Kick-starting over Ravens: Greg Montgomery returns to the basics with his punting technique in an effort to rebound from a season wracked by physical and mental difficulties.

July 29, 1998|By Eduardo A. Encina | Eduardo A. Encina,SUN STAFF

Ravens punter Greg Montgomery entered training camp last week a changed man. The black-painted toenails and bleached-blond hair that drew so much attention last year are gone, but one thing Montgomery brought to camp is the desire to rebound from a tough 1997 campaign, both on and off the field.

Last year, Montgomery, who ranks second among active punters in average yards per punt, finished 10th in the AFC at 42.7 yards, lowest since his rookie year in 1988.

But it was off the field where the hardest troubles came for Montgomery. The 10-year veteran suffers from bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depressive illness, which causes extreme mood swings. He said that it affected him physically and mentally, especially during training camp.

"Every day seemed like forever," Montgomery said about last year's training camp. "It was hard to get out of bed every morning, hard to go work out, hard to eat. I was proud of myself to just get through last season. Now, I am more focused and can concentrate on my punting game rather than deal with that."

And his struggles showed on the field. His kicking lacked the consistency that he was known for throughout his career.

"You hear of other people that have it, like in baseball, where you can go down to the minors," Montgomery said. "But I didn't have that luxury. I had to play it out, and it was really a stone in my shoe. But now I'm feeling better, and it's not really a big deal."

Montgomery, 33, said his condition has improved with medication that he takes daily and by staying in good physical shape. Lifting weights in the off-season has raised his weight to 220, a five-pound increase from last year.

"It's all about maintaining my body physically and mentally," Montgomery said.

"He just wasn't Greg Montgomery last year," special teams coach Scott O'Brien said. "It was the consistency, getting the ball in the air and allowing guys to get downfield where he struggled last year."

Montgomery, who led the NFL in punting average twice while playing for the Houston Oilers, said that last year he tried to make his technique better, yet ended up hindering his performance.

"I am a perfectionist. I always have been, so last year I was trying to do things different," he said. "I tried to do little things to make me a little smoother, like tinker with my drop a little, but then I realized actually I was smoother when I just went out there and hit the ball solid."

To add to Montgomery's saga, toward the end of minicamp in June, he fractured his kicking foot by hitting a camera while taping a commercial, an injury that initially was expected to keep him on the sideline for four to six weeks.

The injury, combined with Montgomery's subpar 1997 performance, has prompted the Ravens to seek other options at punter. They signed free agent Kyle Richardson, a second-year player from Arkansas State, and held tryouts for free agent Reggie Roby last week.

"You just never know with an injury like that, especially on his kicking foot," O'Brien said. "But Greg came back early and we're taking it slowly so we make sure it heals right."

Montgomery is still rehabilitating the foot, but is kicking about 40 balls every other day in practice, a sign that the healing process in going well.

"The injury has been a real pain," he said. "It might have been a blessing in disguise though, because it gave me a month away from kicking and it gave me time to work on my leg and my upper body. As for the competition, this is a highly competitive game and this year I've prepared myself and I think my chances are really good."

Among his teammates, kicker Matt Stover probably sees the most of Montgomery on and off the field. Stover is his roommate in training camp, and Montgomery has been Stover's holder on kicks the past two years.

"He's made the adjustment to his condition," Stover said. "Sometimes when things don't go your way, you tend to doubt your own ability, but Greg is a very positive guy and he's really looking good in camp. He's attacking the ball instead of just kicking it."

As for his appearance, Montgomery still has several piercings and tattoos, but he came into camp with his natural reddish brown hair and no polish on the fingernails.

"That was last year and this is this year," Montgomery said. "It was fun. I was just messing with people, but I think I did it more as a way to take my mind off the depression, keep myself upbeat and loose. But either way, I'm never going to fit in."

Pub Date: 7/29/98

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