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Preston: There is no need to worry about Ravens kicker Justin Tucker

Mike Preston

4:43 PM EDT, September 19, 2013

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Maybe if it was a veteran kicker and he missed two field goals in the previous game, the concern wouldn't be so great. But when it is Justin Tucker and it is only game No. 2 of his second season, there is a lot of interest.

Tucker was spectacular as an undrafted rookie last season. Not only did he unseat veteran Billy Cundiff as the starter, but he converted 30 of 33 field goal attempts and his 90.9 percent success was the second-best by a rookie kicker in NFL history.

Tucker was Mr. Automatic but then came last Sunday.

The Houston native missed field goals of 50 and 44 yards as both sailed wide right in the first half of the Ravens' 14-6 victory against the Cleveland Browns. But people want to know how Tucker will handle the adversity.

There is more.

Houston's second-year kicker Randy Bullock has converted one of five field goals, and missed three last week in the Texans' overtime win against Tennessee. Two were 50-yarders in the first half and Bullock also missed a 46-yard attempt at the end of regulation which sent the game into overtime.

The psyche of kickers can be very fragile.

"Sophomore year is a tough year," said former Ravens long time kicker Matt Stover. "As a kicker you know what is coming now in year two. The job is all yours and you have been doing it all year, unlike college where you are in school.

"Both of these kickers have high expectations and they aren't used to overcoming misses. Also, the first home game is tough because you're pretty jacked up. There is a lot more going on for these young men in their second year."

Bullock got a vote of confidence from Texans CEO Bob McNair and Tucker got similar sentiments from his teammates and the Ravens coaching staff. Tucker once missed two field goals in a college game while at Texas.

He still hasn't forgotten those, but he did get over them.

"Actually, it was my first college game placekicking," Tucker said. "It was my junior year, we were at Reliant Stadium playing Rice to open our season and I was two for four on the day. The misses came from 54 and 44 yards.

"I ended up going 23 of 27 for the season, a good year for a college kicker. When you miss, it's one of those situations where you have to have a short memory and put it behind you. You don't necessarily go to the drawing board and do a re-evaluation of everything you've done."

If you're concerned about the kid, don't be. When the Ravens had their first practice of the week Wednesday, Tucker was on the field working out before the opening horn. That's not unusual.

There is still a perception created from the 1950's and 1960's that kickers are overweight, lazy, and just kick a couple of balls before they go home each day after practice.

Tucker is fit and loves to workout. He'll sit down and analyze, but not to the point where he is paranoid and insecure.

"His attitude has been great like it always is," Ravens special teams coach Jerry Rosburg said."He was anxious to get to work and I expect him to get back where he started."

But what happened on those misses?

"The first one he just didn't hit it well," Rosburg said. "The second one I thought he hit pretty well. The wind pushed it a little bit; perhaps he didn't play it just right. He was setting up for the opposite hash and ended up on the right hash. He has a great head on his shoulders. He'll handle this just find. He'll be solid from this point on. I'm very confident in that."

So is Tucker. He doesn't consider himself any different from other players on the field. Kickers miss just like a quarterback throws an interception or a defensive back gives up a long pass.

If you dwell on it too long, you're going to get beat again and more often.

"I would have liked to have had those two opportunities back, but you can't, so you move one," Tucker said. "I may have been called to ice that game in the second half or deliver the game winning field goal in the fourth quarter. You know there will be other opportunities.

"It can be tough at times to just jump into next week, but one thing we pride ourselves on is trying to get better every day, and harness experiences for the next time out regardless if they are positive or not."

Bullock might be feeling that way in Houston. A year ago, he was the first kicker drafted in team history but his season ended on Aug. 26, 2012 when he was put on injured reserve following a torn groin.

In college, he was rated the game's best kicker. Now he will be battling Tucker again. They were rivals in college as Bullock played for Texas A&M. The game Sunday could easily come down to a field goal.

"I follow other guys around the league," Tucker said. "Once you are in it, you kind of realize the challenges and experiences that come with the territory. You know what other guys go through."

Then Tucker said with a smile, "You look across the field, you want to see guys in the same position doing well, but you don't necessarily want them to do well in the fourth quarter with the game on the line."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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