GREEN BAY – Mason Crosby doesn’t need the reminder. He knows his job is on the line each year, whether there’s a young, big-legged kicker willing to do his job for a quarter of the pay or not.
For Crosby, the absence of job security comes with the territory. A kicker is only ever a few bad kicks from unemployment. Ask Blair Walsh. Ask Cody Parkey. For every Adam Vinatieri or Sebastian Janikowski, there are 10, 15, 20 Roberto Aguayos.
Crosby knows this. He lived it in 2012, when he almost joined the long list of kicking careers gone bad.
“I’m always competing for a job,” Crosby said. “Every time I step on the field, I’m interviewing.”
No, Crosby doesn’t need the reminder. But he got one anyway.
He’s standing at his locker on the fringe of the green mile, where undrafted and practice squad hopefuls dress. He’s alternating reps on the practice field, every other kick. He’s Sam Ficken, who has kicked for the Los Angeles Rams, whom the Green Bay Packers claimed off waivers in April, giving Crosby direct competition for the first time in a long time.
It has been six years since the Packers carried a second kicker into training camp. That year, Giorgio Tavecchio came for Crosby’s job. Crosby was at a crossroads, his career almost disintegrating the previous season. He retained his job then, outkicking Tavecchio in camp.
Can he do the same against Ficken?
“I can’t worry about anything that he’s doing,” Crosby said. “For me, it’s always just about my process and how I go about my business, and make sure that I’m ready to go. So my process now, still, like it has always been through spring, through this time, is to always build and be the best version of myself as a kicker.”
That process has worked for Crosby these past dozen years. It helped him beat Dave Rayner in his first training camp back in 2007. It spurred him onto becoming the franchise’s all-time points leader, a career that will end in the team’s Hall of Fame.
Crosby would like to postpone that date. How long? “As long as I can,” Crosby said. Pressed on a specific timeline, whether he has a final season in mind or prefers to chase the 46-year-old Vinatieri’s longevity, Crosby paused.
“I think my goal is to get into this season,” said Crosby, who will turn 35 in September, “and go this one. And if I can make it to 40, that would be awesome. Then you’re just kind of trying to see where mind, body, family is and what the process is.
“But, yeah, my goal right now is to make sure I’m healthy and ready to go for this season, and I just keep stacking them.”
First, the health.
Crosby opened camp with a calf injury sustained while training two weeks ago and was placed on the non-football injury list. He said his absence is precautionary, that the Packers’ medical staff is simply being careful when the calendar has not yet flipped to August, but Crosby knows the reality: You can’t compete if you can’t kick.
That might’ve helped, actually, when camp opened Thursday. Ficken missed two field goals in a drill that lacked a live rush. But as long as Crosby is out, Ficken will get an opportunity to showcase what he can do without sharing the field.
“Obviously, Mason has a ton more experience than I do,” Ficken said, “but I look at it as a good opportunity to go out there and perform. He’s been great. He’s been awesome. I’m trying to pick up little bits and pieces that maybe I haven’t learned from my experiences that he hasn’t had, and he’s been more than welcoming to me here.”
Whenever his leg heals, Crosby will have work to do. He didn’t sink to the depths of 2012 last season, but it was a year he’d rather forget. On the surface, Crosby’s 81.1 percent (30-for-37) was respectable. But it was riddled with potholes that easily deflate those numbers.
There was the 0-for-5 in Detroit. That was sandwiched by missing a potential game-winning kick Week 2 against Minnesota and a potential game-tying kick Week 13 against Arizona. The Packers tied the Vikings, and they lost to the Cardinals. The latter miss was the final play of Mike McCarthy’s tenure as head coach.
Crosby chooses to focus on the positives. For one, he did an adequate job of rebounding from the debacle in Detroit. Crosby made 19 of his final 21 kicks to close the season, though one miss may have cost the Packers a win. He had one of the best games in his career a week after Detroit, making all four of his field-goal attempts against San Francisco, including the game winner from 27 yards as time expired.
“I felt like I really took a quick transition going into that 49ers game,” Crosby said, “and I had a pretty solid second half of the season. Wish I had a couple of kicks back there, but I think I went 19-of-21 down the stretch, which in most regards would be pretty solid. So I felt like that showed a lot about what I do and how I can move forward.”
His midseason reclamation wasn’t enough to keep the competition away. Crosby knows what he does these next five weeks, in this camp, will matter most. It’s hard envisioning the Packers moving on from their all-time points leader, given his bank of knowledge kicking inside Lambeau Field and in the playoffs. Ficken might need to beat Crosby definitively to force general manager Brian Gutekunst’s hand.
Crosby would prefer to take care of his business instead of leaving open the possibility his time with the Packers is finished.
“My mindset is always the same,” Crosby said. “I’ve got to take care of what I do, whenever I’m practicing on my own, here in this little time frame, or once I’m on the field, getting live reps. It’s all about me and the snap and the hold and making sure I take care of my business. That’s all I can do. That’s how I’ve always approached it.”