Small moves could have major impact for the Ravens

March 26, 2012|Mike Preston

Corey Graham and Sean Considine came with little fanfare when they signed with the Ravens last week, certainly not delivering the splash of a Peyton Manning or Tim Tebow.

But they could end up being the difference between not making an appearance in the postseason or earning a trip to the Super Bowl.

Both Graham and Considine are special teams' performers, which means they aren't household names. Few fans care about special teams until they botch a snap, get a kick blocked or allow a return for a touchdown.

The Ravens allowed three returns for touchdowns last season. They were No. 31 out of 32 teams in kickoff return average and 24th in punt returns. So, while the announcements of Graham and Considine as well as the return of linebackers Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo didn't stir a lot of emotion around town last weekend, the Ravens got better.

Special teams are one third of the game, and with Graham and Considine, along with Ayanbadejo, the Ravens have rediscovered the missing ingredient on special teams. They now have veterans who will play their roles with passion.

The Ravens didn't have that a year ago. Except for Ayanbadejo, they mostly had young players on special teams, and lots of them don't care. They were big time stars in college, and believe it's only a matter of time before they are starters on offense or defense.

Graham and Considine come with different mind sets. Considine is entering his eighth year and Graham his sixth. They make their livings and support their families by playing well on special teams.

If they don't, good bye.

"Sean is a very solid player," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, who coached Considine when they were in Philadelphia. "He is smart and always in the right spot. Corey Graham is a great, dominant special teams player. We wanted some veterans, at least one dominant veteran at every position so they can teach the others about what it takes to perform in this league."

Considine has been with five teams and has 251 career tackles. Graham had 16 special teams tackles last season for the Chicago Bears and was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team.

Besides the Ravens, four other teams showed interest inGraham. A year ago, opposing teams could double Ayanbadejo and that caused major problems. But who do you double now, Ayanbadejo, Graham or Considine?

Like Ayanbadejo who also plays in nickel and dime coverages, Graham can also play two roles. He will become the Ravens fourth cornerback behind Cary Williams, Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith giving the Ravens more options in passing situations.

The announcement of McClain's return was not surprising. He's a good playerbut not a physical specimen who commands attention on the open market. McClain has played well as a starter the past two seasons and his unselfish style is the perfect complement playing next to inside linebacker Ray Lewis. Now if Lewis, about to enter his 17th year, retires at the end of 2012, the Ravens have their inside linebacker of the future, and it didn't cost them a fortune to bring back McClain.

"There just wasn't a lot of activity in the market for inside linebackers," Harbaugh said. "I think he really liked it here. He went out and tested the market and came back to us. I think Ozzie Newsome does a great job of being honest with these guys and telling them our number. And then he is very patient."

The Ravens still need to make improvements, especially on the offensive line. It remains to be seen if they can overcome the loss of left guard Ben Grubbs who signed with New Orleans.

That move caused the delay in other possible moves like putting second year player Jah Reid in at right tackle and moving Michael Oher back over to left tackle. Reid will compete for Grubbs' old job, but he doesn't have the foot speed or the quickness of Grubbs.

The Ravens also will have to find one to two backups on the offensive line and another defensive tackle who can play inside. The Ravens still have the April draft, but all their needs can't be filled there.

They're still going to have to make several more moves in free agency, and these won't make big splashes either. The Ravens don't have a lot of cap room, but that doesn't mean they can't get better.

They did by adding Graham and Considine, and bringing back McClain and Ayanbadejo.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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