Now that he's officially with the Ravens, Kenjon Barner will challenge rookie James Proche II to handle punt/kickoff return duties this season.
Barner has the edge in experience and he's explosive, which he displayed on a 78-yard punt return touchdown with the Atlanta Falcons last season. However, it will be imperative for Barner to show consistency during training camp. Barner muffed four punts in 2019 and the Ravens stress ball security with returners.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said last week that it's Proche's "role to win" and that he believes he's "the man for the job." However, without the benefit of a preseason, Proche will enter Week 1 without live NFL game experience if he wins the job.
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton looks forward to seeing practice reps from both Barner and Proche.
"In Kenjon, it just gives us another opportunity to bring in another guy, a veteran guy that has some experience," Horton said. "That is a spot that we are lacking, so it just gives a little bit of an insurance policy. And I think that's one thing that we are going to be working on; we are going to be working on making sure that he can catch the ball [and] he can hang onto the ball, so we can be productive [in] that phase.
"James is a good player, and he's been working. But without any preseason games, I think it is going to be my job and the job of my assistants of making sure that we put him in those game-like situations, so when he is our guy and he wins that job, he's been put in those situations."
Proche returned both punts and kickoffs at SMU, so he's capable of handling both roles. He impressed the Ravens with how naturally and confidently he caught punts at the Senior Bowl, and Proche averaged 7.6 yards per punt return and 19.8 yards per kick return over his college career.
"After the catch, he's really quick – one step, hit it and get it, is really what I like to say," Horton said. "This guy can catch the ball, and he can get north and south really quick, and that's what we want to see from our punt returners."
Tavon Young Is 'Moving Really Well,' Shaking Off Rust
When Tavon Young missed last season with a neck injury, the Ravens lost one of the NFL's top slot corners. Now Young is back healthy, and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale is delighted.
"He's moving really well," Martindale said. "He's shaking any rust that he had off. He's going to be back to being Tavon Young really soon and we're excited about it."
Not only is Young excellent in coverage, he's a sure tackler and a playmaker. In 2018, he returned two fumble recoveries for touchdowns.
Young will join Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Jimmy Smith to give Baltimore perhaps the NFL's deepest cornerback rotation.
"The way we look at it right now is we have three starting corners; they'd be No. 1 corners any place else, any other team that they're on," Martindale said. "It's been a great combination, and it's great getting those guys back."
Earl Thomas III Is Going '100 Miles an Hour'
Although he made the Pro Bowl for the seventh time in his career last season, safety Earl Thomas III had a few adjustments to make in his first season with the Ravens. He was playing in a new system and was coming off a season-ending leg injury suffered during his final year with the Seattle Seahawks.
Now Thomas has a year under his belt in Baltimore and he has recently posted images of his sleek physique on Instagram. Martindale senses Thomas is ready to have a stellar season.
"Earl is just getting ready to add another year to his Hall-of-Fame career," Martindale said. "He's coming in great shape. Last year, he was coming in off of the leg injury, if you all remember, and it took him a little while to get going. Now, he's going 100 miles an hour and he looks like he's ready to go, to me."
Greg Roman Preparing for the Unexpected
Preparing for a season during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges for every team. Nobody is certain if any teams will be impacted severely by illness, but Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman says depth and flexibility will be important if some players miss extended time.
The Ravens had the league's highest-scoring offense last year, and they want to build off that success regardless of what transpires this season.
"You just don't have a crystal ball," Roman said. "There's a lot of factors that could happen – what if's? I think you have to plan for some of those scenarios. You have to be as flexible and adaptable as possible, certainly from a personnel standpoint. There's definitely possibilities that you're going to need a lot of guys to play in the course of the year. That could happen. It's definitely something we're trying to build for to be as adaptable as possible."
Check out the action from Wednesday's training camp practice.