When John Harbaugh was hired as head coach before the 2008 season, his expertise was special teams. Naturally, Baltimore Ravens fans expected extremely good special teams play from the home team. In 2009, special teams play was solid, not special. Part of the reason for just solid special teams were injuries and a transition and place kicker. Matt Stover’s contract expired at the end of the 2008 and the Ravens went younger and cheaper. There will be improvement in 2010 and I don’t think Ravens fans would expect any less.
Kicker – Harbaugh opted to go with Steve Hauschka to begin the year as the Ravens starting kicker. Hauschka had a rough start to the year missing several field goals wide left. He possibly cost the Ravens two games within the first six. The most notable game, of course, was Week 6 against the Vikings when Hauschka pushed the game-winning field goal left dropping the Ravens to 3-3 before their bye week. For the last seven games, the Ravens signed Billy Cundiff. Cundiff shored up the kicking game and helped push the Ravens into the playoffs. For now, it is unknown if the Ravens will re-sign Cundiff, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Punter – Sam Koch was his usual, efficient self in 2009. Koch routinely pushed opponents far back in their own territory the entire season. However, Koch did have a punt blocked. His punt average was very close to his career average. I thought Koch did an especially good job being the holder for each of Baltimore’s kickers. Not much more to say about Koch except I think he will be fine next season and the Ravens will be happy to have him back.
Long Snapper – Matt Katula had an uneven season as the Ravens long snapper, to say the least. At the beginning of the year, Baltimore’s woes in the kicking game started with Hauschka, at the end of the season, the blame could be placed squarely on Katula. Katula had several bad snaps on field goals that Koch had to handle or forced the kicker’s timing to be off. In addition, on punts Katula routinely snapped the ball wildly to Koch forcing the timing being off. I will chalk this up to the tendinitis in his forearm and elbow and think he will have a bounce back season in 2010.
Kick Returner – The Baltimore Ravens used a variety of kick returners this past season for a few reasons. Chris Carr was a free agent acquisition before 2009 to solidify the nickel package on defense and to return punts and kicks. Carr wound up being average returning kicks and even cost the Ravens an opening game possession when he lost a fumble in Week 4 against New England. Eventually Lardarius Webb took over and excelled in that role. Webb was very good returning kicks even going the distance one time this season. Sadly, Webb’s season came to an end when he tore his ACL. With Webb out, Jalen Parmele took over. Parmele was very good returning kicks and may have locked down a spot as kick returner for 2010. After Webb and Parmele took over the kick return job, Baltimore’s field position improved and aided their playoff run. I don’t know what the coaching staff is thinking for 2010, but Parmele or Webb returning kicks won’t be a bad thing.
Punt Returner – Carr also was signed to return punts for the Baltimore Ravens. He started out very slowly fair catching most of the punts in the first half of the season, however, towards the end of the season, Carr was following his blocks and getting chunks of yards on returns. His development as punt returner was a good thing to see as he will be back in 2010 to return punts and hopefully make less fair catches.
The Ravens special teams is a very solid unit and should aim to even be stronger in the upcoming season. With Webb back the kick return game will be a strong point for Baltimore. Katula will hopefully be healed up and the kicking issues will be solved. I would expect the Ravens to sign Cundiff and have an undrafted free agent kicker to provide competition in camp. Koch will be back and have another solid season.