The Ravens are used to being the crème de la crème of NFL special teams units.
They've done a lot of good things already this season. The Ravens have already blocked two kicks, leading to comeback wins in Cleveland and Jacksonville. Baltimore leads the league in average yards per kickoff return and has the third-best kickoff coverage unit.
With that said, the punt coverage unit and returner Devin Hester Sr. have had their hiccups – in quite unusual fashion.
Hester has fumbled in back-to-back games. He muffed a punt in Jacksonville that was recovered by the Jaguars. He fumbled on the kickoff to begin the second half of the Raiders game, though he luckily fell on that one himself.
Hester only had one fumble on kickoff and punt returns over the last two seasons. He has two already this year.
"The biggest thing with my situation is I've got to stay patient," Hester said. "The two mistakes I made was being impatient, and treating like this is my one and last opportunity in a game to make something happen."
Opponents have largely been punting away from Hester, who is one of the NFL's greatest returners of all time with 19 career touchdowns. They've done a good job of it too, which is frustrating for Hester.
When he's gotten his opportunities, Hester admits he's tried to do too much. His fumble against the Raiders came when he tried to switch the ball to his other arm so he could throw a stiff-arm. He was hit as he tried to make the switch, sending the ball out.
"You're on a new team, you want to try to show everybody – the coaches, as well as your teammates – that you've got a guy back there trying to take it the distance," Hester said. "And it's tough when they're kicking away from you because you try to force something that's not there."
Hester is also dealing with a thigh issue that made him a limited practice participant all last week and out of practice Wednesday and Thursday this week. He returned to the field Friday.
The Ravens don't have many other options at punt returner. Safety Lardarius Webb or wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. could step in in a pinch, but the Ravens would prefer not to do that.
"This is the NFL; everybody is going to play through pain," Hester said. "You have to get as much treatment as you can and get in the best shape as you can before the game starts."
A* *separate issue is the Ravens' punt coverage. Baltimore has a Pro Bowl punter in Sam Koch, but they haven't done a good job covering his kicks.
Through the first quarter of the season, the Ravens rank 25th in the NFL in average yards allowed per punt return (14.6). They finished second in the league last year (5.0).
Baltimore surrendered a 42-yard punt in Jacksonville that instantly put the Jaguars in field-goal range. The Ravens yielded a 47-yard punt return to the Raiders that put them on the defense's 6-yard line, and scored a touchdown one play later.
"We are not frustrated. We know we need to improve," Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "There has been a lot of really good, honest assessment by our players about what we need to do – coaches being a part of that. I am really confident that we are going to be better going forward."
The Ravens have made some moves with regards to personnel. They promoted tight end Daniel Brown from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and signed safety Marqueston Huff this week. Both came in talking about playing special teams.
Rosburg said the team will also lean heavily on their veterans to help turn things around. Linebacker Albert McClellan and safety Anthony Levine are strong leaders, and Rosburg relayed a story from this week in which an unnamed player spoke up when reviewing mistakes.
"His statement was, 'I have to play better,'" Rosburg said. "We are going to be fine with attitudes like that."