OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Shayne Graham walked into the locker room he thought he’d be inhabiting as the Ravens kicker a year ago.
That was before he was beaten out in training camp by incumbent Billy Cundiff. Since then, their respective careers have gone in opposite directions as Cundiff was selected to the Pro Bowl last season while Graham split time with the Giants and Patriots a season ago and has played just two games this season, filling in for the Miami Dolphins’ Dan Carpenter last month.
However, a left calf injury to Cundiff has brought Graham back to Baltimore, a place where he signed a one-year contract potentially worth $2.5 million last season before he failed to make the team.
“It’s nice to actually come into this locker room,” Graham said. “A lot of these guys were in camp when I was here a couple of years ago. A lot of the guys are familiar with me. There’s a lot of good guys here, so it’s a real smooth transition for me. Having the operation here, the snapper and holder, those guys are phenomenal. So, I couldn’t ask to be in a better position or be around a better bunch of guys. I’ve played in this stadium a few times. It will be nice to be out there.”
With Cundiff only 2-for-5 on field goals in the month of December, including a missed 36-yard on the opening drive of the Ravens’ 34-14 loss in San Diego last Sunday, the Ravens had no choice but to address their kicking situation. It’s an uncomfortable position for a team trying to win their final two games of the regular season to secure the AFC North title and a minimum of a first-round bye.
“[Bringing in Graham] is a real plus for us,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said, “because we know we’re bringing in a guy that not only is a quality NFL kicker but has been in the NFL environment and understands playoff-caliber football at the end of the season. We expect him to come in here and add that veteran experience.”
In his 11th professional season, Graham provides a veteran pedigree that includes some experiences kicking in the postseason while a member of the Cincinnati Bengals. However, the final game of his seven-year tenure with the Bengals was a playoff loss to the New York Jets in which he missed two second-half field goals, including a 28-yarder that essentially sealed the 24-14 defeat.
Graham said all the right things in not wanting to create a kicker controversy in Week 16 of the season, reminding everyone he was brought in due to an injury and not simple ineffectiveness.
“I hope he gets healthy as soon as he can,” Graham said. “All I can control is what I’m asked to do. If I’m asked to go out and play then I go out and play and play my best to help these guys win. If it’s for one week, it’s for one week. If it’s for two, it’s two. If it takes more or less, that’s really out of my hands. All I can do is line up and kick when they ask me to.”
Rookie memory loss
Coordinator Chuck Pagano did not mince any words in assessing his defense’s poor showing against the Chargers in which they surrendered 34 points and 415 yards of offense.
There was plenty of blame to go around, but much of the focus has centered around the struggles of rookie first-round pick Jimmy Smith, who was torched by Chargers wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd. Pagano believes there’s no time for Smith to dwell on his mistakes; he’ll be busy learning from them instead.
“No. 1, they’re going to go after rookies, and No. 2, you’ve got to have amnesia to play that spot,” Pagano said. “It’s, physically, one of the most demanding positions to play on the field, especially when you’re playing against that caliber of a quarterback and wide receivers. You’ve got to go back and you’ve got to look at the tape and you’ve got to study yourself and you’ve got to look at yourself as the next offensive coordinator is looking at you. Until you put the fire out, they’re going to keep coming.”
It’s typical for young cornerbacks to find themselves in learning situations as Smith did on Sunday night, but his defensive coordinator believes his mindset is equipped for moving on quickly and becoming a better player because of it.
“The great thing about Jimmy is he’s kind of unflappable that way,” Pagano said. “He’s pretty calm and looked at what he needed to correct from a technique standpoint. So, we move on from there.”
Boldin bogged down
It’s been an up-and-down year for No. 1 receiver Anquan Boldin, who has caught 57 catches for 887 yards and three touchdowns.
The distribution of that production has been hard to figure out as Boldin began the year slowly, catching just 15 passes for 222 yards in his first four games. His next four games were dramatically better as he made 26 catches for 405 yards.
However, Boldin finds himself in an extensive rut over his last six games, securing only 16 receptions for 260 yards. He has only one touchdown over the stretch, a 35-yard score against Cincinnati on Nov. 20.
Are the Ravens doing enough to make sure their veteran receiver is included in the offensive game plan with the continuing emergence of two young tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, and rookie receiver Torrey Smith over the course of the season?
“He is always involved,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “He is always in our top three progressions. Obviously, he has made some big plays. You are always wanting to get a guy like that the ball more. I think you have to look at the big picture. He has an opportunity to get over 1,000 yards, and there aren’t many guys doing that in the league.”
Though Boldin is miscast as a No. 1 receiver, the Ravens would benefit to see his production increase over the final two games of the regular season to assist in moving the chains on third down and to control the intermediate portion of the field in the passing game. However, those throws to Boldin need to come organically, according to quarterback Joe Flacco.
“You don’t really do anything [extra to get him the ball],” Flacco said. “You run the plays that are called. Anquan is going to get open. It’s just a matter of running those plays and executing them. I think if we execute our game plan and we get first downs and we maximize the amount of plays that we have in a game, then everybody in our offense is going to get a good chance to get the ball.”
Pro Bowl voting in books
Voting for the 2012 Pro Bowl concluded earlier this week as seven players from Baltimore were leading at their respective positions after more than 100 million votes were cast this season.
Inside linebacker Ray Lewis, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, free safety Ed Reed, offensive tackle Michael Oher, fullback Vonta Leach, and special teams player Brendon Ayanbadejo were all leading at the conclusion of voting. However, fan voting accounts for only one third of the decision as coaches and players also vote for the honor.
Leading all NFL players in voting was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The Pro Bowl selections will not be announce until next Tuesday night at 7 p.m. on the NFL Network. The game will take place in Honolulu on Sunday, Jan. 29, a week before Super Bowl.
Of course, Ravens players hope to be ineligible for the Pro Bowl game as selected players from the two Super Bowl teams do not participate.
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