It was a heady rookie season for Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, a successful run capped by a Super Bowl victory.
First the undrafted rookie from Texas beat out former Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff in a training camp competition.
Then Tucker connected on 30 of 33 field goals for 90.9 percent accuracy, the second-best mark by a rookie kicker in NFL history and second-best single-season performance in franchise history. He scored 132 points, most by a rookie in Ravens franchise history.
As the Ravens launch their offseason training program Monday at team headquarters, Tucker has set ambitious goals for his second NFL season. Namely, perfection.
"You win a Super Bowl and the next day you wake up and say, 'That was fun, I would really like to do that again,'" Tucker said. "You always want to get to the big dance. Individually, I would like to make it to the Pro Bowl and make 100 percent of my kicks. I always try to set lofty goals.
"I want to leave it at that, I want to make all my kicks. That's something I was pretty close to last year, so it's definitely an attainable feat. There's no sense in setting goals you've already reached. I also want to be more productive on kickoffs and have a bunch of touchbacks."
Last season, Tucker hit a game-winning 47-yard field goal in double-overtime in an AFC divisional-round win over the Denver Broncos after winning regular-season games with field goals against the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots.
Tucker made four kicks from 50 yards or beyond, setting another franchise single-season record. That included field goals from 56, 54, 51 and 51 yards.
The only NFL kickers with a superior field goal percentage to Tucker last season were the Washington Redskins' Kai Forbath (94.4 percent), the Dallas Cowboys' Dan Bailey (93.5 percent), the Cleveland Browns' Phil Dawson (93.5 percent), the Minnesota Vikings' Blair Walsh (92.1 percent) and the Oakland Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski (91.2 percent).
"I was generally happy with the end result," said Tucker, who made all 42 extra points for a single-season Ravens record. "If I had to give myself a grade from the first season, it would be like an A-minus or a B-plus. I've never been the type who's fully satisfied with anything but perfection. We got the ultimate team prize. We're going to have those Super Bowl rings on our fingers. You can't ask for more than that in your first year in the league."
Because the Ravens made such a long postseason run, Tucker kicked in 20 games.
That included 85 kickoffs with 49 touchbacks for the fifth-most in the NFL. His 69.5 yards per kickoff ranked first in the NFL.
Tucker was advised by special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, kicking coach Randy Brown, punter Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox to take six-to-eight weeks off and just recently resumed kicking again.
"The guys around me, Morgan and Sam, have been there, done that, and know how to take care of their bodies," Tucker said. "We came up with a training game plan and both of them and Jerry and Randy have been really helpful to me as far as gauging how much I should be kicking. We'll have plenty of time. We're all conscientious about quality."
For Tucker, it all started with building his confidence and gaining the trust of coaches and teammates for him to unseat an established veteran. That included tweaking his technique on the advice of the coaches.
"One of the things I really had to do in training camp was be comfortable because I didn't have any other choice," Tucker said. "If I didn't take the advice of both Randy and Jerry early in training camp and make that transformation in my technique, I wouldn't have been as consistent as I am. What I'll continue to focus on is being coachable and open to new ideas and develop some new tricks up my sleeve with a myriad of specialty kicks I can bring to the table.
"It's a fine-tuning thing. I think about action, not consequence, and make it concrete in my mind. One of the reasons I was making most of my kicks last year and having a lot of fun doing it is I stayed focused and slowed things down in my mind. Any confident player who's studied their craft will tell you the game slows down for them when they're prepared."
Now Tucker enters this season as an unchallenged incumbent.
He's under contract through the 2014 season after signing a three-year contract last year.
Tucker emerged as a reliable kicker as a rookie, but he's quick to note that he didn't do it by himself.
"I also had a lot of help this season from a lot of cool guys, Jerry, Randy, Morgan, Sam, [coach John Harbaugh], everybody in that building," he said. "When I went out on that field, I had everyone's arms wrapped around me like they knew the end result would be good."
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