The kicking competition between incumbent Matt Stover and challenger Scott Bentley figures to intensify in Atlanta tomorrow night.
"It's like I'm the starting kicker. I have to think like that," Bentley said. "I have to stay grounded and do my job. To coaches and the media, it's a competition between kickers. Kickers compete with themselves."
Bentley said he will get the first two chances at field goals and extra points and will kick off twice, all before Stover can counter. Last week in the preseason opener in Philadelphia, Stover kicked off twice -- neither attempt went inside the 10-yard line -- and went 1-for-2 on field-goal attempts.
This competition has become interesting, dating to the kicking contest Bentley barely won midway through the team's intrasquad scrimmage two weeks ago. Stover then made a game-winning, 30-yard field goal in Philadelphia, but not before missing a 37-yarder early in the fourth quarter.
It is worth noting that on Stover's miss, the snapper was backup center Mike Flynn, not veteran tight end Frank Wainwright, who was signed solely to fill the long-snapping role vacated by Brian Kinchen, now with Carolina. Holder Kyle Richardson had to dig Flynn's low snap off the carpet, while Wainwright's attempt was perfect.
Unless he is injured, Wainwright will take the field to snap for every field goal, extra point and punt this season. The sight of him with the game on the line last week was a relief to Stover.
"It's been like clockwork working with Frank. It's been like that since minicamp," Stover said. "This guy is good."
One number worth watching in the kicking competition is the salary. Stover is scheduled to earn $850,000 in 1999, nearly $600,000 more than Bentley would make if he lands the job.
Said Ravens coach Brian Billick: "You always take the best player, but if two guys are real close in ability, it's not fair to the club not to make salaries part of the equation."
Ravens vice president of administration Pat Moriarty met with the agent for defensive end Michael McCrary yesterday in Florida, and the team reported some movement in the talks. Michael George, McCrary's agent, wasn't as optimistic.
McCrary had asked for a seven-year deal worth $50.4 million including an $18 million signing bonus, but recent talks have focused on a six-year deal. McCrary's side would like a deal comparable to the deal signed by New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan for four years worth $32 million. But the Ravens don't feel McCrary is quite as good and has had knee problems.
McCrary, who has a year left on his contract, has said that if he doesn't get an extension before the start of the regular season, he'll test the free-agent market. The Ravens could tag him the franchise player and force him to play in Baltimore in 2000 for the average salary of the top five players at his position.
McCrary said he would not be happy with the designation.
"There has been some progress," said Moriarty. "But it's basically about two issues, front-end money and the total package. Sometimes you have to trade off somewhere to reach an agreement. We're trying to get a win-win deal, a deal that is fair for us and a deal that is fair to the player."
George said: "The ball is in their court. We have worked real hard with them, but we're not there yet for a fair deal."
Shoulders sideline Stokley
The only person to score a touchdown for the Ravens so far in 1999 will not dress for the Atlanta game. Rookie wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who has not practiced all week, is nursing not one, but two sore shoulders.
After dislocating his right shoulder in practice three weeks ago, Stokley suffered a slight dislocation of his left shoulder after making the last of his three catches against the Eagles.
"My shoulders are starting to come around, but [the Ravens] don't want to put me in a position where I could be out longer," said Stokley, who caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Tony Banks in last week's 10-7 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
"We've got 18 weeks to go," Ravens head trainer Bill Tessendorf said. "Let's get [the shoulders] right now, and minimize the opportunity for exposure [to serious injury] later."
Tessendorf said Stokley should play against Carolina on Aug. 28.
Two more sellouts
The Ravens announced yesterday that two more regular-season home games -- Kansas City on Oct. 21 and Jacksonville on Nov. 28 -- have sold out.
That brings the sellout total to five. The home opener against Pittsburgh (Sept. 19), the follow-up against Cleveland (Sept. 26) and the Buffalo game on Oct. 31 are sellouts.
That leaves three late-season contests that have yet to sell out. About 2,300 tickets remain for the Tennessee game on Dec. 5, 2,300 are left for New Orleans on Dec. 19, and 3,500 remain for the home finale against Cincinnati on Dec. 26.
The preseason opener against Carolina on Aug. 28 is still 1,900 shy of a sellout, and 3,200 tickets remain for the preseason finale on Sept. 3 at noon against the New York Giants.