No failure to communicate

Lines are open between kicker, new coaches

Matt Stover

August 04, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun reporter

Matt Stover is determined not to let history repeat itself. This time, he wants to ensure there is no static in his line of communication with the new Ravens coach.

The last time the Ravens changed head coaches, in 1999, the veteran kicker was nearly a casualty in the turnover. He made just five of his first 10 field-goal tries and needed a heart-to-heart session with Brian Billick to save the day.

Nine years later, Stover is taking no chances. He has already begun talks with coach John Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg to avoid a deja vu dilemma.

For Stover, it's all about process and communication.

"You have to understand your limitations and what their expectations are within those limitations," he said.

Because of communication lapses with Billick, Stover was attempting field goals beyond his range early in the season. The kicker would establish the line of scrimmage for makable kicks, and then the coach would ask for another yard or more.

Stover, flush with competitive fervor, would answer yes, he could make it - and miss the kick.

Finally, he told Billick that if his limitations weren't good enough, the Ravens should cut him. It didn't come to that, of course. Coach and kicker eventually got on the same page, and Stover made his final 18 field-goal attempts of the year. The following season, he helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl.

But the memory of that disconnect was still on his mind this past January when Harbaugh succeeded Billick. Stover knew Harbaugh and Rosburg from his pre-game ritual of chatting up opposing special teams coaches. But he made several phone calls to confirm what he already suspected: that he would have no problems with either coach.

"First of all, you have a head coach who is an ex-special teams coach," Stover said. "He gets it. Jerry Rosburg and I will communicate in depth prior to each game what my limitations are going to be."

All three men come to the table with impeccable credentials. Harbaugh was one of the league's best special teams coaches with the Philadelphia Eagles. Rosburg had a distinguished six-year run with the Cleveland Browns, where he helped develop Phil Dawson into one of the NFL's top kickers.

Stover, 40, enters his 18th NFL season ranked third all time in field goals made (435) and in field-goal accuracy (83.8 percent), and fourth in career points (1,822). In Baltimore, he has had to rescue points for an offense that all too often fails to reach the end zone.

"Matt's been doing this long enough he doesn't need me to tell him how to kick," Rosburg said. "He knows how to kick."

Still, Rosburg has made one change in the snap-and-hold operation. He opened up holder Sam Koch's receiving position to get the ball on the ground quicker, and that has shaved 0.02 of a second off kicking time, Stover said.

To appreciate the mental aspect of kicking, you should know that Stover, a deeply religious man, calls each kick his "two seconds of hell." But after 17 seasons, he has learned to conquer his apprehensions.

"Everybody has doubts, everybody has fears, everybody has limitations," he said. "I deal with them, I don't hide them. When some of those spots come up during the game, the what-ifs, you've got to shake them off, get them out of you."

Stover will do that, he said, by shouting at himself, pulling back his focus or reaffirming his techniques.

In the process, he has become very efficient under pressure. Of his 13 game-winning kicks, seven have come against division opponents. He holds the league record for most consecutive games kicking a field goal (38) and owns the third-longest streak for consecutive makes with 36, from 2005 to 2006.

What's more, the misses still hurt as much as they ever did. Last season, Stover missed a 44-yard attempt in overtime at Miami that enabled the Dolphins to get their first win of the season.

"I understand the pain of it," Stover said. "Monday you wake up sick to your stomach. Tuesday, it's like, 'OK, let's start moving on.' And Wednesday, [it's] 'Give me the ball.' "

In a career in which he gets better with age, Stover hasn't had many of those weeks, though.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

Ravens today

Practices at 8:45 a.m., 2:45 p.m.

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