By Samuel Njoku
Justin Tucker, K, #9
Hometown: Austin, TX
The infamous kick that cost the Ravens a chance at last year’s Super Bowl occurred when Justin Tucker was still enrolled in Texas University. Billy Cundiff would fail to convert a 32-yard field goal that ended Baltimore’s season and subsequently left doubt in his ability heading towards the 2012 season. Tucker would be brought into training camp to compete with Cundiff for the starting spot. Many expected Tucker’s presence to be temporary, as it was assumed he was there to merely push the Pro Bowl kicker. As it turned out, Tucker would do much more than that.
Like a majority of the kickers currently playing in the NFL, there wasn’t a lot of buzz about Tucker coming out of college. Kicking for Texas, Justin excelled at both kickoff duties and placekicking. In his collegiate career, Tucker converted 40 out of 48 field goal attempts (83.3%) which is tied for third all time at Texas. Known as a versatile kicker, Justin Tucker would also contribute as a punter as well averaging over 40.5 yards per punt. He would earn second-team All-Big 12 honors for the AP as well as earning 2 Special Teams Player of the Week awards in his senior year.
Though his resume’ was impressive, Tucker would not be selected in the 2012 NFL Draft. Only four kickers were selected in his draft class, but Tucker would get his chance when the Ravens signed him to compete for the starting job along side Billy Cundiff. Tucker became a fan favorite instantly during an open training camp at M&T Bank Stadium when the two kickers had a “shootout” for all to see. The crowd fell in love with Tucker as drilled a 63-yard field goal in front of thousands of fans. And while it was just practice, the coaches knew they may have just found a diamond in the rough.
Tucker would go on to outplay Cundiff throughout the rest of camp and force the Ravens hands. Baltimore would release Cundiff before the final preseason game and award the job to Justin Tucker. The undrafted rookie from Texas had finally made it.
“I really do appreciate the front office and the coaching staff putting their faith in me,” said Tucker after learning he had won the job.
John Harbaugh and the coaching staff made the call. But they knew right away it was the right one. “[Tucker] has earned this job by the way he kicked in camp,” said Coach Harbaugh. “He won the competition and that’s why he’s the kicker.”
Many wondered if signing a rookie kicker would have a negative impact on the season. But so far, the rookie kicker has made the most of his opportunity. In Week Three, Justin Tucker would hit the game winning field goal to defeat the New England Patriots. The same team Cundiff faced when he missed his last kick in Baltimore. In Week Five against the Chiefs, Tucker scored all of the Ravens points to defeat Kansas City.
Tucker has hit eight out of his nine field goals to start the season.The kid from Texas isn’t playing like a rookie by any means, and Ray Lewis isn’t surprised at all.
“He just fits our mold,” Lewis said. “He’s so laid back, so confident and he’s just having fun.”
Bernard Pollard agrees with Lewis completely.
“Tucker’s different from every other kicker,” Pollard said. “He belongs in this locker room.”
That’s something everyone can agree on.
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Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. He can be reached for comments at SamuelN870@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.