The Detroit Lions usually go into training camp each year with two kickers. For the last 21 years, Jason Hanson always emerged as the starter coming out of training camp, meaning the other kicker was really just trying to audition for a gig elsewhere. There have been many guys who spent time in camp with the Lions before landing a job with another team, and that could very well be the case again this year.
After Hanson retired, the Lions signed David Akers to take over the starting kicker job. Akers has been in the NFL on a full-time basis since 1999, and he is just a couple years removed from making 44-of-52 field goals in one season. While he struggled mightily in 2012, Akers is expected to return to his earlier form once he gets 100 percent healthy.
The Lions took a very unique route this year to find their second kicker by signing Norway's Havard Rugland, who is still best known as "Kickalicious" thanks to his trick-shot video on YouTube. Rugland has been with the Lions since April, and he has spent the last couple months getting acclimated to American football. Nobody really expected him to be much of a threat to actually win the starting kicker job, but with Akers still recovering from offseason surgery, Rugland made the most of the reps he got during the Lions' OTAs and minicamp. From the Free Press:
"He’s obviously got a strong leg," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said after one minicamp practice. "Every step you try to temper, ‘Well, let’s see what happens when there’s a snapper or holder out there. Let’s see what happens when he’s got a defense that’s rushing. … Let’s see what happens when it’s in the middle of practice rather than on their own on the side.’
"He’s passed all those tests. Every step along the way, he’s done a good job with that. So the next thing is when the game’s live and guys are really bearing down on him and there’s pressure involved in the kick. But that’s something that won’t come for a while now. He’s done a nice job working through all the different things that are new to him. That’s encouraging to see."
Rugland's accuracy during the minicamp, even from 50-plus yards out, was described as quite good. As Jim Schwartz said, it's a lot different when you're kicking in an actual game, but at the very least, Rugland has proven to be capable as a kicker in practice.
Of course, this doesn't mean that Rugland will be able to edge Akers for the starting kicker job. If there isn't much of a difference between the two players, I'd expect the Lions to go with the one who has been kicking in the NFL for the last 15 years. Then again, if Akers' health continues to limit him, or if he continues to struggle because of injuries, perhaps that could open the door for Rugland to win the starting kicker job. Rugland will obviously have to perform well in actual games, but Akers' health is the wild card in this competition.
Even if Rugland doesn't end up being the Lions' starting kicker, he could potentially land with another team if he plays as well in the preseason as he has practiced so far this offseason. Considering Rugland is so new to the game of American football, the very fact that we're even talking about this as a possibility is pretty remarkable.