When the Ravens reached out to ex-Cincinnati Bengals and 2005 Pro Bowl kicker Shayne Graham in the off-season, it may have meant the end of the line for 2009 kicker Billy Cundiff, who came on in the final two months of last year and really stabilized the kicking game after a slow start by Steve Hauschka last year.
But the Ravens were not ready to give up on Cundiff just yet, and had actually committed to their incumbent kicker before the arrival of Graham going into the 2010 season.
Cundiff was 12-of-17 from field goal range in his 1.5 months of service, and with a small kicking market, Cundiff signed his one-year restricted free agent tender to stay with the team.
Cundiff actually started off his Ravens career very well, kicking a season-high five field goals in the Ravens’ 17-15 loss to the Colts.
He did however miss a field goal in that game that turned out to be the deciding points in the game.
But quarterback Joe Flacco also threw a late interception that sealed the win for Indy.
He did however redeem himself a week later by kicking the game-winning field goal in overtime to beat the Steelers, 20-17 at M&T Bank Stadium.
At that particular time, the Ravens had seen at least some ounce of consistency with Cundiff, while they could not put any faith in second-year man Steve Hauschka, who was 9-of-13 in his field goal tries.
Ironically, Cundiff only connected on 70% of his field goal attempts for the Ravens( Hauschka hit 69%), but added with his time earlier in the year with Cleveland as an injury replacement for Phil Dawson(6-for-6), that helped bring his numbers up closer to a respectable 80%.
The Ravens were ready to go into this year with Cundiff as their starting kicker back in the beginning of the off-season.
“He’s proved he can make field goals under pressure situations,” head coach John Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun back in January.
However, in that same off-season, Graham was not re-signed by the division-rival Cincinnati Bengals after being given the franchise tag last year.
The Ravens saw Graham as an upgrade, and the two sides spent months working things out. Finally, the two sides agreed to a one year deal, and with incentives could make Graham one of the higher paid kickers in the league.
That contract would make it look as if it’s Graham’s job to lose, but Cundiff was still invited to training camp this year to see if he could still earn the job.
Cundiff was grateful to the Ravens for giving him a chance. He’s been in situations before where a team didn’t even give him that much of a chance.
“For me personally, 2007 was the last time I was in a training camp. Before that, we’re looking at 2004 was the last year I finished a training camp.”
“It gives me a chance to go from start to finish, get some rhythm, have a chance to compete with Shayne here and prove what I’m worth,” Cundiff told WNST’s Thyrl Nelson last week as camp started.
Cundiff said it’s up to the coaching staff and GM Ozzie Newsome to evaluate how he and Graham do in camp and the preseason games to see who is better suited for the team.
“It’s one of those things where I can lay it all on the line, and let Ozzie decide to go with me or not.”
And that is how Cundiff is maintaining the competition at this time. He can only focus on how he performs in camp, not how Graham does.
“At least for me, I’ll focus on what I can control, and go out and do my best.”
And that’s the thing with kickers. Most teams can only carry one on their roster, so the decision is simple for the Ravens: either Cundiff or Graham.
And for two kickers in Graham and Cundiff, both over 30 and having kicked in this league for a long time, are not about to give one another the edge in the job by helping the other with advice.
“I don’t think that kickers are giving each other tips. We know this is going to come down to big picture stuff. So I don’t think you’re going to see any guys sitting there helping each other out.”
But at the same time, Graham and Cundiff have been chatting and are handling this hurdle as best they can.
“We’re both professionals and have been around long enough, so we don’t have to try and get in each other’s heads. We’re just there to push each other to make each other better knowing that ultimately who’s here is here.”
Both kickers have kicked well so far in training camp, and that is only the beginning of the evaluation progress between these two.
“It’s going to be day-to-day, kick-to-kick, and then the preseason games obviously. It’s important-as you all know- that you’re able to go kick in game environments,” special teams coach Jerry Rosburg told our own Luke Jones Saturday.
This marks the second straight year that the Ravens have had a kicking competition in training camp. Last year pitted second year man Steve Hauschka, who was the team’s kickoff specialist the year before, and Graham Gano, the Lou Groza Award Winner from Florida State.
Think this team misses the consistency Matt Stover brought to the organization for those dozen-plus years?
Cundiff also realizes that he isn’t just trying out for the Ravens; he might be auditioning for another NFL kicking job if Baltimore doesn’t tab him as the starter.
“And if you play well enough, you’re trying out for 31 other teams as well,” Cundiff noted.
Tune into WNST and WNST.net for more news regarding the Ravens second straight kicking competition!