When Ravens Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg returned to the locker room following Monday night’s 23-16 win over the Houston Texans, he picked up his phone and saw it was blowing up.
“I figured something bad happened or something good happened,” Rosburg said Thursday. “I’m glad it was something good.”
Rosburg was named the “Gruden Grinder” by MNF commentator and former Super Bowl-winning head coach Jon Gruden, and Rosburg had a flood of congratulatory messages.
Rosburg often operates in the background, away from much of the media and fan attention given to offensive and defensive coordinators, but he’s been a huge reason for the Ravens’ special teams dominance over the years.
Yes, Head Coach John Harbaugh and his special teams background, and focus on that part of the game, certainly helps. But in his 39th year coaching and 10th in Baltimore, Rosburg leads the unit.
The Ravens have perhaps the best trio of specialists with kicker Justin Tucker, punter Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox, who have all been to the Pro Bowl. Rosburg was the one who found Tucker as an undrafted rookie gem in Texas.
In the annual special teams report from senior NFL writer Rick Gosselin, the Ravens’ special teams unit has been ranked in the top five for five-straight years.
The Ravens have struggled to score points this season, but their defense and special teams have largely carried them to a 6-5 record thus far.
It was no clearer than on Monday night. Tucker hit all three of his field-goal attempts, including from 49 and 53 yards. Koch set up the Ravens’ first touchdown of the game with a perfectly executed fake punt and pass to move the chains.
The fake was also well scripted by Rosburg and his staff. It looked very similar to another Koch fake pass two games earlier, but was a fake and go instead of a comeback route. The second was, literally, a spin-off of the first.
The next day, Koch was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. A day after that, Tucker won the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month. Both have previously won awards, but the “Gruden Grinder” was a first for Rosburg.
“It is an honor,” Rosburg said. “Coming from a Super Bowl champion football coach that understands the role of special teams and the big picture of things and how important it is – special teams, that is – for the win, we take it really as a whole special teams honor.”
One friend who reached out to Rosburg with congratulations had lost track of Rosburg and joked that he thought he was in the witness protection program. Another friend busted his chops even more.
“One individual said to me, ‘If this [praise] doesn’t stop soon, I’m going to have to shut my TV off before I vomit,’” Rosburg said with a chuckle. “These are real good friends that I have.”
The bonds that Rosburg cherishes at the Under Armour Performance Center are the ones with his players. He’s in a unique position where he’s often the first point of contact for young players who join the team. They all cut their teeth on special teams.
While the names and faces change, the Ravens have been able to consistently maintain a high level of performance because players are coached the right way.
One example is wide receiver Chris Moore, who had only been a kick returner in college, but has shined on coverage teams. He also made the big play to adjust and catch Koch’s fake punt pass against the Texans.
“His attention to detail and his passion for it are second to none,” Moore said of Rosburg. “He’s excited every day to coach us up. I know every week we’re going to be fully prepared. Whatever he tells us we’re going to see, we see on the field.”
Rosburg coaches his players hard. They are certain to hear his passion if they mess something up in practice. But he’s also their biggest advocate. Last week, he joked about the need for fans to vote Tucker, Koch, Cox, safety Anthony Levine and returner Michael Campanaro into the Pro Bowl.
“In this particular instance, I guess I would encourage Russian collusion,” he said. “They are in there anyway, so they might as well just click the button a few times. That would help us. Any Russians out there listening, vote for the Ravens.
“On a serious note, I’m really thankful for our players. Our guys work hard. It’s not easy playing special teams here, and our guys work really hard at it.”