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Leading up to the start of training camp, 24×7 will preview the 2007 Baltimore Ravens position-by-position. Today we will analyze the special teams.
A year ago, the biggest addition to the special teams unit was the employment of Fran Gansz Jr. as the head coordinator. Gansz infused a level of energy into the coverage and return teams that was sorely needed. He also created new blocking schemes and return tactics that helped spring a couple of big plays.
Results could be that much better, as the players will have a complete understanding of Ganszâ€™s fundamental approach on special teams.
Kickoff/Punt Coverage: The Ravens have room for improvement in both areas. On kickoffs, the team gave up an average of 23.3 yards per attempt; on punts, it gave up a net average of 38.3 yards, which ranked near the bottom of the league.
Clearly, there is also a need for kicks to go deeper. The team enters yet another season having to make a decision on whether to keep an extra kicker to serve as the kickoff specialist, or stick with Matt Stover, who has trouble getting the ball beyond the 10-yard mark.
In terms of coverage, the group should be solid. Stalwarts like Gary Stills, Mike Smith, Gerome Sapp and Musa Smith will remain in their crash roles. In addition, the organization acquired Le’Ron McClain and Prescott Burgess â€“ two of the better special teams performers from the draft.
Kick/Punt Returns: Heading into the off-season, the team was already steady in the return game, but following the acquisition of Yamon Figurs, it could end up being one of the most explosive groups in the league.
B.J. Sams should be able to return to form from the broken ankle injury he suffered against Cincinnati in November. Without Sams in the lineup at the end of the season, the return unit was a mess. Although Sams lacks top-end speed, he has the moves and suddenness to make defenders miss in the open field. He is especially dangerous on punt returns.
Figurs is a potential star in waiting. The former Big 12 standout is a home run hitter with outstanding acceleration and burst. No defender will be able to catch Figurs in a straight-line race.
It will be interesting to see if the coaches keep both Sams and Figurs. If it is not feasible to hold a roster spot open for both specialists, expect Figurs to get the nod, as long as he is able to cleanly field punts and kicks.
Kicking and Punting: Stover remains an ageless wonder. In his 16th season, Stover nailed 93.3 percent of his attempts, which was the highest percentage he hit on at any point in his career. He even sank a 52-yard shot outside of his range to seal a victory against Cleveland. If the kick is set up anywhere within the 40-yard range, Stover is automatic.
Second-year punter Sam Koch was steady in his rookie season. Although he still needs to gain better consistency, Koch did a nice job of punting accurately in key situations. He has a more powerful leg and gets rid of the ball quickly.
Matt Katula is an efficient and dependable long snapper.