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New Kickoff Rule Affecting Cuts

Ravens coaches have gotten less of a look at young players’ growth on special teams.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Wednesday, August 31st, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Categories: 2011 Season Gameday, Ryan Mink

Perhaps the best way for a young player to make an NFL roster is to stand out on special teams.

The problem this year is that there haven’t been as many opportunities to impress.

With the new kickoff rules, which have moved the starting point from the 30 to the 35-yard line, there have been more touchbacks in preseason games. Kicker Billy Cundiff already has 10 touchbacks in 14 preseason kickoffs. The Ravens had just two returns against the Washington Redskins last Thursday.

That is clouding the situation for Head Coach John Harbaugh as he and his staff draw closer to Saturday’s decision on who to keep and who to cut.

Asked how he plans on evaluating the players trying to make the roster through special teams, Harbaugh said, “I don’t know, to be honest with you.”

“I think it’s a legitimate issue,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a negative for the young guys because it makes it tough for them to make the team.

“You can tell only so much in practice, like will a guy really go out and make a tackle? … A lot of times, early in the preseason, a guy will miss a couple [tackles] and then he’ll start making them. You can see the progress. We just haven’t had enough reps in the kickoff team to see it.”

Some rookies that could stand out on special teams include wide receiver LaQuan Williams (a special teams captain at Maryland) running backs Anthony Allen and Damien Berry, defensive backs Chykie Brown and Mana Silva, and linebackers Josh Bynes and Chavis Williams.

They’re battling other veterans who have made their living mostly on special teams, including wide receiver Marcus Smith, running back Jalen Parmele, safety Haruki Nakamura, and linebackers Brendon Ayanbadejo, Prescott Burgess and Jason Phillips.

Harbaugh was specifically asked about Williams’ progress on special teams after the rookie had a 38-yard punt return to set up Baltimore’s game-winning score versus the Redskins.

“I think he will [contribute], but I also think he’s not there yet,” Harbaugh said.

“The fact that we haven’t been able to cover kicks in our preseason games is a problem, and it means that he’s not there yet as a kickoff cover guy and he’s not there yet as a gunner. So, he’s got a lot of work to do in that area, too. So, he’s a work in progress.”

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