ALAMEDA — The Raiders thought two kickers would be drafted this year. One was Eddy Piñeiro. They almost selected him themselves on Day 3.
Jon Gruden, Rich Bisaccia and Co. felt fortunate when the former Florida kicker fell outside the seventh round, where the Raiders signed him as an undrafted free agent. Piñeiro has drawn attention on Twitter for videos of his field goals stretching over 70 yards, but the rookie seems to be more than just an internet sensation.
His right leg carries both power and accuracy that have been on display throughout the offseason. Though incumbent Giorgio Tavecchio’s kicking experience extends far past Piñeiro’s, the rookie poses a real threat to win the job come regular season time. Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia said the kicking competition will carry well into preseason games, and insists the battle is wide open right now despite offseason appeal the youngster carries.
“It’s been a good competition,” Bisaccia said Wednesday. “Giorgio’s been in the league a while, bounced himself around and really competed his butt off. The young guy (Piñeiro) has got a lot of talent. He just hasn’t played a lot of football. So it should be a good competition.”
Piñeiro made 38-of-43 field goals (88.4%) in his two years kicking for the Gators, including a 17-for-18 clip last season. He also hit 56-of-58 extra points in 2016 and 2017. Tavecchio hit 16-of-21 field goals in his first full NFL season last year, featuring a long of 53 yards against the Dolphins in Week 9. He hit 33-of-34 extra points, his one miss coming after an errant snap by Jon Condo against the Chargers in Week 6 that ended up costing the Raiders the game.
The kickers have been alternating days this offseason since Bisaccia doesn’t want one guy kicking two days in a row. With media access limited throughout the offseason to this point, we haven’t seen the full breadth of work for both kickers. Piñeiro impressed on Tuesday and Tavecchio struggled on Wednesday, but Bisaccia said the whole offseason has ebbed and flowed as such.
“Right now they’re nip-and-tuck,” he said. “When one guy misses two, the other guy makes ‘em all. The next day, that guy misses two, the next guy makes ‘em all.”
Tavecchio finds himself in an interesting situation given his and Piñeiro’s holder is the rookie’s close friend and college teammate, 2018 fifth-rounder and punter Johnny Townsend. Even so, Tavecchio said Townsend made sure to clear the air in that regard when they first met.
“One of the first things Johnny told me after he introduced himself was, ‘I’m gonna do my best to be the best holder for a lefty possible,’ the left-footer Tavecchio said.
“There was no bias whatsoever, 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 get each other better.
But is it hard to not favor your college teammate?
“You could see it that way, but no, it’s really not,” he said. “I just see two kickers going at it each and every day and giving it their best. I’m there just to make it an even playing field for both those guys.”
Piñeiro has come a long way from high school, when he vowed to quit football for soccer if he didn’t leave an Alabama recruiting camp with an offer. Well, Nick Saban offered that day, and Piñeiro stuck with the sport despite not choosing the Crimson Tide. He was extremely raw when he first joined the Gators, Townsend said, but gelled his mechanics with power and accuracy in short order.
Now he goes from the clear-cut No. 1 at Florida to immersed in a NFL battle, albeit one that he could very well win. What will help him emerge on top, though, might be the advice of his counterpart. Piñeiro hasn’t felt any awkward vibes between the three despite his relationship with Townsend, and mentioned how Tavecchio has been open in sharing tricks of the trade as the two jockey for position in their ongoing competition.
“Just seeing his mindset and seeing him watching film and how he breaks down his kicks, it’s helped me a lot,” Piñeiro said. “He’s a really good guy. You guys would think that oh, you know, it’s awkward competing or this and that. It’s not awkward. I think God has a plan for everybody and that’s just the way I look at it.
“Giorgio’s a really good kicker, really good guy, learned a lot from him. It’s a good battle. He’s got a good leg, so do I. He’s accurate. It’s gonna be fun.”
Source: East Bay Does Raiders’ rookie kicker pose real threat to win job?