WR Under Glanville Challenges Crosby

Zach Ramirez was recruited to Portland State not as a kicker but as a receiver by Jerry Glanville. Ramirez took advantage of his opportunity at Portland State by becoming one of the nation's top kickers, and he's got another golden opportunity in Green Bay.

Zach Ramirez's unlikely path to the NFL started as a wide receiver recruited to Portland State by Jerry Glanville.

After all, as a jack-of-all-trades offensive and defensive weapon at McNary High School in Keizer, Ore., the former Zach Brown made only a handful of field goals during his four seasons on varsity. However, the former soccer star had a big leg, which he displayed during one career-changing day during his redshirt freshman season at Portland State.

"They kinda knew I kicked in high school," Ramirez said after Monday's practice. "I challenged the kicker one day after they missed the field goal in one of the first games and won the job, kicked the next game, kicked well and then they let the kickers try again to beat me out. Lucky enough, I was able to beat them out again. From there, I just kind of took the job."

Working at receiver during practice and his kicking afterward, Ramirez made 18-of-25 field-goal attempts as a freshman, with two connections from 50-plus yards. When Nigel Burton replaced Glanville for the 2010 season, he gave Ramirez some good advice.

"He figured that with my kicking stats that I should just kick," Ramirez recalled. "He told me, stick to kicking, you'll go farther."

Now a full-time kicker, Ramirez made 18-of-26 field-goal attempts as a sophomore. He again made two kicks from 50-plus, and one of his misses fell just short from 65 yards. Then came the season that put him on the NFL map: In 2011, he connected on 24-of-27 attempts. He was a consensus first-team FCS All-American who led the nation with 2.18 field goals per game. All of his misses came from at least 46 yards, and a string of 16 consecutive field goals was snapped when he missed from 53. Again, he had hit twice from 50-plus yards.

With 60 career field goals, Ramirez was on pace to break the Big Sky record of 75 held by Dan Carpenter – the veteran free-agent kicker the Packers had expressed interest in before he signed with (and since was released by) Arizona. Instead, he injured the MCL in his right (kicking) knee when a defender collided with him following the first extra point of the season. He missed six games and never was 100 percent recovered upon his return, finishing just 4-of-7.

"My main focus was to come back without a brace, so most of my rehab was body weight," he said. "It took me about six games to actually kick a football, but when I came back I was nowhere near what I was and could have been. So, once I came back and was comfortable enough to kick the ball, from there it was leg strength."

The Packers saw plenty of Ramirez in the run-up to the draft. They attended his pro day workout, and had scouts at the East-West and NFLPA all-star games, as well as at the Seattle regional combine and Dallas super-regional combine. Instead, the Packers signed Giorgio Tavecchio before the draft, and the only taste of the NFL that Ramirez received was a failed tryout at Seattle's post-draft rookie camp.

For more than four months, Ramirez kicked and kicked and kicked while his phone remained silent.

"I felt like I was getting a phone call every week. I was waiting for it, felt like it was going to come," he said. "My agent (Frank Bauer) did a great job keeping my confidence up. He says they're not ringing now but give it time and it will happen. He said I don't know when and you can't hold me on that, but stay calm and stay confident and kick your balls."

Then came the call from Green Bay. On Thursday, one day after Mason Crosby missed three consecutive field goals at practice, the Packers invited Ramirez for a workout. He flew to Green Bay on Saturday and kicked well enough in a Sunday morning tryout to get a contract. That afternoon, he made 10-of-11 field-goals attempts – including a 63-yarder with a stiff wind at his back. It was good enough to make it a two-horse race between him and Crosby, with Monday's release of Tavecchio.

"Technically he's sound," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "He's got plenty of leg strength and I think he demonstrated that on Day 1 and we'll see again (on Tuesday). Look forward to kicking some field goals (Tuesday) and we'll kick some into the wind. Hopefully we can get good wind out there, and we'll kick some with and against and continue the evaluation."

He's sound technically and tough mentally. There's no simulating the pressure of a game, but Sunday was close between the tryout and the three-kicker shootout.

"Is anybody ready? You don't find out until you get there, just like the guy that's got to make the 3-foot putt to win his first Masters," said Gary Zauner, who for 13 years was an NFL special-teams coordinator and now is a kicking consultant who has worked with 22 Pro Bowlers as well as Ramirez and Packers punter Tim Masthay. "You can't train some of that stuff. You can train certain types of pressures but then there's the outside pressures. How do you really do it unless you've gone through those situations? He's a young kicker with a strong leg."

Now, he's got the chance of a lifetime. Despite his dismal 2012 and inconsistent 2013 training camp, the Packers have an obvious comfort level in Crosby. Still, the door is open for Ramirez.

"I felt like I performed well enough on the first day," he said. "I've got to do it again, stay consistent, but my performance is good enough for them to keep me here one more day, and I've got to do it again tomorrow and hopefully stay for the game on Thursday."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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