Richardson gives a swift kick to negatives in lifting career Ravens: The first-year punter has made his share of mistakes, but he refuses to let them affect his concentration -- and the results speak for themselves.

November 28, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Kyle Richardson will never forget the pratfalls that marred his Ravens debut.

But the key to Richardson's success has been his ability to bury the past. Take his 1997 season as a rookie punter. It featured short stints with Miami and Seattle, and it lasted only five games and included 19 punts, two of which were blocked.

That was nothing compared to opening day of 1998. Against Pittsburgh that day, Richardson failed to execute good holds on two field-goal attempts that failed. He also allowed an errant snap to skip through his legs, and never got to attempt the punt, as the Steelers tackled him near the Baltimore end zone and seized the game-turning momentum.

But Richardson, who took much criticism after the 20-13 loss, never stopped looking forward.

"Going through the things that happened to me last year helped me tenfold coming into this year, and I've never been shocked at anything that's happened this year," Richardson said. "Of course, I should have done better [on opening day]. But it happened, and I had to look beyond it. I feel like I can handle anything now."

Richardson has handled his job just fine. With five games to go, he ranks sixth in the AFC with a 44.4-yard average, and he ranks fifth in net average (37.7). Sixteen of his 64 punts have pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line. Then again, he has had more punts blocked (two) than anyone else in the league.

He also has improved steadily as a holder. One reason kicker Matt Stover has made his last six field-goal attempts and 14 of his last 17 is snapper Brian Kinchen. Another is Richardson.

"We've run the gamut. I know I've learned a lot from all of the situations I've been in, and I've gotten more comfortable with my reactions to them," Richardson said.

"The guy has physically established himself as a player in the NFL," Ravens special teams coach Scott O'Brien said of Richardson.

"His consistency has improved, and his situational experience has helped him get better as the year has gone on.

"One thing he has done well is perform well after bad experiences. That's a mental game, and the mental game will determine if he stays in this league for a long time."

Richardson, 6 feet 2 and 190 pounds, faced a huge mental hurdle earlier this year. After the Ravens signed him to a two-year contract, he had to beat out nine-year veteran Greg Montgomery.

The battle started at the team's June minicamp, spilled over into training camp, and ultimately went down to the final punts of the preseason.

Through it all, the Ravens assured Richardson that he would have every chance to top Montgomery.

Meanwhile, a tired leg and mental fatigue wore on Richardson, who assumed nothing until he heard the news that Montgomery had been sent packing a week before the season opener.

Richardson certainly has had a busy season, thanks mainly to an offense that has punted after three downs on 35 occasions and has produced only 13 touchdowns in 11 games. He has helped the team's more dependable defense maintain good field position throughout the year.

"I totally went into [training camp] with the mind-set that I'm going to do my best, and if that's not good enough, then I'll go someplace else and do the same thing," said Richardson, who punted collegiately at Arkansas State before finishing second with a 44.2-yard average in the World League in 1996.

"It's been a challenge, and it's been a long season. The key is you can't let the pressure get to you. You've got to shrink your world and concentrate on what you do best. You can't let your mind drift away from what your job is.

"And you can't be satisfied with where you are today. You've always got to be working for something tomorrow."

NOTES: The Ravens deactivated wide receiver Michael Jackson left-foot sprain) for tomorrow's game. James Roe will start in Jackson's place. The Ravens also have deactivated free safety Kim Herring, running back Jay Graham and offensive lineman Spencer Folau. Left defensive end Rob Burnett practiced yesterday and pronounced himself ready to play against the Colts. Burnett has been bothered by a sore knee and calf.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Indianapolis Colts

Site: Ravens stadium

When: Tomorrow, 1: 01 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Tickets: Sold out

Line: Ravens by 6

Pub Date: 11/28/98

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