Going Toe-to-toe

Ravens Five Days Until Training Camp

Kickers Gano, Hauschka Trying To Get A Leg Up In Battle To Replace Stover

July 22, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Graham Gano lined up for one field goal during practice and ... splash. The Ravens' rookie kicker got water thrown on him by backup quarterback Troy Smith.

Before another attempt, Gano watched a player race in front of the ball to distract him. There was even a time when his pants got pulled down before a kick.

"It's pretty fun," Gano said. "If you're worried about all that, you're not where you're supposed to be focused on."

The pressure - and the hijinks - will likely be ratcheted up next week when Ravens training camp begins.

Gano is competing against Steve Hauschka for the kicker job, one of the biggest battles of camp. The Ravens are looking to replace Matt Stover, the only place-kicker in team history, who wasn't re-signed this offseason.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said the young kickers know how they'll be evaluated.

"When the games start, we'll find out," Rosburg said. "You can look at it in practice and your technique can be good and all of those things are going to be really positive. In the end, where we're all judged is on Sundays."

At this point, Rosburg said, the competition is too close to call. Both kickers have converted more than 80 percent of their attempts this offseason.

The winner might not be determined until after the final preseason game Sept. 3. If the kickers can't separate themselves on the field, it could come down to a gut decision.

"If it's very close, guys like [general manager Ozzie Newsome] have made those calls and have done quite well, as a matter of fact," Rosburg said.

Going with a young kicker can be a risky proposition.

In the past five seasons, rookie kickers who've taken a minimum of 25 field-goal attempts in a season have converted 79.7 percent. By comparison, Stover has hit more than 80 percent of his tries in every season since 1998.

But young kickers can pan out in the long run. Since 2004, six kickers remain with the teams with which they started their NFL careers. Three of them - the San Diego Padres' Nate Kaeding, New England Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski and Dallas Cowboys' Nick Folk - went on to make a Pro Bowl.

Over the next month, Gano and Hauschka will have their chances to prove they can be the long-term answer at kicker for a team that finished one game shy of the Super Bowl.

"I think both have made remarkable improvement in a short period of time," Rosburg said. "Now, they have different time frames."

Hauschka, 24, never had aspirations of kicking in the NFL during most of his college career. He kicked for three years at Middlebury College, a Division III school in Vermont, before playing one season at North Carolina State as a graduate student.

The Ravens signed Hauschka before the start of the 2008 regular season. The undrafted rookie had been cut by the Minnesota Vikings. He was the Ravens' kickoff specialist last season as well as their long-distance place-kicker (converting a 54-yard field goal and missing a 53-yard attempt).

This offseason, Hauschka has fine-tuned his technique, opening his right foot more before kicking the ball. Off the field, he has thought about the big picture.

"Sometimes you get time to digest and you realize that you got to show your teammates that you can do this day in and day out," he said. "I can be consistent and be responsible enough that everybody can put the game on my shoulders."

Gano, 22, has a different pedigree than Hauschka. The undrafted rookie won the Lou Groza Award last season, which is given to the nation's top place-kicker in college.

The Scottish-born Gano converted 24 of 26 field-goal tries last season for Florida State, missing from 52 and 50 yards. He showed a strong leg, making 10 field goals from beyond 40 yards.

During minicamps, Gano has been impressive, drilling two 60-yard field goals. But he understands where he needs to perform.

"I'm excited to show what I've got in games," he said. "I think about it every day."

If Hauschka and Gano fail to win the job, the Ravens haven't ruled out bringing back Stover. The 41-year-old kicker and the Ravens have both said they would be open to reuniting before the regular season.

Said Rosburg: "You can rest assured that all of the players remind our two current kickers of Matt's address and that his ZIP code is the same as this facility."

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