Ravens kicker Tucker confident he won't miss

Ravens kicker Tucker confident he won't miss

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) If the Baltimore Ravens need a field goal in the waning seconds of the AFC championship game, they'll call upon a rookie with little regard for history.

Justin Tucker knows all about the 32-yard kick that Billy Cundiff missed last January against the New England Patriots, costing the Ravens a chance to force overtime with a trip to the Super Bowl hanging in the balance.

None of that bothers Tucker.

``What's in the past is in the past,'' he said. ``Anything that's happened in the past year, two years, five years, 10 years, or just the last several weeks, that's all null and void now because we just have a singular task at hand - to beat New England.''

Cundiff's miss in the AFC title game was among the most agonizing plays in Ravens history. With Baltimore trailing 23-20 in the final minute, Lee Evans dropped a pass in the end zone before Cundiff's kick sailed wide left to end the Ravens' season.

``I moved on right after it happened,'' Cundiff said recently. "Because I think in order to have success in this league, you have to wipe the slate clean every year. You can't drag things in, whether it's positive or negative, because each year is brand new. (But) would I like to have that kick back? Yeah, most definitely I would.''

Cundiff was invited back to training camp last summer and was favored to beat out Tucker, a rookie out of the University of Texas. But coach John Harbaugh picked Tucker, who went on to validate the decision by making every clutch kick from September through last weekend.

Tucker went 30 for 33 on field goal tries during the regular season, including game-winners against New England and San Diego. Last week, he nailed a 47-yarder in the second overtime to give the Ravens a 38-35 win over top-seed Denver.

Tucker's accuracy is exceeded only by his self-assuredness. If asked to win the game Sunday night, Tucker said he won't flinch.

``I will be confident because we have a routine we follow,'' he said. ``We do what we know and do what we trust.''

Morgan Cox snaps the ball, Sam Koch puts it down and Tucker kicks it. It's as easy as 1-2-3.

Recalling Tucker's game-winner against the Broncos, Ravens special teams coach Jerry Rosburg said, ``He enjoys those moments. You could tell when he went out there it wasn't intimidating to him. He was ready to seize the opportunity. He made a great kick after a great hold and a great snap. It was fun to watch.''

Tucker is a rookie in name only. Sure, he was kicking for Texas a little of a year ago, but after signing as a free agent with Baltimore he was forced to grow up in a hurry.

``I kind of did away with that whole rookie notion when I got here just because I had to come in and compete against a guy who had a lot of success,'' Tucker said. ``So I could never afford to think like a rookie or perform like one. If I ever let myself think like that, I'd be doing everybody in this building a disservice.''

If Tucker walks onto the field Sunday night with a chance to win the game, his teammates probably won't be thinking back to last year. They'll be looking forward to a trip to New Orleans.

``This year, I've never been nervous about Justin Tucker kicking a field goal,'' Ravens tackle Haloti Ngata said. ``I think everyone can tell that he has a lot of confidence and he kicks really well. I think, with that, people just believe in him.''

Said Rosburg: ``He's got a very confident persona. He's a confident young man in a lot of things he does.''

Tucker's kick against Denver salvaged an otherwise horrible day for Baltimore's special teams. Not only did the Ravens give up a 90-yard punt return to Trindon Holliday, but they also yielded a 104-yard kickoff return to the same player.

``I was certainly upset,'' Rosburg said. ``When you give up two touchdowns, that's unacceptable in a season let alone one game. We're all very fortunate, those of us in the special teams room, that the rest of the team played as well as it did to still secure the victory.''

One week earlier, the Ravens held Indianapolis to zero yards on four punts and five kickoffs. Rosburg cited plenty of reasons for the breakdown against the Broncos, including a crosswind and missed tackles.

Fortunately for Baltimore, Tucker came through in Denver. The Ravens are confident that, if needed, he will again in New England.

Ravens excited about increased speed at wide receiver

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Ravens excited about increased speed at wide receiver

Will the Ravens’ increased speed at wide receiver force opponents to defend them differently?

The Ravens hope so.

They were without Breshad Perriman (knee injury) all of last season, and without Steve Smith Sr. (Achilles injury) the final two months.

That gave opponents license to put a safety closer to the line of scrimmage, and to crowd Ravens receivers with press coverage – unafraid that the Ravens could throw deep with success.

However, Perriman is healthy again, and the Ravens added two speed receivers by signing Mike Wallace during free agency and drafting Chris Moore in the fourth round.

The Ravens believe that speed will lead to more big plays, help their running game, and give Smith and other receivers more operating room.

“We’ve had years when we couldn’t back anybody up,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “The ability to back people up, it’s huge – to quote a famous politician not to be named here. It’s hard for me to see the speed all of the time in some of these drills. I’m like,`How fast are they really moving?’ Then I go ask the (defensive backs) and they say, ‘They’re moving really fast.’ And that makes me feel good about it.”

Perriman averaged 19.5 yards per catch at Central Florida, Moore averaged 19.3 yards per catch at Cincinnati, and Wallace has averaged 15.2 yards per catch over a seven-year NFL career.

The Ravens believe their speed will make opponents think twice about crowding the line of scrimmage. And when opponents do crowd the line of scrimmage, the Ravens plan to make them pay with big plays.

RELATED: FREE AGENT WEDDLE ALREADY MAKING AN IMPACT

Ravens quickly convinced Weddle will be difference maker for secondary

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Ravens quickly convinced Weddle will be difference maker for secondary

Veteran safety Eric Weddle is quickly making a strong impression with the Ravens.

After the first week of OTA’s, both coach Johh Harbaugh and defensive back Lardarius Webb mentioned Weddle as being a difference maker, after being acquired in free agency from the Chargers.

Weddle’s experience as a three-time Pro Bowler should be vital for a Ravens secondary that surrendered too many big plays last season.

Webb sees Weddle seamlessly taking command of the secondary, calling out coverages and making sure teammates are lined up properly.

“If he has anything to tell me I’m always listening,” Webb said. “He’s going to be big for this defense – for this team. He speaks up. I told him, `We want Eric Weddle. Don’t hold back. Don’t be quiet. We want you. If you yelled when you were with the Chargers, I want you coming out here yelling. Just be yourself. Grow the beard back, because we want the beard. If that’s who you were, grow the beard. He’s growing it back. He’s being himself and we’re loving it. It was a great move.”

Weddle has been offering advice to Webb on making the transition from cornerback to safety. Weddle can also lead by example, helping the development of young safeties like Terrence Brooks and Matt Elam.

At age 31, Weddle wants to show he can still play at a Pro Bowl level, and he desperately wants to make the playoffs. Harbaugh seems to have no doubt Weddle will make the Ravens’ defense better.

“I just really appreciate his attitude,” Harbaugh said. “He’s got an enthusiasm for the work day. He loves football. He loves every part of the work day. He loves every part of being in here and being a football player. There’s never something that you look at him and he’s not excited to do. That is infectious. That’s something that makes us all better, and to me, that’s one of the things that a great leader does and he’s got those qualities.

“He fits in with how we do things around here perfectly. I give (general manager) Ozzie (Newsome) all the credit in the world. That was a great signing.”

RELATED: CONDITIONING REMAINS AN ISSUE FOR RB RICHARDSON

Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

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Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

Will running back Trent Richardson’s lack of conditioning be his downfall with the Ravens?

Richardson missed the first week of OTA’s with a hamstring issue, which was not the kind of early impression he wanted to make. Some injuries are unavoidable. But conditioning has been an issue for Richardson throughout his brief and so far undistinguished NFL career.

Entering the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick with the Browns in 2012, Richardson has disappointed in Cleveland and Indianapolis, and spent 2015 out of the league after the Raiders cut him before the season. When the Ravens signed Richardson in April, he knew it might be his last NFL chance. However, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants to see even more commitment from Richardson when it comes to staying in shape.

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“Trent just needs to get healthy,” Harbaugh said after the first week of OTA’s. “I think the workload and the amount of work it takes to be a world class conditioned athlete is something that he’s working on right now. That’s what he needs to understand and that’s where he needs to get himself. When he gets himself there, he’s got talent. It will be fun. I’m very certain he’ll get there and when he does we’ll be able to evaluate him.”

The Ravens don’t have to wait on Richardson. Their running back competition is already intense, with Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West all fighting for carries and roles.

Whether Richardson even threatens to make the team remains to be seen. His bigger priority is improving his conditioning, and getting back on the field.

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