You’d be hard pressed to find a kicker that took fans on more of an emotional rollercoaster last season than former Tennessee Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
The 37-year-old had the worst season of his career in 2020, hitting on just 69.2 percent of his kicks and missing an NFL-leading eight field goals. That prompted the Titans to not re-sign the veteran kicker following the season.
Now, Tennessee appears to be going in a more youthful direction with 23-year-old Tucker McCann and 21-year-old Blake Haubeil set to battle for the starting job during training camp and into the three-game preseason. That said, signing a veteran kicker before or during camp shouldn’t be ruled out either, as the Titans were the worst kicking team in the NFL in 2019 and next-to-last in 2020.
“There’s not really much of a battle; there’s no rush,” head coach Mike Vrabel said at the conclusion of Titans minicamp. “We have to put them in situations and evaluate them a lot more in training camp and in preseason.
“Everything that we’ve seen thus far, those guys are continuing to improve and work with the timing and the operation with (long snapper) Morgan (Cox) and (holder) Brett (Kern).”
McCann, who signed a reserve/futures contract with the Titans in the offseason, spent last year on the team’s practice squad. The second-year player out of Missouri is the more well-rounded specialist, having handled place kicking, field goal kicking and punting duties during his time in college. He made 61 of his 84 field goals with the Tigers (72.6 percent) with a long of 57 yards. He averaged 43.2 yards per punt and left Missouri with the second-most points in school history.
Haubeil, who signed with the team as an undrafted free agent following the draft in April, was automatic on his 146 extra point attempts with Ohio State. He hit 28 of his 35 field goals (80 percent) and scored the 10th-most points in Buckeye history among kickers. The drawback with Haubeil, though, is that he isn’t much of a kickoff specialist. He rarely places kicks in the opposing end zone and both his hang time and kickoff length could use work.
“They’re both working hard, and we’re excited to see where that competition leads and then we’ll have to make a decision at that point in time (during training camp) if that’s what’s best for the team and one of those guys moving forward,” Vrabel added.
Realistically, McCann should have a slight edge over the rookie. He has more NFL experience and impressed coaches last offseason, connecting on 43 of his 49 kicks unofficially during training camp, including several from 50 yards or longer. However, Haubeil is more accurate with just as big of a leg. He had a career long of 55 yards at Ohio State and he kicked a 61-yarder back in high school.
This battle could come right down to the wire.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_