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4. The competition at place-kicker will go to the wire -- and Justin Tucker appears to be winning right now.
I was surprised when I showed up at M&T Bank Stadium and found out rookie kicker Justin Tucker, who has been nearly automatic since the team signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent during the spring, would handle all of the kicking duties against the Jaguars. Well, apparently incumbent Billy Cundiff, who is clinging to his job, was “shocked” by the news, too, when he found out Wednesday night. And Cundiff has no idea what the plan is for the preseason finale next Thursday night against the St. Louis Rams.
“I’m on a need-to-know basis,” Cundiff said. “I found out before this game that I wasn’t going to get any reps, which shocked me. I felt like I had a really good week of practice. So it’ll just play itself out.”
As Cundiff sometimes watched from the sidelines, Tucker made both of his field-goal attempts, including a 53-yarder in the second quarter, and all six of his extra-point tries. He also put eight of his nine kickoffs into the end zone, resulting in five touchbacks. A few seconds after the 53-yarder, Cundiff slowly stood up from the bench and walked down the sideline, rattling around the contents of a Gatorade cup as he paced. He didn’t stop nor was he stopped by someone else to chat. Later, Cundiff sat on the bench next to backup long snapper Patrick Scales as Tucker talked with punter Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox. He stayed there for a while. We don’t really know what is going on inside the locker room, but it was interesting that Tucker said the word “professionalism” several times while chatting with me after the game. He was talking about his approach to the game, but you can’t help but wonder if he was referring to something else. After all, a week ago, Cundiff told reporters that he was competing only with himself and that the job would remain his if he kicked well.
After this game, Ravens coach John Harbaugh insisted that Cundiff “would have come in here and made every one of those kicks” and said that the Ravens wanted to see how Tucker, an unproven commodity, would respond when asked to boot big kickoffs and pressure kicks for the entire 60 minutes. But when my colleague, Jeff Zrebiec, asked Harbaugh directly if we were reading too much into the decision to sit Cundiff, Harbaugh was a little evasive.
“We have to make some decisions here again next week. So we’ll just have to see how that goes,” he said.
That doesn’t exactly sound like a glowing endorsement for the incumbent, does it?
Even if Cundiff does hold off Tucker and keep his job, the quirky rookie kicker -- the kid sings opera -- has put himself in a position for a kicking job somewhere in the NFL. Harbaugh said so himself last week in a chat on the team’s website. But Tucker has brought this right down to the wire, and he may still be standing when final roster cuts are made next Friday.
August 23, 2012