Brendon Ayanbadejo Expects Best Special Teams Yet

The addition of Pro Bowler Corey Graham and more coaching for the rookies will help.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Thursday, May 24th, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Categories: Ryan Mink

Brendon Ayanbadejo said he walks with a swagger and feels 6-foot-4 when the Ravens’ special-teams units are excelling.

The Ravens’ ace didn’t say what size he felt last year when the unit had some problems, but simply said he was glad he could brag about the defense.

Much of the Ravens’ focus in free agency this year was on special teams, and Ayanbadejo feels the addition of reigning NFC special teams Pro Bowler Corey Graham, veteran safety Sean Considine, returner Jacoby Jones, as well as more tutoring for the team’s rookies, will make a big difference.

“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.”

Baltimore’s special-teams unit allowed three touchdowns via return on special teams. Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson notched punt returns for touchdowns. New York’s Joe McKnight got one on a kick return. Only three other teams allowed three special-teams touchdowns.

The Ravens allowed 9.6 yards per punt return (ranked 19thin the NFL) and allowed 11.9 yards (24th). They averaged 24.9 yards per kickoff return (9th) and allowed 29.2 yards (31st).

Ayanbadejo put some of the blame on himself. But he also said the lack of an offseason due to the lockout was a big factor.

Generally, rookies come to the team and quickly understand they are fourth- or fifth-stringers battling for a roster spot. But last year, the roster wasn’t yet complete when the rookies arrived, and Ayanbadejo believes the rookies came into training camp as first or second-string players.

Thus, they didn’t focus as much on special teams, which when combined with less time to hone their skills, they didn’t produce the best results.

“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.”

Ayanbadejo takes pride in being the leader of the special-teams unit considering it’s been his calling card for the last nine years. It’s also a large reason why the 35-year-old veteran re-signed for three years in Baltimore.

But he has more help in mentoring the rookies this year.

The Ravens’ addition of Jones should add more playmaking to the return game. He averaged 10.6 yards per punt return last year with one touchdown and five returns over 40 yards.

Graham and Considine adds more veterans to the special-teams unit and offsets the loss of free-agent safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski, who finished third and fourth, respectively, in team special-teams tackles last season.

“It’s kind of like a tradeoff,” Ayanbadejo said. “Hopefully we upgraded and you’re going to see more plays and things like that. For it being as early as it is, I’m pretty happy with how things are going and communication and the gelling of the team.”

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