Before becoming the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh was a special teams coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, which is why his team is always the best or among the best at returning kicks. After an injury-plagued season that saw the team finish with one of the worst records in the league, the Ravens are hoping to bounce back this season and become NFL football lines favorites once again.
Over the past three seasons, the Ravens have used seven different players to return punts, yet the team averages 11.7-yards per return, which is the best in the league during the span. The fact that the team can lead the league in punt return yards despite the revolving door situation they have had at the position in recent years is a testament that Harbaugh is still one of the best special teams coaches in the NFL.
In Thursday’s preseason opener, the Ravens used Keenan Reynolds and Kaelin Clay as their punt returners, and both of them dropped punts. As expected, Harbaugh was not happy with their performance and told reporters afterwards that the team is looking for returners that can catch the ball.
Harbaugh’s comments serve two purposes, the first one being he tried to light a fire under his punt returners, and the second was a message that if they do not improve soon, the team will make changes at the position.
During training camp, the Ravens tried to help their returners secure the ball better using different drills. The returners have been asked to hold three balls while trying to catch a punt, and they have had to throw the ball in the air while receiving a punt and catch both balls.
The drills did not seem to make much of a difference on Thursday, as both men dropped a punt each.
According to reports, Michael Campanaro has been the team’s most sure-handed punt returner, but he has been unable to stay healthy. Campanaro missed the offseason due to a calf injury and hasn’t been able to participate in training camp for the past two seasons.
The Ravens are very high on Reynolds, who was a sixth-round pick and a former college quarterback turned receiver. The team understands that it will take some time before he gets to the level they expect him to play at, but they need him to protect the ball better than he did against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday.
Reynolds, who had a very successful career at Navy, was called a work in progress by Harbaugh. The head coach said he liked what he saw from Reynolds, but he still has a lot of work to do. Harbaugh said he expects Reynolds to learn fast, but that the team was not giving up on him.
Clay was productive as a punt returner for the Ravens last season and returned a punt for an 82-yard touchdown against the Cleveland Browns. However, his inability to field a punt on Thursday led to a touchdown for the Panthers, which is something the team cannot afford to have happened once the season starts.