The Ravens have a new cast of characters on their coverage teams in 2013, but in last week's preseason loss, their punt coverage team experienced the kind of breakdown that plagued them during the playoffs in 2012.
In the first quarter of the loss to the Carolina Panthers, punter Sam Koch boomed a deep punt with decent hang time to Panthers returner Ted Ginn Jr., who fielded the punt at his 26-yard line. Gunners Chykie Brown and LaQuan Williams had broken free of jams at the line of scrimmage and appeared to have Ginn contained. But Brown whiffed on a tackle attempt, giving Ginn an opportunity to turn up the field and the space to accelerate.
Still, the punt coverage unit appeared to have leverage with Ginn's potential running lanes plugged up.
But Anthony Levine took one wrong step to his left into Arthur Brown's lane and got sealed off by a Panthers blocker. Suddenly, Ginn had a lane into the open field and was gone. Josh Bynes didn't have the speed to catch him from the backside and Koch, the last line of defense, had no chance against Ginn, who cut down the right sideline and cruised in for six.
At least it was a teaching moment for Jerry Rosburg, right?
"Those opportunities are certainly taken advantage of to try to teach off of that, but we'd certainly prefer it not be to that extreme," the special teams coordinator said. "It was really a classic example where we had won at the line of scrimmage, but we didn't sit well together. We didn't play good team defense, so to speak. And that's a part of growing up, and it's also a part of the learning process for players playing next to one another."
The top coverage teams are constructed with mostly young players. Some of the members of Thursday's punt coverage team such as Brown, Williams and Anthony Allen have been key special-teams contributors for the Ravens for a couple of years. Others like Bynes and Omar Brown have less than a year of NFL experience. Kyle Juszczyk and Arthur Brown are rookies.
But for Rosburg, each year brings a new challenge as his units are gutted by offseason departures and players like Corey Graham ascending into larger roles on offense or defense.
"That's the nature of our league. I think you build a team every year, and that is a part of that team. Our offense and defense have new elements in them as well, and our special teams have new elements in them, and then guys' roles change from year to year," Rosburg said. "When you go about it as a coach, what you're trying to do is to teach as many guys as many things as you possibly can and get good, and then you'll fit the parts together when you see the roster at the end."
Still, Rosburg didn't make any excuses for his punt coverage team. And even though there were new faces chasing after the punt returner, Ginn's 74-yard return for a touchdown brought back memories to last postseason, when the punt coverage team struggled to prevent big plays.
Denver Broncos returner Trindon Holliday scored on a punt return in the AFC divisional round -- he had a kickoff return, too -- and Ginn had a 32-yard punt return for the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. After a strong regular season, the Ravens allowed three punt returns of 28 or more yards and opponents averaged 22.3 yards per punt return during the playoffs.
"We can't give up touchdowns, and I don't care if it's in the preseason or regular season. It can't happen," Rosburg said four days after Ginn's return. "So we need to get better at that."