Tag Archive | "billy cundiff"

JustinTucker

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Ravens kicker Tucker ready for high-pressure situations

Posted on 24 July 2012 by Ryan Chell

The Baltimore Ravens 2011 season ended on a rushed field goal that sailed wide left, but there’s a new kicker on this year’s roster chomping at the bit trying to prove to the Ravens-or another NFL team-that he can be the best specialist on the team and make that kick should he get a chance.

That would be Justin Tucker out of the University of Texas. The rookie kicker joined Glenn Clark on “The Reality Check” Tuesday after the first official day of training camp practices located at Owings Mills, and couldn’t be happier to get started.

“It is exciting,” Tucker said of his first NFL shot. “This is definitely a big step. It really feels like we’re getting the ball rolling. OTAs and mini-camps were great…now we’re kicking it up a notch. It’s about to get real fun.”

Tucker, 22, was brought in by the Ravens at the end of May after a tremendous run of consistency on his four-year resume at the University of Texas.

Tucker made 40-of-48 field goal attempts for coach Mack Brown and the Longhorns-his most memorable of recent being a 40-yard game winner against Texas A&M which got him carried off the field by his Longhorn teammates.

He also took on punting and kick-off duties at times in Austin.

Tucker feels like all those experiences couldn’t have him more ready to kick in the NFL given the similarities in the kicking dimensions of the college game and the pro level, and having to kick in high-pressure situations in front of packed arenas.

“You have the same challenges,” Tucker said to Clark. “It’s still you versus yourself on an island. For me, I was fortunate enough to play at the University of Texas in front of 100,000 fans in our stadium…and a bunch more on TV. I can definitely use those experiences for when I’m out here.”

That poise had Tucker on the Ravens’ eye throughout the draft process, and it didn’t take long for coach John Harbaugh and special teams coach Jerry Rosburg to see him out and bring him in for a workout after the last name was called.

“I got a couple phone calls towards the end of the draft and it was really a no-brainer for me,” Tucker said. “I had my sights set on Baltimore…I couldn’t be anymore excited with this opportunity.”

And Tucker proved the Ravens right on the move-delighting them with his long leg and ability to make 55+ yard field goals throughout the OTA and mini-camp process.

Tucker will most likely be the extra leg in camp, but some have speculated that Tucker could give incumbent kicker Billy Cundiff a run for his money.

Cundiff, after making the Pro Bowl in 2010 and signing a five year, 15 million dollar contract, struggled with consistency last season and missed a potential game-tying 32-yard field goal in the AFC Championship Game, ending the season for Baltimore.

Cundiff only connected of 75.9% of his field goals last season compared to close to 90 percent two years ago.

He was 1-of-6 on field goals beyond 50 yards.

But Tucker wanted to make it clear that stats don’t matter-especially ones from a year ago-and that he’s not gunning for Cundiff.

But at the same time, he wants to do this in the NFL for a living and do that, he knows it’s all about getting the job done and putting the ball through the uprights when it matters.

And there’s only so many jobs out there for him to take a hold of and earn.

“Well, this is a competition and it’s a business,” Tucker said. “My goal at the end is to be the best kicker for this team that I can be.”

“Kicking the ball through these poles in really black and white. It’s either good or it’s not. I just need to do the best I can do, and really cherish this opportunity and try and make something out of it.”

In the end, he’s just trying to achieve the same goals as everyone else on this roster, which is to be successful and win football games-most importantly-the last one played in a season.

“It’s just remembering that we’re all in the same boat,” Tucker said. “We all have the same goal-whether you’re a first-year guy like myself or a fifteen-year veteran.”

“There’s definitely ways to achieve those goals, but really sticking your best foot forward and sticking to a plan is paramount.”

WNST thanks Justin Tucker for joining us after practice! Be sure to follow WNST on Twitter for tomorrow’s first full-practice for the Baltimore Ravens! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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In fifth year with Ravens, Harbaugh faces biggest challenge yet

Posted on 23 July 2012 by Luke Jones

Upon learning that Ray Rice had agreed to a five-year contract with the Ravens just minutes before the franchise tag deadline last week, my thoughts weren’t of the Pro Bowl running back or quarterback Joe Flacco, who’s next in line to receive a big payday.

Instead, I couldn’t help but think John Harbaugh was breathing a sigh of relief after the most trying offseason of his tenure in Baltimore. Knowing his best offensive player would be present for the start of training camp was a far more welcoming piece of news than the possibility of a lengthy holdout dragging into the preseason — or even longer.

Frankly, he needed the good news after an offseason that provided more disappointment than good in the eyes of many observers.

The only head coach in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first four seasons, Harbaugh has faced little adversity compared to most peers in the challenging and impatient world in which an NFL head coach tries to survive. Other than maybe the select few who own a Super Bowl title, you won’t find an individual with more job security in the league and rightfully so.

Harbaugh has done an outstanding job since coming to Baltimore in 2008, but the last six months have been anything but smooth for the defending AFC North champions.

Headlining the list of misfortune was the partially-torn Achilles tendon suffered by 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. The Pro Bowl linebacker has vowed to return to action this season, but whether he can provide any significant impact remains in serious doubt. To make matters worse, the same injury struck defensive end Michael McAdoo, who was far from a sure thing but represented an intriguing project to provide some of the pass-rushing void left behind in Suggs’ absence.

A salary-cap crunch led to the departure of Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs and other contributing veterans such as Jarret Johnson, Cory Redding, Tom Zbikowski, and Haruki Nakamura in free agency. And despite general manager Ozzie Newsome stating the need to upgrade the offensive line as a top priority, the Ravens managed only to add 35-year-old guard Bobbie Williams while drafting a pair of talented but unproven linemen in Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski.

Ed Reed’s decision to skip mandatory minicamp and cryptic comments regarding his desire for a new contract have left everyone wondering what his frame of mind will be if and when he reports for training camp this week. The head coach didn’t even receive a heads-up from the All-Pro safety of his intentions to skip the three-day camp in early June, so you just don’t know what to make of Reed at this stage of his career in Baltimore.

And, of course, this all came under the shadow of what transpired in the final seconds of the AFC Championship game in January.

The Lee Evans drop in the end zone.

The Billy Cundiff miss from 32 yards.

Even the law of averages is working against the Ravens as they’re the only team in the NFL to have made the postseason in each of the last four years. That run is bound to end at some point in the not-for-long nature of the league.

Are the Ravens in danger of experiencing a hangover in 2012?

“I would probably not use that term. Take two Aspirin. That’s what you usually do, right?” said Harbaugh in late May, drawing laughter from gathered media. “I don’t think we have that problem. I don’t think it’s an issue. You go back to work; it’s a new season.”

Yes, the Ravens go back to work full-time this week, but the challenges faced over the last six months make it all the more difficult to turn their backs on how close they came to advancing to the Super Bowl for the first time in 11 years. The margin for error is so small in advancing to that stage, and all it takes is a key injury or a couple plays swinging in the opposite direction to derail the journey back to that same point.

If anyone is equipped to handle such a position, it’s Harbaugh, whose biggest strength is managing people and providing exceptional leadership. His motivational tools and phrases to unite his players may not always be home runs — in the same way a comedian won’t bat 1.000 with all his jokes — but the Baltimore locker room has been united from the first day he arrived over four years ago.

Even so, as players hit the practice field in the summer heat of Owings Mills this week, it’s only human nature to look around at who’s missing — Suggs and the departed veterans — and think back to that Sunday in Foxborough six months ago, even if only for a moment or two.

They’re bound to wonder if they missed their chance.

“We’ve got lots of things to accomplish, things that we have yet to accomplish,” Harbaugh said. “The team that won the Super Bowl last year, it’s a new year for them, too, and they have a lot to accomplish this year, too. No matter what you did in the past, you have to go to work the next year, and that’s what we do. We’ve done it every year.”

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Ravens officially sign rookie kicker Justin Tucker to roster

Posted on 29 May 2012 by Luke Jones

After performing well at the team’s rookie minicamp two weeks ago, rookie kicker Justin Tucker has finally made his way onto the roster after signing a contract with the Ravens on Tuesday.

Much confusion existed in the days leading up to and following the rookie camp over the former Texas kicker’s status, but his performance during the tryout led to the Ravens assuring him a spot on their off-season roster. Tucker was not present for the most recent round of organized team activities held last week, but there was much speculation he would eventually be added to the 90-man roster.

To clear a spot, the Ravens released wide receiver and return specialist Phillip Livas, who was signed to the practice squad late last season but became expendable after the additions of fifth-round pick Asa Jackson and veteran wide receiver Jacoby Jones to address the return game.

Tucker made 40 of 48 field goal attempts in his time with the Longhorns and made a 55-yard field goal in the first day of rookie workouts when he was awarded a tryout with the Ravens. In a practice open to the media, Tucker made all four attempts inside 50 yards before missing two attempts from 60 yards that showed impressive distance.

The Ravens have repeatedly expressed confidence in Billy Cundiff, but it would have been surprising had they not added another kicker to provide some level of a push during the preseason. It’s a common practice for teams to add an extra kicker during camp to ease the workload of its incumbents.

Cundiff will certainly have the upper hand, so it would be a stretch to label it a true competition between the two kickers. However, Tucker’s credentials at Texas would suggest him being a viable option should Cundiff struggle in the preseason while trying to shake off the 32-yard miss that would have sent the Ravens to overtime in the AFC Championship.

In his final season at Texas, Tucker was 1-for-2 in attempts of 50 or more yards and 4-for-4 on attempts between 40 and 49 yards.

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I answer your questions about Ravens kicking, Wieters, Jones, more

Posted on 15 May 2012 by Glenn Clark

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Former Ravens K Stover Not Worried About Cundiff After Recent Conversation

Posted on 23 April 2012 by WNST Audio

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I Answer Your Questions About Roberts, Cundiff, Maryland Basketball, More

Posted on 27 March 2012 by Glenn Clark

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Harbaugh envisions Kruger at outside linebacker for Ravens

Posted on 27 March 2012 by Luke Jones

After longtime linebacker Jarret Johnson signed a four-year contract with the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago, the Ravens began the process of finding his replacement at the strong-side linebacker position.

Pass rush specialist Paul Kruger is the consensus choice among options currently on the roster, and coach John Harbaugh confirmed that notion at the NFL owners’ meetings in Florida on Tuesday. Selected in the second round of the 2009 draft, Kruger struggled to find a role on the defense in his first two seasons before becoming a regular contributor in passing situations last season.

“I think Paul is probably the leading candidate for the ‘Sam’ linebacker job,” Harbaugh said. “I could very definitely see him doing that. When we lost [Johnson], I went back and watched all of Paul’s tape. I watched every one of his plays from last year just to try and get a feel just for whether or not we’d be comfortable with him in there. He did a nice job in coverage, he set the edge well.”

The 26-year-old Utah product collected 5 1/2 sacks while playing in all 16 games last season after struggling to simply avoid the inactive list in his first two seasons. Kruger had only one sack and five tackles over 20 games in 2009 and 2010 as the coaching staff evaluated whether he was better suited for defensive end or linebacker.

He and rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee became mainstays of the defensive line on third down last season as the pair combined for 11 1/2 of the Ravens’ 48 sacks. Now, new defensive coordinator Dean Pees will take a long look at Kruger as the replacement to the run-stopping, blue-collar Johnson, who started every game at strong-side linebacker over the last five seasons.

“Obviously, he’s a very good pass rusher,” Harbaugh said. “I believe Paul can do it. I think he will do it.”

Kruger’s ability to play the run and to drop in pass coverage remains a mystery after limited opportunities in his first three professional seasons. The Ravens will look hard at the draft if a prospect such as Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw or North Carolina’s Zach Brown is available early, but with other positions to address and limited cap space to potentially add another veteran linebacker, Kruger may find himself in position to be the starter when the preseason begins.

“He wants to be that guy and he wants to do it as well or better than how it’s been done for the Ravens,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what you want out of one of your players.”

Of course, Harbaugh’s comments should be taken with a grain of salt when you remember we’re four months away from the start of training camp. The coach is clearly going to show as much faith as he can in players currently on the roster without dwelling too much on hypothetical additions down the road.

The other player mentioned by some as a potential candidate to replace Johnson is 2010 second-round pick Sergio Kindle, but Harbaugh didn’t exactly speak about him in the same encouraging terms as he did with Kruger. Active for only two games last season, Kindle more closely resembles a player fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster than a viable starting option after the slow recovery he endured from a fractured skull just days before the start of the 2010 training camp.

While it’s true that Kindle has never had the benefit of a full offseason program at the team’s Owings Mills facility, it’s clear he has plenty of work to do before the Ravens can afford to keep him on the roster for a second straight season.

“If he comes back and becomes a player in the NFL, it’s going to be an unparalleled accomplishment,” Harbaugh said. “You know what? We think it can happen, and we’re going to know by the end of training camp.”

Cundiff competition

Ever since kicker Billy Cundiff missed a last-second 32-yard field goal that would have sent the AFC Championship game into overtime, fans and media alike have pondered how the Ravens should handle the kicker position next season.

As he did when he spoke to WNST.net at the NFL Combine last month, Harbaugh reiterated that he fully expects Cundiff to handle kicking duties again this fall. However, the Ravens are looking to create some competition for the incumbent kicker in the preseason.

Whether the Ravens choose to add a veteran or sign a rookie following the draft, Harbaugh sees no reason why they shouldn’t explore every avenue to get better — while clearly maintaining faith in the 2010 Pro Bowl selection.

“I say that so I’m not ruling anything out, but Billy is our kicker,” Harbaugh said. “I would anticipate Billy [being] our kicker for the opening game of the season. I think he’ll have a great preseason. I think he’ll have a great season next year, but everybody gets competition and he’s no exception.”

Running without Rice?

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Ranking the Ravens’ biggest special teams needs

Posted on 17 February 2012 by Luke Jones

As the start of free agency moves closer and teams prepare for April’s draft, the Ravens continue to evaluate their needs in all three phases of the game.

Earlier in the week, I looked at Baltimore’s biggest needs on offense as well as essentials for the defense. In the conclusion of a three-part series, we finally take a long at the often-forgotten but always-important phase of the game: special teams.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron undoubtedly receives the most criticism among the coaches on the Ravens staff, but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg may deserve the most heat after a disappointing 2011 season. According to footballoutsiders.com, the Ravens’ special teams ranked 30th in the league in a percentage contrived from efficiency in field goals, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, and punt returns.

Looking from a more simplistic stance, Rosburg’s units struggled in both kickoff coverage (31st) and punt coverage (24th) and allowed three returns for touchdowns. In the return game, the Ravens ranked ninth in kickoff return average and 19th in punt return average, rarely getting a significant spark from either group as injuries and ineffectiveness forced them to shuffle returners in and out of the lineup.

Kicker Billy Cundiff converted only 75.7 percent of his field goal attempts, ranking 28th in the league. The 2010 Pro Bowl kicker made only one of six attempts from 50 or more yards and was only 11-for-20 away from M&T Bank Stadium — where he was perfect on 17 attempts. And that’s not even taking into account his heartbreaking 32-yard miss in the closing seconds of the AFC championship game that would have sent the Ravens into overtime against New England.

If you’re looking for a bright spot, punter Sam Koch ranked 10th in punt average (46.5 yards) but 19th in net average, which was affected by the Ravens’ suspect coverage.

While it’s difficult to target a laundry list of special teams’ needs from a position-by-position standpoint — the units simply need to improve across the board — but two positions stand out this offseason.

1. Kicker

Before you get carried away, this isn’t the pitchfork mentality we’re talking about here. Cundiff isn’t going anywhere for now. However, his disappointing season topped off by the most devastating moment in the 16-year history of the franchise can’t be forgotten as the Ravens assess their special teams.

To their credit, the organization and Cundiff have handled the miss with as much dignity as can be expected, with no one publicly questioning whether the Ravens should have kept veteran Shayne Graham to kick in the postseason. It’s been a credit to coach John Harbaugh and the family atmosphere in the locker room.

But what everyone is thinking privately is a different story. In his defense, Cundiff battled a left calf injury late in the season, but it doesn’t excuse what was a very inconsistent year after signing a five-year contract last January. For a kicker without a proven track record beyond his Pro Bowl season a year ago, Cundiff may have reverted back to the inconsistent performer seen early in his career.

The Ravens need to bring in another kicker to seriously compete against Cundiff during the preseason. The organization will keep Cundiff for now in hopes of avoiding the situation in which they found themselves in 2009 after parting company with Matt Stover. Neither Steve Hauschka nor Graham Gano were fit for the job, forcing the Ravens to scramble during the regular season until they settled on Cundiff.

It needs to be a serious competition, whether the Ravens elect to find a rookie coming out of college such as Randy Bullock of Texas A&M or a veteran on the open market. Graham wasn’t good enough to win the competition against Cundiff two years ago and has struggled with long-distance kicks in recent years, so it makes little sense to bring him back for the competition.

Even if Cundiff performs admirably in the preseason and wins the battle, the Ravens and their fans simply won’t know whether he’s recovered from the disappointment in Foxborough until he finds himself in another late-game situation. It’s difficult to envision the Ravens ever fully trusting Cundiff again, but they’ll at least give him a chance in the preseason before moving on for good.

2. Kickoff-Punt Returner

The Ravens had 10 different players return kickoffs — three of those only returned squibs or pooch kicks —  in 2011 and never found stability at the position. Second-year return specialist David Reed was demoted after two fumbles on returns against the Seattle Seahawks and then tore his ACL when he finally earned another opportunity to handle kickoffs.

While Reed will certainly find himself in the mix if he proves healthy in recovering from the knee injury this offseason, the Ravens must look to add an impact returner, preferably someone who can handle both kickoffs and punts to allow Lardarius Webb to focus solely on his duties at cornerback. Field position is critical, and the return units rarely aided the Ravens offense in setting it up on a shorter field.

Of course, the new kickoff rule limited many returners across the league, but the Ravens cannot settle for a returner downing the ball in the end zone constantly as they did down the stretch with reserve safety Tom Zbikowski this past season.

The Ravens could look to the draft for a returner such as Arkansas receiver Joe Adams in the middle rounds, who could add depth in both areas. One name to keep an eye on in the preseason is receiver Phillip Livas, who was signed to the practice squad in the final weeks of the season. Though only 5-foot-8, Livas was a record-setting return man at Louisiana Tech and could be a sleeper to watch in the preseason.

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tom brady

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Flacco bashing by vocal minority of Ravens fans comes into perspective

Posted on 09 February 2012 by Luke Jones

In the final days of the Ravens’ 2011 season, it was difficult to say which was more exhausting: the vocal minority of fans bashing quarterback Joe Flacco or the increased amount of complaining about those select few.

(And to be clear, this commentary doesn’t mean Flacco is infallible and exempt from criticism, either. We’re talking about those who have made irrational suggestions such as benching the Baltimore starter and inserting the rookie Tyrod Taylor.)

But it’s certainly come into perspective this week if you’ve paid any attention to the New England area and the fallout of the Patriots’ 21-17 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.

It started with this scathing piece from Boston Globe writer Eric Wilbur in which all-world quarterback Tom Brady was labeled an “embarrassment” after the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl for the second time in five years. And the vocal simpletons (see the comments section) have followed suit, declaring Brady as washed up and even going as far as suggesting the Patriots trade him for whatever value they can get and begin the next era of New England football.

Yes, a small portion of New England fans are suggesting they run one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history out of town. The same man who led the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles in four years and threw for 39 touchdown passes and over 5,000 yards this season on his way to leading the Patriots to a 14-4 record and an AFC championship despite a woeful defense.

It certainly puts the extreme Flacco criticism into context, doesn’t it?

More than anything, the venomous thoughts toward a future Hall of Fame quarterback only prove this type of vocal minority of extreme detractors exist in every sports city in America. A certain segment of fans will never be satisfied no matter how successful their teams might be, as is evident in Boston where seven championships from the four major sports have been won over the last 11 years.

We all know someone (multiple people?) who refuses to be happy with his or her life no matter how many blessings they might have when they stop to think.

Why would the population of sports fans be any different?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to place my order for a Ryan Mallett Patriots jersey.

Retire, Ricky, retire

Though running back Ricky Williams’ retirement announcement was mildly surprising after proclaiming his enthusiasm for the 2012 season in the days following the AFC championship game, the Ravens shouldn’t — and won’t — be worked up by the veteran backup’s departure.

There are always at least five or six running backs of Williams’ ability at this stage of his career available in the free-agent market. Williams will be 35 years old by the start of the 2012 season, and there’s no guarantee he would have been able to duplicate his steady average of 4.1 yards per carry that he owned this past season. Anthony Allen will likely see an increased role, or at least an increased opportunity, to earn that role in training camp.

Whether it’s signing a veteran in the open market or looking to April’s draft, the Ravens will improve their depth at the running back position behind Ray Rice. Owner Steve Bisciotti has already said Rice will not be going anywhere despite the Pro Bowl back being set to become an unrestricted free agent in March.

It’s hard to imagine Williams’ retirement having any impact whatsoever on contract negotiations with Rice’s representation, and the Ravens will simply use the franchise tag on their feature back should they be unable to reach a long-term agreement by March 5.

However, Williams calling it a career does open the door for a farfetched but intriguing scenario to potentially play out with Rice. Let’s assume the two sides are unable to reach a long-term deal, Rice plays with the franchise tag in 2012, and the Ravens look to bolster their depth at running back in the middle rounds of the draft.

What would the Ravens do if they found a diamond in the rough with that draft pick, much in the same way they saw such potential in Rice after selecting him in the second round of the 2008 draft? Knowing the limited shelf life for running backs in the NFL, would they consider allowing Rice to walk the following season if this unnamed running back appeared capable of handling the starting job?

Again, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that happening, but Williams’ decision to walk away from the game forces the Ravens to explore other options at the position, and you never know what they might discover in the process.

Caldwell effect

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Birksmile

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Birk says Flacco is victim of his own success

Posted on 04 February 2012 by WNSTV

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