rookie Nate Freese and Italian-born Giorgio Tavecchio are vying for the job a season after the Lions signed veteran David Akers to replace the retired Jason Hanson. Akers isn't here this summer and the Lions took the field without a veteran kicker on the roster for the first time since 1992 - Hanson's rookie season.

''It's a good one right now,'' coach Jim Caldwell said of the competition after Friday's practice.

''Giorgio kicked well today and Nate kicked well today, so it's a good one.''

Both kickers agree.

Freese was drafted in the seventh round out of Boston College, where he made more than 86 percent of his field-goal tries during a four-year career and finished his senior season 20 for 20.

Tavecchio, who played collegiately at California, was in training camp with San Francisco in 2012 and Green Bay last summer, where he lost a competition with veteran Mason Crosby.

''I'm excited. I feel confident,'' Tavecchio said. ''Every kick is important, you want to be focused and give it 100 percent. I'm in a good place, but it's all about consistency.''

Freese said he thought he spoke for his teammate and rival when he welcomed the challenge.

''I'm glad there's a competition. It makes everyone better,'' he said. ''I think Giorgio and I can do well here.

''Whoever wins will do very well.''

The kicking position on the Lions has been stable since the 1980s, when Eddie Murray was a mainstay for the Lions. Hanson was drafted in 1992 and became so popular with hometown fans that his No. 4 jersey was hard to miss in the stands during his 21-year career.

The 39-year-old Akers won the job last season, but missed five of his 24 field-goal attempts.

The Lions signed Tavecchio after the end of the season and created the competition for the job when they selected Freese in the draft.

Caldwell said both should get plenty of chances to make an impression once the Lions begin the exhibition season.

''We typically do quite a bit in our kicking game anyway because we value it; it's extremely important to us,'' Caldwell said before acknowledging the two players' inexperience.

''We're going to try to kick them as much as we can, within reason.''

The Lions play their first preseason game Aug. 9 against visiting Cleveland.

Notes: Players took the field in full pads for the first time in camp Friday. Caldwell said they'll only be in shoulder pads and helmets Saturday morning. ... Former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr attended practice and chatted with Caldwell before players took the field. ... DE Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder) remained out of drills. Caldwell said earlier in camp he did not have a timetable for his return. ... Friday's session was the first open to the general public. Prior practices were reserved for suite and club seat holders and season ticket holders.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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