NASHVILLE, Tenn. --Titans kickers Maikon Bonani and Travis Coons are in the middle of one of the team's marquee competitions of training camp, both competing to become the franchise's first kicker other than Rob Bironas since 2004.
They've battled throughout training camp at Saint Thomas Sports Park. They dueled during an inter-squad scrimmage at LP Field and competed at a joint practice with the Atlanta Falcons in Flowery Branch, Ga. Through it all, Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt's message to reporters has remained steady – game situations will ultimately prove to be the true evaluators.
Titans Online looks at the special teams players on the team's roster at the start of the 2014 training camp. (Photos: Donn Jones Photography, AP)
That wait is over. The Titans' first preseason contest comes Saturday night at LP Field against the Green Bay Packers. The prime time 7 p.m. kickoff means the lights will be on and all eyes will be on each swing of the leg.
"You always look forward to a game," Bonani said. "That's the mentality that everyone has here. Not only do our coaches see it but everyone else. That's when you're really going to be evaluated."
There's no predicting the flow of the game. Whisenhunt said Thursday that he has yet to decide how he will divide the reps. Both kickers want a chance, but there's no telling how many field goals attempts, kickoffs or extra points they'll see come Saturday. It's all about taking advantage of each and every opportunity.
"As a kicker you always want to make a difference in the game," said Bonani. "No kicker wants to spend the game on the sideline. I want as many chances as I can and to put them all through."
The stakes might be higher and the stage will be greater, but both kickers noted the importance of treating each opportunity as just another rep.
"I try to treat it like another day, like it's practice," said Coons. "I'm just out there kicking with my teammates and having a good time. It's not easy, but that's the way you have to go into it. If you go into the game like 'I have to make this kick' then you're going to miss it. You can't go in there and worry about things."
Bonani added that for him, it's essential to have the right balance of embracing the moment but not letting it overwhelm you.
"I feel like if you're too relaxed it's bad and if you're too uptight it's bad," he explained. "You have to find that middle ground. You can't go out there thinking it's whatever because you'll miss because you're too lazy. If you're too uptight then you can't swing your leg either. There's a fine line."
This is the second straight Titans training camp that Bonani has been a part of. His booming leg had coaches impressed in 2013, but Bironas' status was secure coming off a contract extension during the offseason. Bonani made 69-of-91 field goal attempts while at the University of South Florida. He has continued to display his strong leg during the first two weeks of training camp.
"I feel great," Bonani said. "There have been a few misses, but my confidence has not shaken at all. I feel like every time I walk up there I'm going to hit a good ball."
Coons came to Tennessee after graduating from the University of Washington, where the JC transfer spent two seasons as a Husky. After a disappointing junior season making only 9-of-14 field goal attempts, Coons had a standout senior campaign connecting on 14-of-15 tries.
"I feel good about it, I'm confident in myself," Coons said. "I know what I'm doing and I've been doing it for a while. If I do what I need to do I think I'll be alright."
The two kickers have no choice but to see each other on a consistent basis throughout camp; they've had no problem putting the competition aside when they walk off the field.
"We're roommates at the hotel so we talk and go out to lunch sometimes," said Coons. "It's cool."
"We're competing to see who is kicking the best," Bonani said. "When we're on the field that's what we're doing, but outside of it we get along well. We're helping each other out and if we see something that we did wrong we will tell the other person."
The preseason brings a new wrinkle for the first two games. The NFL is testing a rule change that places PAT's at the 15-yard line. Whisenhunt joked that of all years to try the new distance, it might as well be a year in which the Titans are trying to learn about their two kickers.
The Titans will learn more come Saturday, the first of four preseason tests before the regular season begins.