Rule change gives kickers short shrift


Stover: Switch to new balls on kickoffs hurts hang time but should help offenses

August 26, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht and Brent Jones | Gary Lambrecht and Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Matt Stover has seen the future, and it could be full of shallow kickoffs.

The Ravens kicker understands the philosophy behind the league's decision to force specialists to use brand-new footballs. Like most rule changes the NFL has implemented over the years, an interest in offense is behind the modification.

New footballs do not travel as far as the broken-in variety, which means offenses can be expected to start drives with better field position. Stover said he has seen data showing that the average preseason kickoff has gone between the receiving team's 5- and 8-yard lines.

Under the new system, Stover expects touchbacks to be reduced sharply. Stover had trouble kicking off inside the 15 in the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

"Kickers have gotten so much better. This rule will definitely detract from [touchbacks]," Stover said. "The brand-new ball goes a shorter distance, hands down. You don't get as much compression on the ball, you don't have as much control. It's like going out there and kicking a box. You don't hear that thump when you hit it good. It sounds more like a slap.

"There will be lower hang times. It's a universal problem. I'll handle it. When [the league] backed us up to the 30 off a one-inch tee [on kickoffs], it took a couple of years to adjust, but we started kicking them out of the end zone."

Ravens coach Brian Billick sees the rule change energizing offenses, which is the name of his game. He doesn't see any team gaining a specific advantage with the new rule.

"The difference between starting [a drive] on the 20 and the 35 is statistically substantial, so it's going to put more pressure on the defenses and the special teams, and it puts more pressure on the kicker," he said.

Club, McCrary agent to meet

Michael George, the agent for defensive end Michael McCrary, was scheduled to meet today with Pat Moriarty, the team's vice president of administration, in an effort to break an impasse that has developed in McCrary's contract extension talks.

The Ravens had expressed recent optimism that progress had been made. McCrary, who has a year left on his contract and wants to sign an extension before the start of the season, had asked for a seven-year deal worth $50.4 million and including an $18 million signing bonus. Recent talks reportedly have focused on a six-year deal with a bonus in the $11 million to $13 million range.

George would like a deal averaging $8 million a season, such as the four-year, $32 million contract recently signed by New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan.

"There are several important issues -- the value of the overall package, the signing bonus, the structure in the first few years," George said. "We're going to go up there [to Owings Mills] and see if we can't so something to break the impasse we're in."

McCrary said he will test the free-agent market if a deal isn't reached by the season opener. The Ravens could tag him as their franchise player and force him to play in Baltimore in 2000 for the average salary of the top five players at his position.

Mitchell works out kinks

Jeff Mitchell started 10 games last year and entered this preseason as the Ravens' starting center. When Billick took over, the Ravens picked up Everett Lindsay in a draft-day trade with Minnesota. Lindsay is capable of playing any position on the line, and he's pushing Mitchell and guard James Atkins for a starting spot.

Instead of viewing that as a negative, Mitchell said the competition is helping him become a better lineman.

"Somebody behind you makes you play better and be more focused," said Mitchell, who was drafted in the fifth round out of Florida in 1997.

Lindsay, who is starting Saturday against the Carolina Panthers in place of the injured Atkins, has the advantage of already knowing Billick's offense. Mitchell has been playing catch-up.

"I had to come in here and prove myself," Mitchell said. "They [new coaches] don't start off believing in you. You have to make them see that you belong on the field."

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Mitchell spent his rookie season on injured reserve after tearing up his knee in training camp. He started the first seven games last season and returned to the starting lineup when Wally Williams went down with an injury for the last three games.

There have been some problems in practice and games with the center/quarterback exchange. Scott Mitchell fumbled a snap in Saturday's game against the Atlanta Falcons. Mitchell said it is just a matter of everyone learning the new system and not having to think as much on the field.

The exchange hasn't been a problem in practice this week.

"It feels good now," Mitchell said. "We are making progress."

Armour `more comfortable'

Justin Armour has a physical advantage over the other eight receivers in camp.

He's the tallest at 6-4. And at 209 pounds, he's the heaviest.

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