Clearly the most overlooked part of football is special teams. All too often they are taken for granted.
Something that is as seemingly simple as a PAT doesn’t just become an automatic overnight. The perfectly fired snap, spun just right with the proper velocity and aimed towards the waiting hands of the holder.
The ball consists of highly polished leather, slick by nature and almost eel-like when dampened.
Within fractions of a second the holder places the ball on the turf, spins and angles it to the kickers liking and then in an instant a thunderous thud sends the ball tumbling through the sky and over the outstretched arms of men who reach over 10 feet tall and through a couple of poles 18 feet, 6 inches apart.
Mess up on that PAT and the 1-point could be the difference between winning and losing or worse, a playoff berth or being home on the couch during the postseason.
Outside of the kicker and the long-snapper, players don’t enter the NFL with dreams of being a special teams player. Yet to realize their dreams for many, “teams” are part of the journey.
Teams are the table setters. They can lengthen the field for opposing offenses and shorten the field for Joe Flacco & Company.
But what makes a good special teams player?
If you listen to most NFL ballers, playing special teams is about desire and the goal of showing up on film in a positive way. The hope is that in doing so, players may be considered for bigger roles on offense or defense. Yet it doesn’t always work out that way.
Some rosters, the Ravens’ included, are built from the bottom up. Strength of a roster isn’t measured by the contributions of the best players but from those of the 53rd man on up. And it’s there that you find your “teams” guys. Coaches refer to this as “building a roster from the bottom up.”
For example, Anthony Allen isn’t necessarily the third best running back the Ravens have at their disposal. However, he possesses a defensive mentality and he happens to be the best special teams player to play running back.
Similarly a player listed as the fourth or fifth wide receiver or the third safety doesn’t necessarily have to be better at that position. He does however need to make an impact on teams.
Oftentimes, such players are undrafted free agents or players discarded by other clubs. The UDFA’s are desperate, hungry and hoping to survive. They are willing teams participants hoping to make their mark. The team appreciates them because they represent relatively inexpensive labor that the organization can retain for a decent amount of time.
Some graduate and move on to other clubs once they’ve made their mark and the Ravens don’t regard that as a loss but instead as a sign that the system works.
Cary Williams was discarded by the Titans and worked his way through. Ditto for Dannell Ellerbe. Now a player like Adrian Hamilton could be the next to go from practice squad to special teams to starter.
There’s clearly a process and it’s one that the Ravens are continually refining so that that they can maximize every salary cap dollar while gaining a competitive advantage…
From the bottom up!