The Baltimore Ravens will hold their first Organized Team Activity (OTA) next week (May 25th), with the specific purpose of working on Special Teams performance. The Ravens did pretty well with the Special Teams squad last year, ranking second in the league in kickoff returns (26.2 yard/return), led by Jalen Parmele's 31.4 average when he took over late last year after Lardarius Webb was lost for the season with a knee injury.
The Ravens didn't fare as well in the punt return arena, where they sat at 20th in the league, averaging just over seven yards per return, mostly from CB Chris Carr. Kickoff coverage results were excellent, as the team ranked fourth in the league on covering kickoffs, allowing only an average of 20.3 yards per return and zero touchdowns. However, they also ranked next-to-last in touchbacks with only four, compared to the league-leading Dallas Cowboys who had 29 touchbacks (Note: Only the Pittsburgh Steelers did worse than the Ravens, with just three touchbacks).
The Ravens have a bevy of players on their roster who could step in and earn the title of kick returner, be it for kickoffs or punt returns. The incumbents as we stand right now appear to be RB Jalen Parmele on kickoffs and CB Chris Carr on punts. However, not only does the team have veterans who can fill those roles, a few of the team's draft picks and undrafted rookies have return skills as part of their resumes. WR Mark Clayton returned punts in college and has done so for the Ravens. Of course, when he was healthy, Ed Reed was as dangerous a punt returner as there was in the league, but future prospects of Reed being part of the return game look slim due to his nagging injuries.
Lardarius Webb was looking to be the answer at kickoff returns but now after a serious knee injury and the team's desire to keep him healthy as a starting cornerback, his chance at regaining that job is also slim to none. While Parmele did a surprisingly good job, the team may be looking fo rmore of a speed burner back there and there are a few options with the newer guys on the roster.
WR David Reed was a solid kick returner in college and with our receiving corps very deep for a change, he's willing to do whatever is needed to make this roster. Same goes for CB's Prince Miller and Courtney Smith, and also undrafted rookie RB Curtis Steele, who like the others, has the size and speed to make defenses nervous.
Whomever takes the lead in the battle to nail down the returner jobs might not be decided in next week's mini-camp, but it surely will begin to open some eyes as to who might end having the leg up on the competition.
The placekicking competition seems to be non-existent,as whomever the team ends up bringing in to challenge current kicker Billy Cundiff will probably only be there to motivate him and keep him company. Cundiff's leg will be on display next week at the OTA as well as punter Sam Koch. Don't expect any changes in those positions but the players should never get too complacent in their continuing attempt to improve.
Check out Mike Duffy's story on the kick returners on BaltimoreRavens.com.