Position Analysis: Special Teams

Leading up to the start of training camp, RavensInsider staffer Dev Panchwagh will extensively analyze each position on the Baltimore Ravens.

Kicking team: After putting together another successful campaign last season, kicker Matt Stover renewed his vows with the Ravens by signing a lucrative contract extension in the offseason. The move was necessary despite it being more of a short-term signing than a long-term one. Stover is money inside of the 40-yard line—he converted all 38 of his attempts within that range. However, at age 36, Stover has lost some range and accuracy on distance kicks; he can still make a 45-to-50 yard kick when he doesn't have to deal with a stiff gust of wind, but it's not a sure shot by any stretch.

The Ravens hope that Wade Richey can be the long distance specialist needed to spell Stover from time to time. However, Richey's first priority is as an ace kickoff specialist. Richey's ability to drive the ball deep down the field led to 9 touchbacks a year ago.

Dave Zastudil doubles as the punter and the holder. The third-year starter does a nice job of getting his kicks off quickly, in addition to trapping the ball inside of the 20-yard line with decent consistency. However, there have been too many instances when Zastudil hasn't gotten enough distance on his punts despite possessing the live leg to spot the ball wherever he needs to.

There shouldn't be any worries about the snaps being clean and on time, as Joe Maese is among the better long snappers in the NFL.

Coverage Units: Punt coverage should be strong for another year in a row. The Ravens gave up just 8.4 yards per attempt last year, while no punt returner was able to score a touchdown against this unit. Pro Bowl specialist Adalius Thomas, easily the best gunner in the NFL, leads the coverage units. Thomas possesses a rare combination of acceleration and strength to break double teams. Gerome Sapp, Musa Smith, Harold Morrow and Raymond Walls also contribute.

And then there is Ed Reed threatening to block every punt in sight. Reed is usually too speedy for a blocker to handle without help. If he doesn't just blur past them, he will break the block down by using an assortment of juke moves.

Kickoff coverage started out well, but faded as the season progressed. Some of that had to with Thomas being injured for the last three games of the season, although specialists Bart Scott, Will Demps and T.J. Slaughter picked up some of the slack.

Returners: This remains the biggest question mark of the special teams. Although the return game had some bright moments a year ago, there was too much inconsistency. Overall, the Ravens statistically ranked near the bottom in both return categories; with the punt return average being at an embarrassing 7.7 yards per clip.

To rectify the situation, the Ravens used a seventh-round draft pick to select Derek Abney, one of the top kick/punt returners out of the college ranks. Abney is compact, has great takeoff speed, and the durability to continue to run past defenders once he's in the clear.

Still, Abney will not simply be crowned the team's ace return man. He will have to wrestle the job away from the incumbent starter, Lamont Brightful. Brightful is a player that has the power, speed and elusiveness to hit homeruns, but he also tends to strike out too often by muffing punts and using poor judgment when fielding. Specifically, Brightful lacks the feel for when to catch the ball or let it drop.

Chester Taylor and Javin Hunter may also be in the mix as backup kick returners.

Grade: B


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