Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Ravens sign special-teams aces Graham, Ayanbadejo

OWINGS MILLS - Behind the scenes, the Baltimore Ravens felt a slow burn about the rough state of their special teams last season.

It was an exercise in frustration marked by the Ravens uncharacteristically allowing three touchdown returns, tying a franchise worst.

So, the Ravens aggressively reacted to that substandard situation Friday as they loaded up their special teams.

Chicago Bears Pro Bowl special-teams ace Corey Graham signed a two-year deal that averages $1.85 million per year and tops $2 million if playing time incentives are triggered. The deal includes a $1.2 million signing bonus.

They retained three-time Pro Bowl special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo with a three-year contract worth at least $3.22 million that includes a $400,000 signing bonus. And they signed veteran safety Sean Considine to a one-year deal.

"It's certainly something that we felt coming out of the season that we really needed to do," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, a former special-teams coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles. "We weren't as good there as we needed to be. We need to be more explosive. We need to cover kicks better. We have good specialists, but that core group needs to be more dominant. These are the types of guys that will help us do that."

The Ravens ranked second from the bottom of the NFL in average yards given up on kickoff returns, a 29.2 average. with the New York Jets' Joe McKnight running one kickoff back 107 yards for a score in the longest return against Baltimore in franchise history. The Ravens finished 24th in punt return average allowed, an 11.9 average bloated by giving up two punt returns for touchdowns.

"I think the biggest failure was that the players failed the coaches," said Ayanbadejo, who ranked second on the team with nine special-teams tackles last season behind Albert McClellan. "The coaches did the same thing they've done every year. It wasn't the coaches' fault. It was purely on the players. When these young guys come in, they have to understand that they're going to cover a kick before they go out there and cover a receiver.

"They're going to cover a kick before the run a route. I don't think last year's group got that. They felt like they were going to come in and try to surpass special teams and go play on defense. Their priorities were in the wrong places."

Graham realizes the importance of special teams while doubling as a nickel back who intercepted a career-high three passes for the Bears last season.

Graham had 22 special-teams tackles and one forced fumble last season.

"It's what made me who I am today," Graham said upon being introduced in a press conference at the Ravens' training complex. "It's what kept me in this league. There were times it was all I was doing.

"I put a lot into it. I study, I care about the way I play. I figure if I'm going to be doing special teams, I want to be the best special teams player in the league."

The Ravens plan to utilize Graham on defense and on special teams, covering kickoffs and punts.

Since 2007, Graham has 104 special-teams tackles as the Bears allowed the lowest punt-return average of 6.5 in the NFL.

"He's a guy kind of like me where you're going to scheme against him," said Ayanbadejo, who played with Graham in Chicago. "He's a Pro Bowler just like myself. They can double-team him and I'll go and make all the plays."

A former fifth-round draft pick from New Hampshire, Graham is physical and fast at 6-foot, 196 pounds.

"He's an outside guy that just makes plays," Harbaugh said. "He's a dominant gunner. He's a dominant kickoff cover guy. He's going to make a difference on our coverage teams."

The Ravens lost backup safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski to the Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts via free agency.

They were key figures on special teams. That prompted the Ravens to sign Considine to cover kicks and provide depth behind starting safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard.

Considine, 30, is a former Philadelphia Eagles starter who has also played for the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals.

He has recorded 253 career tackles, four interceptions, 2 1/2 sacks, four interceptions, five fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

"When we ended the season, John and I talked about the need to get better players for special teams, especially with kick coverage," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Corey and Sean will improve that area for us."

Four signings Friday, including McClain, brings the Ravens' total of signings to six with six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk and reserve linebacker Chavis Williams previously retained. The Ravens have lost linebacker Jarret Johnson, defensive end Cory Redding, Pro Bowl offensive guard Ben Grubbs, Zbikowski and Nakamura to other teams.

The Ravens were at $4.664 million under the NFL salary cap prior to Friday's transactions.

"Obviously, we've been very patient and we've been working, trying to do things that will put us in position to make our team better," said Harbaugh, who didn't rule out more signings. "I think we're kind of methodical in our approach. We want to make smart decisions, we want to make wise decisions.

"And no one is better at that than Ozzie Newsome. In announcing these four moves, we're giving the indication that we're shoring up our team in certain areas, areas we think we need to improve, in some cases by keeping the guys we got, which is not easy to do as we all know. Further moves are possible."

NOTES: Harbaugh indicated that 6-foot-7, 330-pound second-year tackle Jah Reid, a third-round draft pick who played sparingly as a rookie last year, could be installed as the new left offensive guard to replace Grubbs. "That's definitely a possibility," he said. "He is definitely a possible answer at left guard. I would say right now today he is the left guard. He has to earn that spot. Our goal will be to put the best five offensive linemen on the field. I'd like to see him be one of those guys, but it's up to him to earn that spot." ... Ayanbadejo will celebrate his 36th birthday in September, but has maintained a high level of play through his demanding conditioning regimen. "Don't tell anybody how old I am," Ayanbadejo said. "Unless you mention it or look at my birth certificate, they don't know. I think I need to do what some of these baseball players are doing and go fudge my birth certificate and come up with a fake one. I'm feeling good, and I'm still going strong. I've got to show these young guys how to stay strong and keep it going and have a long, successful career. I'm excited to be that guy."