(Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
The more you can do. It has become an unofficial motto of Ravens training camp this year. The simple five-word phrase is meant to foster a sense of unity, to remind players that great team members are willing to go beyond their defined roles for the sake of the group.
For Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, though, five words don't exactly suffice.
"It's not just about the more you can do," the rookie kicker said last week. "It's the more you can do well."
He should know. After all, Tucker is no typical undrafted signee. He is a modern-day Renaissance man. He raps, sings opera, speaks Spanish and is active in the community.
And, oh yeah, he has a chance to unseat incumbent Billy Cundiff as the Ravens' starting kicker. Tucker has been spectacular throughout training camp, converting 50 of 53 field-goal attempts. Cundiff, meanwhile, has followed up his season-ending miss in the AFC Championship game, converting 46 of 54.
"He's impressed," special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said of Tucker's performance. "He's got a strong leg, he's got a good mind, he's handling the situations and the changes that we've made very well."
Tucker is a keen adapter. He moves effortlessly between social circles, and relishes opportunities to hone new skills. It's why he had no qualms when his coach at Westlake High in Austin, Texas asked him to play defensive back his junior year. In addition to handling all of the team's kicking duties, he recorded 45 tackles and returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown.
And when that same coach suggested he focus on his special teams responsibilities his senior season? Tucker added wide receiver to his résumé. Each time the Chaparrals scored on offense, he darted to the sideline to change his kicking shoe and prepare to take the extra point.
"He wanted to play defense, offense," said Derek Long, Tucker's Westlake coach. "He probably wanted to put on the headset and coach too if you'd let him."
He also wanted to pursue a career in music. He dabbles with making beats, and has an affinity for Italian arias.
So when it came time to declare a major at the University of Texas, it was a no brainer. He studied recording technology, a degree that requires students to take voice lessons for two years.
But the singing didn't stop when he left the classroom. Tucker regularly serenaded his Longhorns teammates with Russian ballads in the showers.
"I guess he loves to hear his voice echo in there or something weird," said Trey Wier, one of Tucker's long snappers at Texas. "If he was singing, he was just being loud. Not going to lie, though, it sounded pretty good."
Tucker also forayed into rap on occasion while with the Longhorns. A couple years ago, when Texas' freshmen were hesitant to perform their freshmen skits — an annual team tradition — Tucker hopped on stage and freestyled a few verses.
He even recorded a couple tracks with former Longhorns linebacker and current Ravens teammate Sergio Kindle in a makeshift studio he built in a dorm room closet.
"We did some stuff that was pretty groundbreaking," Tucker said with a chuckle.
Between the impromptu performances and recording sessions, though, the four-time Athletic Director's Honor Roll member managed to string together one of the better kicking careers in Texas history.
Tucker, who was a do-it-all special teams player his last two seasons in Austin, hit 40 of 48 field goals and averaged 40.3 yards per punt with the Longhorns.
His first and only game-winning field goal attempt came in the waning seconds of last November's game at Texas A&M. With the Aggies nursing a 25-24 lead before a sold-out crowd at Kyle Field, Tucker hit a 40-yarder with plenty to spare.
It was a long-awaited moment. Ever since his days at Westlake, Tucker had practiced late-game situations. He had envisioned the perfect form, the ball splitting the uprights.
"It seemed like he was always practicing mentally, so I'm pretty sure he wanted it to come down to that field goal," Wier said. "When it came down to a situation like that, he was more excited than nervous, honestly."
And now, more than eight months after that autumn evening, Tucker's excitement has hardly dissipated. He called going undrafted last April a "blessing," and said he's been pleased with his performance thus far.
Still, he's far from satisfied. He understands that Cundiff is the presumptive starter, and that he'll need a stellar all-around performance to latch on in Baltimore.
So he's doing the same things he did in high school. He's buying into the team philosophy, consistently searching for ways to better benefit the group. He spells fatigued teammates on drills, sprints down the field after kickoffs and tinkers with the minute details of his form.
"I'm trying to bring everything I can to the table," Tucker said.
And if that means relaxing the mood with a Christopher Walken impersonation, which he did at a team gathering early last week, that's fine as well.
"I think it's livened things up a little bit," Cundiff said. "He keeps me young and he pushes me. That's the best thing you can possibly ask for."