Ravens Aggressively Bolster Special Teams

Baltimore had problems on STs, so it added a Pro Bowler and re-signed another.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Friday, March 23rd, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Categories: Ryan Mink

At the end of last season, the Ravens were atypically near the bottom of the league in special teams.

They were 31st in the league in average yards surrendered on kickoff returns. They were 24th on average yards allowed on punt returns. They yielded three returns for touchdowns.

That doesn’t sit well with the Ravens and Head Coach John Harbaugh, who first made a name for himself in the NFL as a special teams coordinator.

Harbaugh and General Manager Ozzie Newsome talked about the need to get better players on special teams during Baltimore’s offseason personnel meeting.

The Ravens aggressively did so on Friday, signing free agent cornerback Corey Graham and safety Sean Considine and re-signing linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.

“We weren’t as good there as we needed to be,” Harbaugh said of special teams.

“We need to be more explosive, we need to cover kicks better. We have good specialists, we feel like, but that core group needs to be more dominant and these are the types of guys that will help us do that.”

It starts with bringing back Ayanbadejo, who Newsome called the leader of the unit. Newsome said he’s “valuable to everything we do on special teams.”

Ayanbadejo was disappointed with last year’s performance and said it was a problem with the players, not Harbaugh or Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg.

“I think the biggest failure was that the players failed the coaches,” Ayanbadejo said. “The coaches did the same thing they’ve done every other year.”

While saying he missed some plays himself, Ayanbadejo wasn’t shy about pointing to a lack of commitment from the team’s younger players as the main problem on special teams.

“These young guys come in and they have to understand they’re going to cover a kick before they go out there and cover a receiver. They’re going to cover a kick before they run a route,” Ayanbadejo said.

“I don’t think last year’s group got that. They felt like they were going to come in and try to surpass special teams and go play defense. Their priorities were in the wrong places.”

Ayanbadejo said there is an “order” to how football is played. Rookies must contribute on special teams first, and then eventually grow into playing offense or defense, and then become a starter.

That’s how he came through the league and earned a spot as a linebacker. Ayanbadejo still hangs his hat on special teams, even at 35 years old and with nine years in the league. He finished second on the team with nine special teams tackles last year.

“Special teams is one-third of the game,” Ayanbadejo said. “But for some guys, it’s the only part of the game and it’s the most important part of the game. You have to dedicate yourself to that part of the game and not the other phases.”

A player who also understands that is Graham. He spent his first five years with the Bears excelling on special teams, and is signing with Baltimore to continue that, but also to show himself at cornerback.

Graham said special teams means “everything” to him. He was the NFC’s Pro Bowl special teams representative after recording 22 special teams tackles and one forced fumble with the Chicago Bears last season.

“[Special teams] is what got me by, it’s what made me who I am today,” Graham said. “It’s what kept me in this league. There were times it was all I was doing. I put a lot into it. I study, I care about the way I play. I figure if I’m going to be doing special teams, I want to be the best special teams player in the league.”

Graham will play on all the special teams units. Between he and Ayanbadejo, it will be difficult for teams to assign double teams, and will open up more plays for other special teamers.

“He’s an outside guy that just makes plays,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a dominant gunner, he’s a dominant kickoff cover guy. He’s going to make a big difference on our coverage teams.”

Ayanbadejo played with Graham during the 2007 season and played a part in recruiting him to Baltimore.

“He’s a guy kind of like me where you’re going to scheme against him,” Ayanbadejo said before cracking a joke. “He’s a Pro Bowler just like myself. They can double-team him and I’ll go and make all the plays.”

Considine played in eight games with the Arizona Cardinals last year and had eight tackles. The former gritty, hard-hitting Iowa Hawkeye played for Harbaugh for three years in Philadelphia.

Like departed safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, Considine will be expected to be a big figure on special teams in Baltimore.

“When we ended the season, John [Harbaugh] and I talked about the need to get better players for special teams, especially with kick coverage,” Newsome said. “Corey and Sean will improve that area for us.”

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