Questions are afoot with Ravens kicker Stover, 40, struggling

October 11, 2008|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,edward.lee@baltsun.com

Whether he's lining up a 50-yard field goal in less-than-favorable conditions or facing questions about his effectiveness, Matt Stover doesn't flinch.

That's how Stover, 40, has forged a 19-year career as a kicker for the Ravens and Cleveland Browns. And that's why Stover didn't seem to mind questions about whether he can still be counted on to convert long field goals for the Ravens.

"That comes with being 40 when the average age is 26 in the NFL," Stover said. "I understand that. It's no problem. It would be one thing if I couldn't perform. In practice, I'm hitting 50-, 52-, 53-yard field goals. It's not like I can't do it. I just haven't performed in a game."

Those performances have shoved Stover into the spotlight, which some kickers try to avoid. Stover has never shied away from criticism or compliments, but the third-most accurate kicker in league history has rarely endured the start he is wading through this season.

Stover has connected on just four of seven field-goal attempts in the Ravens' first four games, making tries of 38, 33, 21 and 20 yards. But Stover has missed all three attempts of 40 yards or more, pushing attempts of 48 and 45 yards right and hooking a 47-yarder wide left.

His most recent miss was the 45-yarder in Sunday's 13-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Stover said his mistake was aiming right when he should've targeted the left side of the uprights.

It's speculative to say the field goal would have changed the outcome of the game, but that was of little consolation to Stover.

"I was a little ticked off," he acknowledged. "Why would that happen to a 19-year pro? Because I'm still learning. It's still not easy out there. I'm continuing to refine my game as much as I can to make myself as accurate as I can. That was a makable field goal. Should've made it. Just didn't."

Stover's struggles have given life to threads on Internet message boards demanding that the Ravens activate rookie Steven Hauschka from the practice squad. John Harbaugh fielded four questions about Stover during his weekly news conference Monday, and the Ravens coach did not waste much time dismissing notions about his kicker's age.

"I don't think that's the issue because he's got the leg strength still to do it, and he's hitting good balls," Harbaugh said. "Those balls are tracking well. It's just a matter of directing them in between the uprights, and we know he can do that. He's been doing that for a long time."

Since his pro career began in 1990, Stover has not encountered this kind of lull often. He converted two of his first four attempts in 1992 (as a member of the Browns) and was 5-for-9 in 1998 and 4-for-7 in 2005. Stover eventually finished with a success rate of 72.4 percent (21-for-29) in 1992, 75 percent (21-for-28) in 1998 and 88.2 percent (30-for-34) in 2005.

"I've had some rough starts before," he said. "Where do you go from here? You've got to get better. You've got to work. You just can't sit back and sulk and think that things are going to all of a sudden change for you. You've got to get out there and work and make it happen."

That fresh start begins Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said he has faith in Stover.

"We have a lot of confidence in Matt, not only because of his past, but because of his present performance," Rosburg said. " ... A lot of you people know Matt and how much he studies his craft. He's been grinding every one of those kicks out and analyzing every particular of it and working to correct it. And I have great confidence that Matt's going to perform well this week."

Notes: : The Ravens ruled cornerback Fabian Washington (shoulder) out of Sunday's game, which means Frank Walker will make his first start since 2006 with the New York Giants. Washington had replaced Samari Rolle last week but injured his shoulder against the Tennessee Titans. The secondary is also missing safety Dawan Landry. ... The Ravens listed right tackle Adam Terry as doubtful with a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee, although he spoke yesterday about possibly playing with a knee brace. ... The Colts are also short in the secondary, losing safety Bob Sanders and cornerback Kelvin Hayden because of knee injuries. Another cornerback, Marlin Jackson, is questionable with an ankle injury. Defensive end Dwight Freeney (hamstring) and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (concussion) are also questionable. ... Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason was fined $5,000 by the NFL for unnecessary roughness in Sunday's game against Tennessee. ... Asked the rooting interest of his brother-in-law, Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean, this week, Harbaugh said family comes first. "He's family-first," Harbaugh said yesterday. "I'm quite sure that he's rooting for the Ravens."

Baltimore Sun reporters Ken Murray and Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

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