What Changes Do the Ravens Need to Make?- Part III: Special Teams

The final piece to the puzzle falls into place with this final post. I continue to follow the lead of Matt Vensel at the Sun in trying to figure out just what the Ravens need to do to get over the hump and battle for another trophy.

We now examine an area that was fairly dreadful aside from the stellar punting of Sam Koch – Special Teams.

The focus would begin on the kicking game and Billy Cundiff. When your name becomes a verb synonymous with failure, that can’t be a good thing. But he wasn’t the only problem. The coverage units were sloppy this season as they gave up three returns for touchdowns and ranked near the bottom of league in return average. The return game was fairly uninteresting too with big plays being a rarity.

What needs to change? Let’s take a look.

1. Give Cundiff some competition

I, like most were quickly calling for Cundiff’s head on the chopping block after his huge miss failed for force Overtime in the AFC Title game. But as I’ve had time to cool down I realize that it really isn’t the way to go. I agree that he should return but the team should bring in competition and make him win the job.

I was a bit surprised and pleased at how the team has been behind Cundiff. Cundiff said as much too. In the days of Twitter and Facebook it’s easy for players to send out their feelings quickly and the shock and horror that was displayed by some of the sidelines after that huge miss had to be tough to swallow. It would have been easy to bury him.

Still if he makes the squad, he will have that kick hanging over his head all through the 2012 season and beyond. He’ll need some tremendous mental focus to handle the pressure and scrutiny that he’d be under if he did come back. 

There are some interesting options on the free agent market as of right now, Josh Scobee (Jaguars), Connor Barth (Buccaneers), and Matt Prater (Broncos) are all on the market in addition to two kickers that Ravens fan already are familiar with in Steven Hauschka (Seahawks) and Graham Gano (Redskins).

2. Build a core on special teams

This past season the team got rid of several specialists such as Marcus Smith, Tavares Gooden, and Prescott Burgess in an effort to go younger. That inexperience showed in the coverage this season.

The team has players like Albert McClellan, Laquan Williams and Emmanuel Cook who could be very good in a Special Teams role but they need time. That makes the re-singing of Brendon Ayanbadejo and Haruki Nakamura all the more important so they can help this group as they grow.

3. Bring in a return specialist

The Ravens have been trying to find an answer at both Punt and Kick returner for several seasons now. Is it time to either draft or sign a pure return specialist this season? Maybe Ted Ginn Jr. or Eric Weems could be available but I’m sure at what price at this stage.

The best bet would probably be to try and acquire a player in the draft in the latter rounds who has some breakaway ability like Jermaine Lewis almost ten seasons ago.

I wouldn’t totally dismiss the idea of solving the problem in-house. David Reed shouldn’t be totally disregarded yet. Yes, he’s had troubles with focus and his nightmare game in Seattle was instrumental in that defeat and the loss of his return job. However, if you look at his numbers in 18 Returns he averaged 29.7 yards a return. Only the league leader Joe McKnight of the Jets had a better average (31.6) than that. He deserves another look.

Tandon Doss didn’t find the field very much in 2011. He has experience in college returning punts. I’d be interested to see if he could do the job. Laquan Williams is also an interesting option. He has speed to spare but struggled at times with his hands. He might deserve a chance to compete as well.

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