Ravens punt at time for filling needs

April 22, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

AS SOON AS the Ravens announced their initial fourth-round draft pick yesterday, I immediately ran to the phone and made reservations for a hotel in Westminster for training camp. I pity any fool who gets in my way on Route 140 on opening day. Road rage will be at a maximum.

There is now a major reason to be there. It's not Ed Reed, the University of Miami safety and No. 1 pick who looks a little like former Ravens running back Earnest Byner with dreadlocks. Nor is it Notre Dame defensive lineman Anthony Weaver or Minnesota receiver Ron Johnson. (Is he the next James Roe?)

It's Ohio University punter Dave Zastudil.

Can't wait to see him. He's got to be special, because the Ravens selected him in the fourth round. He must have steel plates in those toes. There must be a sonic boom when Zastudil crunches the ball. I can't wait until that first punt sails out of PSI To Be Named Later Again Stadium.

Wow! A punter!

After the addition of Zastudil, I couldn't hold back the excitement for the fifth and sixth rounds, because I knew the Ravens would fill two more needs, one at towel boy and the other at water boy.

You see, if you're going to rebuild a team, you have to start with the most important positions. Like punter. Forget about finding an offensive right tackle, running back, quarterback, fullback or interior defensive linemen.

The Ravens stuck with their draft board, and their board read Zastudil. Maybe it was a typo. Maybe Ravens draft gurus Ozzie Newsome and Phil Savage got cabin fever. But I had a different board. Mine read that Zastudil probably would have been around until the sixth round, or maybe until next week. But apparently the club began to panic when San Francisco selected Florida kicker Jeff Chandler 10 spots ahead of the Ravens, and then Cincinnati picked Purdue punter Travis Dorsch three spots before them.

That's it.

The Ravens feared there was going to be a run on punters. It happens every year, right after the run on running backs, quarterbacks, receivers, defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs.

Zastudil must have been impressive in his workouts at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Must have turned in a 5.2 40-yard dash time with a vertical leap comparable to that of Randy Moss'. Probably bench-pressed the standard 225 pounds about four times.

A stud.

He has to be.

Because in the same round, the Ravens later lost out on University of Miami guard Martin Bibla, Nebraska cornerback Keyuo Craver and Louisiana State quarterback Rohan Davey, not to mention Tennessee running back Travis Stephens, whom some compare to Priest Holmes, and Ohio State's Jamar Martin, the second-best fullback in the draft.

The Ravens counter with little-known Alan Ricard at fullback. And now they have big Dave Zastudil. Punter. A 6-foot-3, 225-pound man-child.

Zastudil comes highly recommended, not only by Newsome and Savage, but also by new Ravens special teams coach Gary Zauner.

Zastudil holds the school's career record with a 44.6-yard punting average at Ohio University, and he punted 207 times for 9,225 yards, with 61 attempts for longer than 50 yards and 60 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Twenty-seven kicks resulted in fair catches and 28 more in touchbacks. He's an instant starter.

But can he also play offensive tackle and running back? Or how about defensive line?

No, but he is left-footed. Here's another nugget from the Ravens' scouting department: Zastudil is a two-step kicker with an average of 1.21 seconds in his touch-to-toe (time from receiving the snap to punting) mechanics.

Doesn't that blow you away? Some of the Ravens' assistant coaches were so overwhelmed yesterday that you couldn't tell if they were crying from laughter or disappointment.

"One of the advantages of bringing in Gary Zauner is he is one of these guys who has both kicked and punted in this league," Newsome said. "He is one of those guys who works tirelessly around the country looking at kickers and punters, and he went and worked out Zastudil, and came back with a rave review of the kid. If we're going to be a good football team that might suffer a little bit on offense, a punter can become a weapon, a punter who can kick it high or kick it to the sideline."

Savage said: "The punter is a left-footed punter, and it is more difficult for returners to adjust to the left-footers. He also throws very well. In some situations, it can help us. He can help us with trick plays, or as a fourth and fifth arm in training camp."

At least the Ravens are honest. They're basically admitting the offense isn't going to be much this season, but don't buy the stuff about trick plays. Creativity for the Ravens has been Jermaine Lewis taking a handoff out of the backfield.

The decision to draft Zastudil was all about value, according to Newsome and Savage. They wanted a player who would have an immediate impact. It would have been nice, though, if they found one who could also kick off as well, because the team had to use up a roster spot for Danny Kight because Matt Stover couldn't get enough distance on his kickoffs last season.

But, nah, Zastudil is the kind of player a team can't turn down. Mr. Impact. The Ravens now have the quickest punt- snapping combination in the NFL with Zastudil and long snapper Joe Maese, a sixth- round pick last season.

Doesn't that blow you away, too?

I'll be there at training camp with my stopwatch in hand. Maese and Zastudil will be launching missiles all over the place. Hang time will be the talk of the day. Training camp is going to be a blast, with the biggest booms coming off the atomic foot of Zastudil.

Wow! A punter!

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