Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Ravens' Hauschka posts seventh-best kickoff average in NFL

By Dan Kolko

February 2, 2009

Now that the Super Bowl is over, we can get back to focusing on the Ravens and their offseason plans.

We've discussed Ray Lewis and the linebackers, we've discussed Jim Leonhard and the safeties, so now let's focus on a guy who has been with the Ravens/Browns almost as long as some current Ravens have been alive.

Matt Stover entered the 2008 season as the 2nd-most accurate kicker in NFL history (83.8%), and he battled back from a tough start to the season to post decent stats on the year (27-for-33, 81.8%).

Stover is a Ravens institution - he's been in Baltimore since the beginning, he won a ring in 2000, he was voted as the franchise's greatest player on

But he's now 41. His leg isn't what it used to be.

This year, his field goals maxed out at around 47-48 yards. He was taken off kickoff duties. The Ravens had to carry two kickers on their 45-man roster on gamedays for most of the season.

The team had strong-legged rookie Steven Hauschka handle any field goals outside Stover's range, and he showed promise in his limited action. Hauschka connected from 54 yards out mid-way through the season, and he posted the seventh-best kickoff average in the league.

Stover is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, so he's got some choices to make. After the Ravens' loss to the Steelers a couple weeks back, the 19-year vet was asked if retirement was an option.

"Retirement has been an option for 10 years," Stover said with a laugh. "My family will come first, so if that needs to be done, it needs to be done. But right now, I'm going to take some time off and we'll see where we land in March and see what the Ravens want to do and see what else is out there in the league too."

On a team that values field position and special teams play, Stover's lack of leg strength definitely cuts into what head coach John Harbaugh wants to do, hence Hauschka's presence. But carrying two kickers can hurt the team in other areas.

We saw in the AFC Championship game how thin Baltimore's secondary was (they had rookie safety Haruki Nakamura see a couple snaps at cornerback), and if Hauschka wasn't needed, the team could've added another DB to help provide some depth.

It's hard to say if the Ravens would stick with the two kicker strategy again next season. If not, assuming Stover wants to give it one more go, would they bring him back and sacrifice the 5+ yards on field goal tries and 4-5 yards on kickoffs?

Here's an even juicer question: Would they let Stover walk and hand the reigns over to Hauschka?

The rookie impressed the coaching staff this season, but I'm not sure if they're ready to make him their full-time guy yet. Also, it would be incredibly tough to ignore Stover -- a guy who has meant so much to this franchise and community for so long.

For his part, Harbaugh said a couple of weeks ago that he wants to see Stover back in the Purple and Black next season.

"He's [41] years old, he's a free agent, and he's still a really good kicker," Harbaugh said. "We're not really too interested in weakening ourselves if we don't have to, but that remains to be determined as well.

"If we can bring him back, we will, and if we can't we're going to have to move in another direction."

There are a lot of questions surrounding the Ravens this offseason, but I think this might be one of the more intriguing and underrated areas. Stover might make all this a moot point by announcing he's hanging up the cleats, but if not, let's keep an eye on Ozzie Newsome and see what direction the Ravens decide to go.

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