Brian Kopka is no dummy. He earned a communications degree in four years at Maryland, where a 3.7 grade-point average won him a postgraduate scholarship from the Atlantic Coast Conference. He was the Terps' place-kicker for four straight years, and nailed a 56-yard field goal last year.
An undrafted rookie free agent, Kopka said came to Western Maryland College to compete with Matt Stover, but he isn't delusional. He moved out of College Park once he got his degree, and his car is parked at his parents' home in Hollywood Hills, Fla.
"You can look at it two ways," Kopka said yesterday. "Matt Stover was the All-Pro kicker, but if I'm going to be in camp with anybody, let me compete against the best kicker in the NFL [from] last year. That will make me better overall. What they [the Ravens] are going to do and how I'm going to kick are two different things. All I can do is go kick. If Matt hits eight out of eight in practice, I want to hit eight out of eight."
If Kopka kicks well in the preseason, he could land a job with another team and add to the NFL annals of rags-to-riches specialists. What's his favorite Cinderella story?
"Olindo Mare is from Hollywood, Florida, just like me," Kopka said. "He had a rough start, spent two years at a junior college before he went to Syracuse. He didn't make it the first time he tried out in the NFL, but then the Dolphins picked him up."
`They need a break'
The Ravens have completed the first phase of training camp. The defending Super Bowl champions have today off, and tomorrow they'll begin to formulate a game plan for Monday's exhibition opener in Philadelphia. The next three weeks will repeat that cycle, as coach Brian Billick gets his team in a mode that simulates the regular season.
"They need this break," Billick said after the morning practice. "We'll go into this next phase, of getting ready for an opponent, which changes the demeanor and the tempo a little bit. There's no more `Let's regroup, let's analyze this.' No more generalities. It [preparation] becomes much more narrowly focused. It becomes a lot easier, because you're ready for a specific defense or offense, as opposed to everything."
Billick said his staff walks a fine line in the preseason, as they try to give veterans the playing time necessary to prepare for the regular season and newcomers a chance to make an impression.
"The veterans obviously don't need as much," Billick said, "but I've got to make sure they're good enough. The rookies can't get enough."
Todd Heap's face mask is fortified with a clear plastic visor that will protect the scratched cornea the rookie tight end sustained during a drill Tuesday morning. It is not a piece of equipment he wants to become comfortable with.
"This is a whole new program for me," said Heap, the Ravens' first-round draft choice in 2001. "It's a little awkward, because sometimes you see your reflection. It gets all foggy and sweaty, but it's a precaution I have to deal with. It's pretty annoying. I don't plan on wearing this for too long."
Beaten once, beaten twice
Even if it is in a practice situation where the odds are significantly stacked against him, cornerback Duane Starks still is bothered when he gets beat.
Starks took his lumps yesterday in one-on-one drills with receivers. Kenyon Hambrick beat Starks for a touchdown. On another play, Starks was forced to drag Travis Taylor down to prevent a long reception.
In Starks' defense, Taylor looked like he was making his route up on the spot, and the quarterbacks have far longer time to throw than they would in a game.
"During our one-on-one drills, we have some guys that make up some mud routes," Starks said. "That really puts them at an advantage, especially when the quarterback has more than five seconds to throw the ball. But it works on our skills as well and [makes us] be prepared for anything."
The Ravens cut linebacker Calvin Wilkinson yesterday. He spent last year on injured reserve. ... Rookie defensive end Roshaun Matthews quit the team Tuesday. The roster is down to 81.
Sun staff writer Brent Jones contributed to this article.