Justin Tucker seems just a little fidgety. He buzzes around when preparing for a kickoff, appearing to overflow with nervous energy that might not belie a professional athlete.
Then the ball leaves his foot and travels what seems like a mile.
On kickoffs and field goal tries alike, it sure seems like the undrafted rookie out of Texas has done just about everything he could to beat out incumbent Billy Cundiff for the Ravens’ starting job.
Against the Jaguars on Thursday, the Ravens gave Tucker a full opportunity. No splitting the kicks with Cundiff. It was all Tucker, and the results were impressive.
Tucker converted both of his field-goal attempts - a 33-yarder to start the scoring and a 53-yarder in the second quarter that was both a beauty in its accuracy down the middle and its distance. He also made all six of his extra points and booted eight of his nine kickoffs into the end zone with five going for touchbacks.
“I feel like I’m kicking the best I ever kicked, and that’s a big testament to what coach (Jerry) Rosburg, coach (John) Harbaugh and Randy Brown have been able to do with me since I’ve been here,” Tucker said. “To the naked eye, it doesn’t look like I’ve made a lot of changes, but I’ve made a complete transformation from the kicker I was in college to the kicker I am today. So I owe a lot of my recent successes to them. They’ve been on me about getting better at something every single day.”
But does Tucker feel like he’s done enough to earn a kicking job in the NFL?
“I’m not going to read anything into that,” he said. “I’m just focusing on coming to work every day, bring my lunch pail and getting after it, finding something to improve on every day.”
The Ravens’ kicking job has been one to watch since training camp started because of the way Cundiff’s last season ended. In the waning minutes of the AFC championship game, Cundiff missed a 32-yard chip shot that would’ve tied the game, likely sending it to overtime.
Tucker was brought in to provide competition, and he’s definitely posed a threat, making all five of his attempts this preseason, including two from 50 yards and beyond. Cundiff has gone 2-for-2 so far.
Harbaugh explained the decision to give Tucker the full game Thursday.
“Billy has had a great, great camp. He’s done really well. I think we know Billy,” Harbaugh said. “Billy would have come in here and made every one of those kicks, and when we kicked it deep, he would have kicked every one into the back of the end zone. Billy has proven. Tuck has not proven. This is something that he needed. We needed to see if he could handle a whole game from beginning to end, and have that pressure on him. Obviously, he handled it very well.”
Cundiff didn’t like it too much, though. He said he found out Wednesday night that he wouldn’t be kicking at all in the game, and admitted he was disappointed.
“Yeah, I’m a competitor,” he said. “Anytime that you feel like you’re not getting reps, the competitive side comes out and you feel like you want to be the one out there kicking.”
Whether it will be Cundiff or Tucker handling those duties when Sept. 10 rolls around remains to be seen.