When Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal against the New England Patriots that would have sent the AFC Championship Game to overtime, his job was immediately in jeopardy.
While it wasn't completely Cundiff's fault that the Ravens lost the game to the Patriots, he had to deal with the task of being the team's scapegoat. Cundiff's struggles in 2011 ultimately led to the team deciding to invite former Texas Longhorns kicker Justin Tucker to training camp.
Tucker, who went undrafted in April's draft, has stolen the show so far in training camp. CSN Baltimore reported that Tucker is 82 of 87 (94.2 percent) on field goal attempts in training camp, while Cundiff is only 74 of 89 (83.1 percent).
Even though these kicks are happening in practice and not in a game, Tucker's stats are still impressive. If Tucker were to have a success rate of 94.2 percent in actual games, it'd be a huge improvement over Cundiff's performance last season, as he only converted on 75.7 percent of his attempts.
While the kicking job is still Cundiff's to lose, Tucker is making a strong case for the job. With three preseason games to go before the team has to decide who wins the kicking job, it's still a wide-open race.
Cundiff has the advantage at this moment solely because of his NFL experience. However, that experience won't fully win him the job. Tucker is showing in training camp that, so far at least, the NFL is not too big of a stage for him.
Tucker has dealt with pressure-filled kicks before, as he made a 40-yard field goal as time expired to defeat rival Texas A&M last season. That kick was the culmination of a successful 2011 season for Tucker in which he made 17 of 21 field goals.
If the kicking competition is still neck-and-neck when the preseason is over, one thing that could give Tucker the edge is the fact that he can also punt.
Tucker punted 63 times in 2011 for the Longhorns, with an average of 39.2 yard per punt. While the Ravens have their franchise punter in Sam Koch, it'd help to know the team's kicker is an experienced punter as well if Koch misses any games due to injury this season.
The kicking competition in Baltimore is starting to reach its climax, and it's a positional battle that should certainly be acknowledged as the preseason continues.
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