After spending the 2012 off season concentrating mostly on special teams, the Baltimore Ravens are hoping for immediate returns once the season starts.
Baltimore was generally quiet in free agency besides bringing in several Pro Bowl caliber special teams players. On March 23, 2012 They Agreed to terms with LB Brendon Ayanbadejo on a three-year contract, CB Corey Graham on a two-year contract and S Sean Considine on a one-year contract.
All three of these players are standout special teams studs. All three are also more than capable on the defensive side of the ball as well. Cosidine will battle for one of the back up safety positions and could see regular playing time. Graham will join a loaded defensive backfield in which he will have an uphill battle for playing time and Ayanbadejo will most likely see the field on defense in pass coverage situations due to his speed and coverage skills. Finding linebackers that can cover is becoming huge in today's pass happy NFL.
On May 8th 2012 Baltimore signed veteran wide receiver Jacoby Jones who will serve as the teams the teams primary punt returner on special teams and as the number three receiver (most likely). Jones will have a tough battle for the number three spot however as he has several other young talented receivers to compete with. Second year draft pick Tandon Doss, rookie sixth round pick Tommy Streeter, second year undrafted free agent LaQuan Williams and former return man and wide receiver David Reed will also be in the mix for the third receiver spot.
Rookie wide out Tommy Streeter has also expressed his desire to get out there on special teams and make an impact. Streeter has impressive size and speed which could be invaluable on "teams" as well.
Streeter said he played special teams his first two years at Miami. He was on punt coverage, punt block and kickoff coverage."I have a foundation in it, but I could get better with coaching," he said. "I’m just going to do whatever the coaches tell me to do."
Last season the Ravens special teams unit allowed three touchdowns on returns. Cleveland Browns return man Josh Cribbs and Arizona's rookie corner Patrick Peterson both notched touchdowns on punt returns against Baltimore and New York Jets Joe McKnight returned a kickoff for a TD as well. There were only four teams in the entire NFL that let up three touchdowns on returns in 2011... Awesome.
The Ravens also bolstered their special teams in the draft with CB Asa Jackson who was a prolific punt returner in college. Jackson can also serve as a gunner, he has all the tools to excel at the next level. He is a sure tackler and was one of the fastest players at the combine. If Asa hadn't come from such a small school (Cal Poly) he could have been drafted much earlier due to his special teams play and his outstanding play on defense. Luckily for the Ravens that was not the case.
Brendan Ayanbadejo has been the staple of the Ravens special teams for the past few season and although he performed admirably last season can't help but shoulder some of the blame for his units lack luster production.
"I’m looking forward to redemption this year," Ayanbadejo said. "The last few years we had a good special teams unit, but I’m looking for this year – with my fifth year and Coach Harbaugh and Coach Rosburg’s fifth year – for it to be our best year on special teams."
Last seasons leading tackler on special teams, OLB/ILB Albert McClellan, could see his role reduced on "teams" as he figures to be more of an integral part of the defense this season. Due to the loss of both of last years starting outside linebackers his knowledge of the system puts him a step ahead of the rest. McClellan showed great poise and awareness on defense last season when Ray Lewis went down with an injury. This, plus his sure tackling skills should keep him a step above his competition early in the year. It would not surprise me to see him start early on. He could most definitely be a diamond in the rough.
All of these veteran editions should help young players that hope to be bigger parts on offense and defense deal with having to make their names on special teams early in their careers. Brendon Ayanbadejo understands how that works an says he'll be ready to tutor the young guys on how to make an immediate impact no matter where they start their careers. Last season, due to players missing valuable OTA's, he felt the rookie class could have been a bit stronger in the third aspect of the game.
"They thought they were going to be Pro Bowlers on defense," Ayanbadejo said. "But really you have to embrace special teams. It wasn’t really the rookies’ fault. It was the circumstances with the CBA last year."