Though the Ravens have several position battles to sort out during the preseason, none have drawn more attention than the competition between veteran kicker Billy Cundiff and rookie Justin Tucker.
The two appeared even over the first few full-squad practices, but Tucker appears to have gained a slight edge after outperforming Cundiff on Tuesday and completing a perfect 6-for-6 showing during Wednesday’s practice. The Texas product connected on a 55-yarder and made two field goals in late-game scenarios created by the coaching staff.
Cundiff was 5-for-6 on Wednesday, also making a 55-yard attempt but missing one from 43 yards out.
As expected, responses via social media have been loud with any Cundiff miss and strong showings by the rookie kicker, as most fans haven’t forgotten the incumbent’s 32-yard miss in the closing seconds of the AFC Championship that would have sent the game to overtime.
However, their performance in practice is only one piece of a puzzle that will also include four preseason games and the edge in experience Cundiff enjoys — good or bad — over the rookie, who has yet to make as much as an extra point at the professional level.
“We put weight on everything,” coach John Harbaugh said. “The guys get evaluated in everything they do, even the drills. So, we don’t have a weighted measuring scale for that, that I could give you. I think you go by your instincts a little bit, but we know the stats inside out, and you certainly factor all that in. You get more kicks here, so that’s pretty important. But the kicks in the game, probably weigh more per kick, because they’re in games.”
Whether you believe it’s still Cundiff’s job to lose or the two entered camp in a wide-open competition, it’s apparent Tucker has turned heads with his strong leg and confident demeanor.
Cornerback Corey Graham had another strong showing on Wednesday as he worked at the nickel position with the starting defense, breaking up a pass intended for wide receiver Anquan Boldin and continuing to show the physicality needed when matched up against a slot receiver.
Graham has emerged as the No. 4 corner behind Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, and Jimmy Smith and appears to have the inside track to play in the dime package. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has also mentioned his ability to fill in at safety, a valuable insurance policy when you’re restricted to 46 active players during regular-season games.
Though he’s kept his physical play within the parameters of the rules — at least in the eyes of those officiating training camp workouts — Graham might find trouble against officiating crews that tolerate less contact in the secondary. Regardless, his aggression and nose for the football have stood out in the first week of practice.
During an 11-on-11 two-minute drill, Ed Dickson got the best of linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo while catching consecutive passes from quarterback Joe Flacco. The third-year tight end will be counted on heavily to develop an even better rapport with Flacco in the absence of fellow tight end Dennis Pitta, who will be sidelined for the entire preseason with a broken hand.
With defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw still sidelined with injuries, it’s been difficult to get a good read on the defensive line rotation as Pees has rotated a number of players into their spots. On Wednesday, Ryan McBean and Arthur Jones lined up at the defensive tackle spots on the nickel defensive line while linebackers Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle occupied the defensive end positions.
Upshaw has missed the last two days of practice with a bruised shoulder, and Kindle and Albert McClellan are reaping the benefits of first-team reps in his absence.