Ravens Have a Kicking Competition

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At first blush, the Ravens' kicking competition between Steve Hauschka and rookie free agent Graham Gano seemed to be a no-brainer.

On the opening day of Baltimore's minicamp last weekend, Hauschka displayed solid accuracy and the trademark distance he was known for as the Ravens' kickoff specialist last year.

Gano, on the other hand, began the session fairly erratic, causing many to question whether the 2008 Lou Groza Award winner could make it at the next level.

But even before the practice was over, Gano righted his ship, and as the day wore on, he was booting 45-yarders easily through the uprights.

It looks like the Ravens have a competition, after all.

"I think we've got two good young kickers," said Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg. "I don't think they're ready to play today in the National Football League, but we don't have to play today. I think Steven Hauschka has improved since I saw him on the field last in January. He's studied himself, he's studied others and he's learned a lot about kicking.

"Graham is a very talented young guy that I've been very impressed with in the brief time that I've been around him, because he's a really good athlete, and I think he demonstrated that in college… You can see that out here. He's got a strong leg, he's athletic, he's flexible and he's a very willing student as well."

Both kickers have big shoes to fill, regardless of who wins the job. Matt Stover, who was not re-signed as a free agent, ended his 19th year as the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history (83.7 percent on 462-of-552 kicking).

Last year, Stover, 41, connected on 27 of 33 attempts with a long of 47 yards. Still, the Ravens held a roster spot for Hauschka to kick off because Stover's leg - accurate as it was - did not have the distance of yesteryear.

Team officials spoke of bringing Stover back, and that is still a possibility, slim as it may now be.

The Ravens are not likely to limit themselves by keeping two kickers on the roster in 2009, which would leave Hauschka and Gano to battle for the single spot.

"There is always competition," Hauschka said. "They could still bring in a veteran kicker at any moment. The only thing you can focus on is your own talent and your own skill set. If you take care of that, then you'll have a job."

Hauschka has been working diligently at the Ravens' training facility in Owings Mills, Md., nearly every day this offseason, watching film, stretching, lifting weights and even practicing in the indoor field house.

As Baltimore's kickoff specialist last year, he did not have many field goal opportunities during live action, save for a successful 54-yard field goal in Week 10 against the Houston Texans.

Gano does come into the league with a more established pedigree, beginning his career as Florida State's punter, and then taking over all kicking duties by the time he was a senior. Gano nearly missed his final collegiate campaign when he tore his meniscus in his right knee in the preseason, but he returned after two games to set a school record with 18 consecutive field goals made and five straight from 50 yards or more.

Even so, Hauschka - who led the ACC with an 88.9 field goal percentage in 2007 at NC State - has a leg up on Gano because he already boasts a full year of professional coaching from Rosburg and assistant Marwan Maalouf.

That much was evident during Gano's first few kicks. Gano shanked a few of them, prompting Rosburg to work with him individually for the rest of the practice. Later in the day, however, Gano was back to Groza form.

"A lot of guys, when they come from college… are very much self-taught," Rosburg said. "There were some things that we watched him kick the first practice, and we talked to him about it, we showed it to him. He's a very good student, he adapted well. He came out here, and I think he was excited about what he saw, too."

Rosburg clearly relishes his opportunity to tutor two young kickers for the rest of the spring and summer, which will be a departure from what he grew accustomed to with a venerable veteran like Stover.

"Matt knew Matt better than I could ever know Matt, and he knew a lot more about kicking than I'll ever know about kicking," said Rosburg with a chuckle. "In that regard, Matt and I would watch the kicks and he'd tell me what was going on. I'd be another set of eyes for Matt.

"But, these young kickers are a completely different situation. These guys need a lot more feedback. Matt knew what happened once the ball came off his foot. That's not the case yet for these guys. So it's been interesting." 

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