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08/12 Notebook


Throughout his 18 years in the NFL, Matt Stover has kicked 13 game-winning field goals.

Tuesday, he notched a rare practice-winning boot.

In the morning session, head coach John Harbaugh gave Stover the chance to try a 48-yarder with a promise of giving the players off that night if he hit it.

With anxious eyes focused squarely on his hunched-over No. 3 jersey, Stover approached holder Sam Koch and skillfully split the uprights.

It may have wavered slightly, but the result was all that mattered.

"I'm telling you, that ball was moving left outside the uprights," head coach John Harbaugh said. "I was going to get what I wanted – practice this afternoon. But somebody bumped it back in. The magic of Matt Stover, I guess."

Just as if he had clinched a game in the final seconds at M&T Bank Stadium, a roar erupted from his teammates.

"John knows how to put pressure on a guy," Stover laughed after the kick. "He puts the whole team behind you and you've got to make a 48-yard field goal to get the night off, so you've got to be able to put yourself in that situation as a kicker. There's nothing that will be able to replicate that other than being in a game.

"That's as close as you can get. In fact, I think that was worse than kicking a game-winner, because you don't want to let your guys down."

The stalwart veteran certainly didn't, a trend he started back in 1991, five years before the franchise moved to Baltimore.

Since then, Stover has established himself as one of the most reliable kickers of all time. He enters his 19th campaign hitting 83.8 percent of his field goals, second-best in the NFL. Stover even owns the league record for consecutive games with a field goal, rolling off 38 straight from 1999-2001.

"He's proven over such a long period of time that he is one of the premier kickers in the history of the game," Harbaugh said off the fourth-highest scorer in NFL history (1,822). "He makes field goals. His percentage and his accuracy – is anybody better?"

At this point in his career, Stover's preparation for the upcoming season is a science. In the past, where he would drill kick after kick in training camp, the 40-year-old now opts for quality, not quantity, when he trains.

Stover still works hard in the weight room to build strength, but to maintain his mechanics - what he calls "being able to pop the ball" - rest is more important than practicing every day.

"It's making sure that you're on top of your game and not just out there going through the motions," he explained. "You're making sure that mentally you're in every kick so that when it does come time to replicate something like that out on the field like we did today or in a game, then I'm able to produce that."

It is what sets Stover apart from players like rookie free agent Piotr Czech, who could catch on as a kickoff specialist. The mental game is just as important as a powerful leg - if not more.

And, it is the constant threat of upstarts like Czech that keeps Stover coming back in top form for nearly two decades.

"There's always competition, whether or not you've been in training camp by yourself, which I have been several times, or with a guy like Piotr," Stover said. "You'll always find improvement and you're always trying to get better."

Here are some more notes and observations from Tuesday's session:

  • Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata suited up to participate in practice for the first time since spraining his MCL in the first week of camp, but he was limited to individual drills.

The Ravens also missed wideouts Patrick Carter (shoulder) and Demetrius Williams (leg); cornerbacks David Pittman (undisclosed), Fabian Washington (neck spasms), and Chris McAlister (knee); linebackers Tavares Gooden (hip), Gary Stills (knee), Dan Cody (foot) and Robert McCune (leg); offensive tackles Jared Gaither (ankle) and Adam Terry (ankle); running back Willis McGahee (knee surgery); tight ends Daniel Wilcox (foot) and Todd Heap (leg); and defensive tackles Kelly Gregg (knee) and Kelly Talavou (shoulder).

  • In addition to adding Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal, the Ravens signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Keith Heinrich. Tight end Lee Vickers was released to make room for the new addition. Neal was able to join the team without a cut having to be made because Baltimore released one player and placed two on Injured Reserve, while only signing two Monday.
  • Harbaugh said that he planned a high-energy practice with lots of full-team action and goal line drills. The Ravens delivered. While no major brawls took place, both sides of the ball chattered back and forth the entire morning.

On offense, fullback Le'Ron McClain and wideout Derrick Mason were the loudest, trading barbs with cornerbacks Ronnie Prude and Frank Walker.

  • The defense was committed to the blitz again, but the offense countered nicely with quick-timed slant routes and comebacks near the sidelines. Kyle Boller did a good job of hooking up with Kerry Reed on one, negating a Tom Zbikowski rush.
  • Baltimore's starting offensive line Tuesday read (left-to-right): Mike Kracalik, Ben Grubbs, Jason Brown, Marshal Yanda and Oniel Cousins. Recently-signed left tackle Chad Slaughter played with the second string.

Asked whether there was anything to read of the shuffle, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron maintained he was simply trying to mix things up and won't announce a starting line until later in the week.

  • Wideout Yamon Figurs was absent due to the birth of his child. More information on Figurs' addition when he returns to Westminster.

For Wednesday:The Ravens resume practice at 8:45 a.m. with the entire team, and then have a special teams session at 2:00 that afternoon. Please note that offensive and defensive linemen do not have to lift, meaning all other positions may be limited for autographs and interviews due to scheduled team activities.

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