Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston gives his rant on who will win Super Bowl XLIX and why. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
When the Ravens released kicker Steven Hauschka nine games into 2009 season, the franchise's first season without longtime placekicker Matt Stover, they did so with a statement from general manager Ozzie Newsome that said the organization believed Hauschka would go on to a long and successful career.
Hauschka, who on Sunday will kick in his second Super Bowl in as many years with the Seattle Seahawks, has fulfilled that forecast. So have several other former Ravens kickers who came at the tail end of Stover's career and the years that followed it, before the team settled on Justin Tucker.
"I would think that the evidence is there that guys that have been through [Baltimore] have been successful," said Jerry Rosburg, the Ravens' associate head coach and special teams coordinator. "There's a lot of them. That, I think, speaks well."
Five such kickers have come through under the tutelage of Rosburg and kicking consultant Randy Brown — Tucker, Hauschka, Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano, Billy Cundiff (most recently of the Cleveland Browns) and Shayne Graham of the New Orleans Saints. Another, Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould, spent time on the organization's practice squad in 2005.
That list includes four of the nine most-accurate kickers in NFL history, including Tucker (No.1 overall), Gould (seventh), Graham (eighth), and Hauschka (ninth).
The Ravens typically leave kicker selection to the special teams coach. That's how Gould got a spot on the practice squad under then-special teams coach Gary Zauner in 2005.
Then-Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri recommended Gould to Zauner after New England cut him out of training camp in 2005. After he was released following a few weeks in Baltimore, Zauner's recommendation landed Gould in Chicago, where he was named to the Pro Bowl in 2006 and has kicked ever since, making 85.6 percent of his field-goal attempts.
Then, when Rosburg arrived along with coach John Harbaugh in 2008, the Ravens started a three-pronged approach he said has led to strong returns here and elsewhere for Ravens kickers.
"I try to find the guys that I think fit us," Rosburg said. "Then Randy, his part in this is the development. He's been so good at working with these guys and fine-tuning them, so to speak, and working with their talents. And then, [working with] the battery of Sam [Koch] and Morgan [Cox] is highly important."
Rosburg learned what he liked in kickers while working with Phil Dawson in Cleveland, Morten Andersen in Atlanta, and Stover in Baltimore. While ball-striking quality is what's most important, he also knew which styles he could best coach and which typically lead to long, successful careers. Many of the kickers he has worked with in Baltimore fit his desired mold.
Brown, who also arrived in 2008, has been an asset to every kicker who has come through the organization, Rosburg said, giving them specialized and detailed attention when Rosburg must be elsewhere.
Koch, he said, is statistically and subjectively "the best holder in the history of football," having held for three Pro Bowl kickers in Stover, Cundiff and Tucker.
The scouting and development are exemplified in some way by their first two true products, Hauschka and Gano. Hauschka and his booming right foot was claimed off waivers in 2008 to work alongside Stover, who wasn't re-signed after that season. Gano joined the team as an undrafted rookie in the spring of 2009.
By the end of training camp, Rosburg said the Ravens "had two NFL kickers."
Gano's preseason numbers didn't match Hauschka's, and he was released and made stops with the United Football League's Las Vegas Locomotives and the Washington Redskins before settling in the past three seasons in Carolina. Rosburg said Gano has developed "extraordinarily well," by using the same techniques the Ravens taught.
For Hauschka, though, it was returning to his original technique that helped his development. He didn't take well to the Ravens' adjustments, and in his nine games as the Ravens' primary kicker, Hauschka was 9-for-13 on field goal attempts and missed an extra point in his final game.
Rosburg echoed the team statement from Newsome about Hauschka's future.
"We all believed that. He went through a rough spot, and all kickers do, really," Rosburg said. "They have some varying degrees, but I had confidence in Steve. … Steve's future was bright. It's one of those situations that perhaps he did need somebody else talking to him, and it's worked well for him."
Zauner, who runs a kicking coaching program and worked with Hauschka at camps, said Hauschka's late introduction to kicking — he played soccer until his sophomore year of college — meant he needed more time to develop.
Hauschka briefly kicked with Denver in 2010, then caught on with Seattle in 2011. In four seasons with the Seahawks, he has made 87.6 percent of his field-goal attempts and missed just nine times from inside 50 yards.
"He eventually figured it all out after getting cut from the Vikings and Ravens," Zauner said. "He's gone on to be quite the kicker for the Seahawks."
After Hauschka, the Ravens turned to two veterans — Cundiff, first, and then Graham briefly. Cundiff is known for his 2012 AFC championship game miss in New England, but before that earned a Pro Bowl bid and tied an NFL record with 40 touchbacks during the 2010 regular season.
Graham was in Baltimore for training camp in 2010 to compete with Cundiff, and then in 2011 when Cundiff was injured. The Ravens were his fourth team that season, and Rosburg said he was on the rebound.
"He did well here and went back and did well elsewhere," Rosburg said.
After several near-hits with young kickers veterans, the Ravens found a perfect match with Tucker, who at 25 has made 89.8 percent of his kicks.