Ravens kicker Justin Tucker doesn’t miss very often, regardless of his surroundings. He has made 16 straight field goals, one of the longest active streaks in the NFL, and he has made 48 of his 53 career field-goal attempts in the regular season.
His 46-yard field goal at M&T Bank Stadium last Sunday was the fifth game-winner of his career. He has missed just three kicks on his home turf in two seasons.
But as good as he has been kicking on synthetic surfaces, he has been even better on grass.
Tucker has missed just one field-goal attempt on the natural stuff in his career, which is noteworthy with the Ravens traveling to Soldier Field in Chicago to play the Bears this weekend. He has made 24 of his 25 career attempts on grass, the only miss coming at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field last November.
Tucker said his preparation and performance are more effected by other elements -- such as wind gusts like we saw at M&T Bank Stadium last Sunday, or rain, which is in the early forecast for Sunday -- but he makes adjustments to his footwork and technique based on the surface.
“Very slight adjustments,” he said before heading out to practice Wednesday. “But those are top-secret adjustments, tricks of the trade we are working on out here in secret.”
This week, Tucker and his fellow specialists, punter-holder Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox, will prepare for the grass at Soldier Field by kicking on the outdoor grass fields behind the team’s practice facility. Last week, with the Ravens playing at home, they did most of their kicking on the indoor field, which has the same type of turf as The Bank.
“I feel like we try to prepare as best as we can during the week, so we’re acclimated to whatever surface we’re going to be kicking on,” he said. “It’s really a week-by-week thing for us, but we feel we’re prepared for just about anything.”
Tucker may also change up his kicks -- I’m talking about the shoes this time -- when kicking on grass. He typically wears molded stud cleats when kicking on the turf or hard grass surfaces. But if the natural surface is really loose, like the field at Heinz Field for example, he will wear six-stud screw-in cleats to try to prevent slippage.
And since he has never kicked at Soldier Field before, Tucker will have to rely on the experience and knowledge of Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg and also kicking consultant Randy Brown, who used to work for the Bears. He may also reach out to other kickers who have kicked there before, something that is common in the league.
“Whenever people come to our stadium and ask us what the wind is like during pre-game, they’ll be like, ‘Is it always like this?’ We’ll say, ‘Welcome to the AFC North, brother.’ That’s kind of a common practice,” the 23-year-old said. “As a specialist in this league, of course, I want to do well. But I also want to see all the other specialists do well, too, because we all understand the ups and the downs and the plights that come with surviving in this league.”
Whatever Tucker’s secrets are, they have certainly worked on the grass. He has excelled on surface in his career, and he hopes to keep the success going at Soldier Field on Sunday.
“We’ll do as much as we can to get the most intel and get our preparation as on point as we can before Sunday,” he said.