Stover's impressive career has the distance

ON THE RAVENS

May 19, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

Ravens kicker Matt Stover has beaten back the competition and slowed Father Time.

He is about to enter his 17th season and is the last holdover of the former Cleveland Browns on the Ravens' roster. While some veterans squawk about the various mini- and training camps, Stover just keeps going and going and going.

He has outlasted 19 other kickers challenging for his job.

"The truth behind any success that I have is my faith in God, and I have a great wife," said Stover, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. "She helps keep me grounded and keeps me humble. She keeps me in line when I'm off the field all the time."

Despite his success, Stover has had his share of problems. In 1992, he had several bulging disks that forced him to re-evaluate his training methods. During the Ravens' first couple of seasons in Baltimore, coach Brian Billick brought in candidates to replace Stover, but none could.

Now, it's impossible to imagine a season without Stover, who has been the team's most valuable player on offense since the team moved to Baltimore for the 1996 season.

"They can always bring a young guy in here that can knock you off the top," Stover said. "I'm proud to kick field goals, and I'll keep going as long as they trust me. This is a very black-and-white position because it's either good or no good. I have two more years on my contract, and hopefully I can do that, but it's going to be one year at a time."

Veterans absent

Most of the team's veterans have posted for the practices that are not mandatory, but a lot of the key performers have been no-shows, including offensive linemen Jonathan Ogden and Mike Flynn, defensive end Trevor Pryce, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, safety Ed Reed and Mr. Raven himself, middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

Billick didn't seem disturbed by the absences. One veteran who participated was linebacker Bart Scott, who had a breakout season in 2006 with 135 tackles, according to Ravens statistics. "I'm here because I'm an 18th-round draft pick," Scott said. "Old habits die hard. I'm used to working. It's uncomfortable for me not to work, and, as the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. It's been the key to my success and I try to get better at every opportunity. This is just another opportunity for me to be a leader, and lead by example."

But what about the no-shows?

"Everybody leads in a different way," Scott said. "That's just my philosophy on things. I'm not saying my way is the only way or the right way, but I'm just here to try to perfect my craft."

Vincent puts up fight

The Ravens selected Auburn guard Ben Grubbs with their first pick in the draft several weeks ago, but veteran Keydrick Vincent isn't ready to surrender his job without a fight. Vincent has been participating in practice, and looks fit. He's also about to enter the last year of his contract.

"I'm just trying to get better," said Vincent, who had surgery to repair a sports hernia during the offseason. "I'm trying to get everything back together, just trying to clean up on my technique and get ready to go."

Feeling comfortable

A year ago, Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was in the same situation as Grubbs. He was the team's top draft pick participating in several of the team's various minicamps.

"This all feels more comfortable," Ngata said. "Last year ... I felt burnt out from the combine stuff, training and working out. Then I had to come in here having to prove myself, and learn the plays. I was probably mentally and physically burnt."

How about nervous?

"Oh, heck yeah," Ngata said. "I really didn't know how good I could be and what to expect."

Ryan slims down

Pro and college football teams like physically fit coaches so they can put them on the cover of their various publications, and Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan is starting to fit the mold. Ryan has lost a noticeable amount of weight, about 60 pounds, according to several team officials.

Meanwhile, backup quarterback Kyle Boller has bulked up 15 or 20 pounds. You can see the difference from a year ago through his shoulders and chest.

Pounding the sand

The Ravens have a gigantic sandbox for training purposes at the back end of their practice fields in Owings Mills. According to the agent for Reed, the sandbox came courtesy of the Pro Bowl safety as part of his contract demands a year ago when he signed a new deal.

It seems training in the sand has long been part of the fitness program at the University of Miami, where Reed, Lewis and new running back Willis McGahee went to school. But according to Reed's agent, the playpen can be used by other players.

Impressions

Some early observations: Grubbs comes off the line of scrimmage with power. The initial pop looks good. ... Rookie receiver Yamon Figurs doesn't know where he is going yet, but he gets everywhere in a hurry. He has a good stride when he runs. ... Billick says he won't put a lot of stock in these practices. "You can't help but do it," Billick said of evaluations. "But you'd better be careful because you're going to make a mistake on a young man who right now is totally confused. All are totally confused, and if you make conclusions on their athletic ability and how they can help this team without recognizing that confusion, you're going to miss on somebody."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

For more on the Ravens, go to www.baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral.

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