OWINGS MILLS – Besides the dejection of hooking a pressure field goal wide of the uprights, there aren’t many worse feelings for an NFL kicker than the harsh reality of people being invited to audition for his job.
For Baltimore Ravens kicker Steve Hauschka, that’s what he’s going through after missing two clutch kicks in losses to the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings.
One day after the Ravens tried out free agent kickers Mike Nugent and Billy Cundiff before ultimately deciding to stick with Hauschka for the time being, the replacement for veteran Matt Stover was back at work trying to fix his accuracy problems.
“I figured they probably would," Hauschka said Wednesday when asked about the tryouts. "That’s not my job, though. They’re going to do what they have to do and I’m going to have to do my job, go out there and make kicks in a game. My skin’s gotten a lot thicker.
“I’m 90 percent of the way there. I think I’ve done a good job. I just need to do a little better out there. Sometimes, you don’t hit the ball the way you would like.”
Hauschka has proven that he’s capable of converting field goals, making 8 of his 11 kicks this season and every extra point.
However, he has yet to deliver on a pressure kick having hooked a 38-yarder wide left in the fourth quarter against the Bengals and flubbing a potential game-winning 44-yard try in the final seconds against the Vikings.
“Guys are backing me up, a lot of the veterans are still supporting me," Hauschka said. "The organization wants me to be the guy, and I want to be the guy, too.
“I think they still have a lot of confidence in me, they see that I’m a real talented kicker. It’s just part of the development. It’s a little painful at times to miss kicks and let the team down and to let the fans down, but my job is to go out there and make the next kick.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh emphasized Monday that Hauschka’s errant kicks can be attributed to poor technique, saying, “If you look at those two swings, those are both poor swings.”
Hauschka said that he hasn’t lost confidence in himself, adding that he continues to excel during practice.
"I’m very confident," he said. "I’ve been kicking the ball real well in practice; it’s just a matter of transferring it to the game. That’s the next development I have to make: kick the ball in the game with as much confidence."
As the replacement for Stover, Hauschka beat out Graham Gano during training camp. Gano is now kicking for former Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel for the Las Vegas franchise in the United Football League.
As the kicker for Division III Middlebury College before one terrific season at North Carolina State where he connected on 16 of 18 field goals, Hauschka has missed more field goals this year than during an entire season for the Wolfpack.
This slump is unprecedented for Hauschka.
"I’ve missed kicks before, but not that many,” Hauschka said. “This is probably the first time I’ve gone through something like this. In college, I had a streak where I hit 20 in a row. .. I wish it didn’t happen this early in my career, but I knew it was going to happen eventually.”
WEBB EXPANDING: Rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb recorded a career-high six tackles and deflected one pass while being targeted often by Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer.
Now, he might need to make his NFL starting debut Monday night against the Cleveland Browns if Fabian Washington is sidelined with a thigh contusion.
“Well, I’m very confident,” Webb said when asked about the possibility of starting. “If I study enough, it should make it easier when I do get out there Monday night.”
The coaching staff hasn’t informed Webb yet if his role will be expanded beyond returning kicks and operating as the nickel back.
Webb drew high marks for his play against Cincinnati.
“I think I played all right, a lot of room for improvement,” Webb said. “I just came in and tried to do my part. I think I had an okay game.
Webb drew more than a normal amount of passes directed his way with Palmer obviously aware of his rookie status and tested him out.
“No matter what, no matter who you are, the quarterback is going to eye you down,” Webb said. “You are the target. If I have to play Monday night, I am the target.
“That’s football. It helps me stay a notch ahead of my game knowing I am the target. I love the competition.”
Unlike his teammates in the secondary, including free safety Ed Reed, Webb’s tackling was above reproach.
“I played safety in college,” Webb said. “I tackle. I really wasn’t too surprised by how I tackled.”
INJURY UPDATE: Washington is limping and is considered a question mark for Monday night’s game.
“I’m a little hurt, but I’m going to try to play,” he said. “I can tell you it hurts. I don’t know about nothing else.
“Physically, I feel okay. My thigh hurts. I hope it’s nothing that’s going to be too long that I’m out.”
Meanwhile, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata expects to return from a sprained right ankle and play against the Browns.
SHAKEUP: Dwan Edwards has replaced former Pro Bowl defensive end Trevor Pryce as the starter on the official depth chart.
Edwards started against the Minnesota Vikings. And he registered eight tackles and two quarterback hits in the loss to the Bengals.
KOKINIS REDUX: Keeping with his secretive ways, Browns coach Eric Mangini declined to elaborate on the ouster of highly respected former Ravens executive George Kokinis from his job as the Browns’ general manager.
The dismissal of Kokinis, which has involved the Browns alleging he was let go with cause to try to avoid paying him $4 million on the remainder of his contract, has drawn heavy scrutiny in league circles with Cleveland management and Mangini being heavily criticized.
During a conference call with Baltimore reporters, Mangini didn’t shed any light on the nature of Kokinis’ departure.
"Any time a decision like this is made, especially with George who I’ve known for a long time personally and professionally and been friends with, it’s difficult," Mangini said. "And it is a situation where I wish him and his family nothing but the best. I can tell you that anytime you go into a relationship like this, you are looking for it to work out.
“You never anticipate it not working out. But it didn’t for a variety of reasons. And I thought organizationally it was best to move on and there’s really nothing more that I can add to that."
One reason why Mangini is reluctant to say much: Kokinis has apparently hired a lawyer and an ugly legal battle is anticipated.
WALKOUT PLANNED: The Browns fans are organizing a protest that would involve not going to their seats until after kickoff to display their dissatisfaction with the dysfunctional franchise.
The Browns are 1-7 and have had several controversies since the arrival of Mangini.
“Browns fans are passionate, and that’s what you love about them," Mangini said. "They’re frustrated, but I don’t think anybody’s more frustrated than we are. As a coaching staff, as players, it’s a commitment to get things fixed.
“I respect the Cleveland Browns’ fans, I respect the passion they have for this team, the passion they have for this city, and we’re going to work every single day as hard as we possibly can to make them proud."
IT’S QUINN: In a move that was hardly a surprise, the Browns have benched former Ravens quarterback Derek Anderson and gone back to former first-round draft pick Brady Quinn as their starting quarterback.
Mangini made the announcement Wednesday morning.
Quinn was intercepted once and passed for just 34 yards before being benched during the Ravens’ 34-3 blowout of the Browns on Sept. 27.
Anderson entered the game and was intercepted three times.
“He’s done the things that I’ve asked him to do,” Mangini said of Quinn. “I think he’s had some good weeks of practice. I thought he had an excellent week this past week during our bye, and I’m looking forward to him really taking advantage of this opportunity.”
QUICK HITS: The Browns rank last in the NFL in total defense (409.1 yards per contest), 31st in total offense (221.1), last in passing (121.5) and last in turnover ratio with a minus-11 margin. … The Ravens had 479 yards of total offense in the first meeting with the Browns, the second-most in franchise history. … The Ravens are 4-7 all-time in Monday night games, 1-5 on the road and mired in a five-game losing streak in Monday night games. … The Ravens lead the series against Cleveland 14-7, winning each of the past three meetings.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.