Tuthill an 'insurance policy'

If the Packers want to go the distance this season, will they need more distance on kickoffs? That's the question GM/Head coach Mike Sherman addressed by signing placekicker James Tuthill.

The 6-2, 251-pound Tuthill was signed Thursday in response to Packer kicker Ryan Longwell's underwhelming performance on kickoffs this season.

"I have the utmost confidence in Ryan, but if we think this guy can give us a better distance or hang-time we may go that way," Sherman said, adding that Tuthill could see action on kickoffs Sunday vs. Atlanta at Lambeau Field. "We're not sure right now which way were going, we'll wait until the end of the week and see which guy gives us the best chance to win that game, we'll go with him."

The Packers waived cornerback Keith Thibodeaux to make room for Tuthill on the roster. While it's unusual for a team to spend two roster spots on kickers, Sherman sees it as a favorable tradeoff on special teams.

"Last week we had the luxury of dressing Thibodeaux on special teams because Chad Clifton is down," Sherman said. "This guy would be a special teams guy, like Thibodeaux, but instead of covering the kick he's kicking the kick and hopefully distance would outweigh the coverage aspect of it, and that's where this kid comes in."

Tuthill, a 25-year-old Cal Poly-SLO product originally was signed by the San Jose Sabrecats of the Arena Football League out of college but was waived during the first week of training camp. He subsequently was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent in 2000 and made one field goal and one conversion attempt before being waived August 21. Out of football during the regular season, he was re-signed by the 49ers Feb.21, 2001, and allocated to the Rhein Fire of the NFL Europe League. He later was waived July 9.

Tuthill was one of several kickers evaluated by Sherman during the past month. Sherman said the tryouts take care of some of the staff's "homework;" if they find themselves in need, they'll already have player evaluations in place.

"This what the 53rd spot is for. I've been using that spot to bring guys in and see if they can help our team and evaluate them and see if they're a guy we'd bring back at a later date. That 53rd spot has been a revolving door for me and it gives me a chance to look at guys and see if they can help us."

Tuthill kicked in the Don Hutson Center Thursday before moving onto the outdoor practice field to test himself against the swirling late-fall winds.

"I think he was a little nervous," Sherman said of the newcomer. "He kicked into the wind and did a nice job. If he didn't, he wouldn't be here."

With two field goals in last week's win over Chicago, Longwell put his 0-4 streak behind him and proved that his field goal accuracy is what makes him special-teams gold. How did the 5th-year kicker handle the news that he has competition for half his job?

"No way is this a knock on Ryan," Sherman said. "Ryan and I talked about this on Monday. I told him what we were planning to do, so it wasn't a surprise to him. Ryan's a competitor and obviously he wants to be the guy who kicks off, so I expect him to compete and we'll see what happens after that."

NOTES: Tuthill already has a nickname, although it's not exactly catchy. With considerably more bulk than the typical kicker, Tuthill's teammates have taken to calling him "Janikowski," after the Raiders' 6-1, 255-pound second-year kicker (who coincidentally shares a kicking coach with Tuthill)..

"I guess it's not a bad comparison," said Tuthill, "He's having a great year."

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