Rookie kicker Justin Tucker has impressed the Ravens in a lot of ways so far, the least of which was with his vocal cords when the Texas native serenaded his teammates with his renditions of hit Italian opera classics.
“The guys appreciate his talent, that’s where it starts,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. “The guy sings Italian opera in front of our players. So, if you’re an Italian opera person, that’s probably pretty normal. For a lot of our guys, that seems a little different in the football culture. But we love him. He’s ours.”
And he will continue to be, maybe for a while, if he keeps booting the ball like he did in his first five games.
Tucker has made 11 of his first 12 field goal attempts in the NFL. He has a game-winning kick on his resume after he narrowly split the uprights to beat the New England Patriots in Week 3. And he provided all the scoring in the 9-6 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
“He’s huge,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said, which is funny when you consider the stature of those two players. “He’s a guy that he has confidence all over him. You can see it, and he doesn’t let anything faze him, and it’s pretty comforting just to see that out of a rookie kicker. He’s been doing really well for us this year.”
Interestingly, Tucker is one of 20 kickers who have made at least 90 percent of their field goal attempts. Twelve, including fellow rookie Greg Zuerlein of the St. Louis Rams, have yet to miss.
Billy Cundiff, who was booted by the Washington Redskins this week, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. He missed five of his 12 attempts with the Redskins, including two from within 40 yards. Sadly, it appears that Cundiff may never recover from his miss in the AFC championship game, and credit should go to Harbaugh, a very loyal man, for making the tough decision to say goodbye.
Tucker has also alleviated concerns about his ability to generate touchbacks on kickoffs. So far, only 12 of his 29 kickoffs have been returned -- 58.6 percent of them have resulted in touchbacks -- and the average starting field position for opponents has been the Baltimore 21.1-yard line, according to Pro Football Focus. Last season, 63.6 percent of Cundiff’s kickoffs resulted in touchbacks and the average start was at the Baltimore 22.9-yard line.
And that’s sweet music to the ears of Harbaugh and the Ravens.
“I would describe him as a good kicker, first of all,” Harbaugh said when asked to describe his quirky, young kicker. “That’s probably the No. 1 criteria, and that’s why he fits in the locker room.”