OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens had finally seen enough, so they jettisoned struggling kicker Steve Hauschka on Tuesday following another episode of errant kicking.
General manager Ozzie Newsome said he plans to sign a kicker before today’s practice, and the Ravens are expected to choose between Mike Nugent and Billy Cundiff after auditioning them last week.
It marked Nugent’s second tryout with Baltimore this season, but that’s not necessarily an indicator that he’s going to be the guy.
Hauschka hooked a series of important kicks wide left during his first NFL season as a full-time kicker, a persistent problem that Ravens coach John Harbaugh attributed to a mental issue rather than his mechanics.
Hauschka was cut one day after pushing a 36-yard field goal wide left and having an extra point blocked during a 16-0 win over the Cleveland Browns on Monday night.
“Obviously, he’s struggling right now in certain situations,” Harbaugh said during his weekly WBAL radio program. “But I think he’s going to be very good kicker in this league. I’ve said it many times. I still believe it.
“At this time, we need better. It’s just not going to help do the things we need to do at this time. We needed to make a change.”
And that replacement is expected to either be Nugent, a former Lou Groza Award winner from Ohio State drafted in the second round by the New York Jets, or Cundiff, a steady journeyman kicker who connected on all six of his field goals this season as an injury replacement for Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson.
Nugent was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this season after going through a funk where he hit just two of six field goals, including having two blocked.
“We’re comfortable with what’s available,” Harbaugh said. “We’re in the process of finalizing that right now. Ozzie’s working out the details right now. We can’t make any announcement at this point, but we know what we need to do.”
Hauschka connected on just 9 of 13 field goals, missing every pressure kick. He only converted three of his final seven kicks.
That included a potential game-winning 44-yard field goal in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings as well as a key fourth-quarter attempt in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
"We entered the season knowing that we would have to go through some growing pains with Steve," Newsome said in a statement. "That happens with most new kickers in the NFL. But, for where we are as a team today, we need more consistent production from our kicker. Every one of our players has to step up to a Ravens’ level of play and that was not happening for Steve right now. ..
"While we do believe Steve will kick successfully in the league eventually, we need better right now. The string of important games coming up that are likely to be close, tough battles and his lack of production are reasons we needed to make this move now."
Hauschka met with Harbaugh, special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg and Newsome on Tuesday.
Hauschka beat out rookie kicker Graham Gano, who now kicks for the Las Vegas UFL franchise, in training camp. Ultimately, though, the move was a failure as Hauschka’s accuracy and confidence eroded.
“I think it’s more of a mental issue than a physical one,” Harbaugh said. “He has to work through that. Most of these young kickers do. We thought he’d work through it maybe a little quicker than he did. He’s going to do it before it’s all said and done.
Of course, the Ravens probably could have avoided this kicking problem altogether if they had retained veteran Matt Stover.
Ironically, Stover is returning to town this week as the undefeated Indianapolis Colts’ kicker. Stover has converted all six of his field goals as the replacement for injured Adam Vinatieri.
“Right now, I sure wish he was kicking for the Ravens and not for the Colts,” Harbaugh said.
The Ravens decided to not renew Stover’s contract when it expired after last season because they didn’t want to have to hold an extra roster spot for a kickoff specialist since Stover’s distance on kickoffs had declined significantly.
Stover, 41, has repeatedly said that the Ravens informed him that he wasn’t in their plans and there was never any dialogue about bringing him back even though he preferred to continue his career in Baltimore.
Harbaugh expressed some regret at not holding onto Stover, one of the most accurate kickers in league history.
“We know Matt can kick, it’s not necessarily something we wanted to do,” Harbaugh said.
“Sometimes you lose veteran players whose contracts are up. It was that way with Bart Scott. There’s more to it than keeping a guy and getting rid of a guy. It’s not like we wanted Matt not to be here. It just didn’t work out for both parties.
“We said all along that if we could bring him back at a certain time, we were going to try to do it. For the last four weeks, he’s been in Indianapolis. So, we just haven’t been able to do that because he’s on another team. We’re doing the best we can with the kicking situation with the circumstances that we kind of faced at the end of the season last year.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.