Highlighting the Best Rookie vs. Vet Battle in Baltimore Ravens Training Camp
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Very rarely is a training camp competition between kickers all that compelling.But this year, it's the best rookie versus veteran battle we'll see when it comes to the Baltimore Ravens.
This competition pits the nine-year veteran Billy Cundiff against rookie Justin Tucker. The last time we saw Cundiff on the field was when he missed the game-tying field goal in the Ravens' AFC Championship loss to the New England Patriots.
There are concerns that Cundiff hasn't mentally overcome that miss—regardless of how many time he says he has—and by bringing in a young player like Tucker to compete, it looks as though the Ravens share those concerns.
Cundiff's field goal accuracy took a dip last season. He went from completing 89.7 percent of his field goals in 2010 (26 made out of 29 attempts) to 75.7 percent (37 attempts, 28 makes) in 2011, and he made just one of the six he attempted from 50 or more yards.
While it's clear that the Ravens want to put pressure on Cundiff, the fact they are doing so by bringing in a rookie rather than a veteran shows they haven't lost confidence in him. But it also shows that he's very much on notice.
Tucker spent his college career at Texas, where he was their field goal kicker in 2010 and 2011. He made 40 out of his 48 attempts, including two field goals of over 50 yards. Tucker was also a punter for all four years at Texas, with a personal-best of 70 yards.
Pro Football Focus ranked Cundiff their fourth-overall kicker (subscription required) when all factors are considered, but just 32nd (out of 38) when it comes to percentage of field goal made. The latter number is the bread and butter of kickers, and if Cundiff struggles to convert field goals in training camp, then it certainly opens the door for Tucker to take his job.
Do you think Justin Tucker can beat out Billy Cundiff for the Ravens' kicker job?
Tucker has a strong, accurate leg, while Cundiff, at age 32, has seen some decline in leg strength over the years. Though the Ravens didn't bring in an established veteran to compete with Cundiff, indicating that they haven't given up on him, it does send him a clear message: Another year with sub-80 percent field goal conversion is going to cost you your job.
If Tucker looks better than Cundiff, both during practices and in preseason games, the Ravens may choose to cut Cundiff, free up a little cap space and move forward with a fresh leg.
Cundiff knew coming into this season he'd be under a lot of scrutiny after the heartbreaking miss that ended the Ravens' playoff run. But with a rookie like Tucker breathing down his neck, it makes for a high-tension positional battle.
If recent history has taught us anything, a kicker's performance can be the lone deciding factor as to whether a team reaches the Super Bowl or not. So even though this competition is between two "lowly" kickers, it's a competition of serious consequence for the Ravens this year.
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