Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said he has been looking forward to August 12th, because the entire team will be on the same schedule.
Newly signed kick returner Kenjon Barner will give the Ravens an “insurance policy” as they assess rookie James Proche’s readiness to seize the role, special teams coordinator Chris Horton said.
“Here you’ve got a veteran guy coming in,” Horton said on a Zoom call Wednesday, a few hours after the Ravens announced Barner’s signing. “When you’re looking at that position, we just want to have an opportunity to evaluate, see what he can do and let him go out there and compete with our young guys. In football, everything is earned. Nothing is ever given.”
Barner, 31, is an eight-year veteran who’s accumulated 100 carries and 416 yards as a reserve running back. In 14 games last season for the Atlanta Falcons, Barner averaged 7.6 yards per punt return, scoring on a 78-yard return, and 23.9 yards per kick return. He also muffed four punts, losing one fumble.
“We’re going to be working to make sure that he can catch the ball and hang on to the ball so we can be productive in that phase,” Horton said.
The Ravens juggled returners last year as they sought more production from an area where they’d excelled in previous seasons. De’Anthony Thomas finished the season as their top returner but opted out of playing in 2020.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Friday that Proche will have to win the punt returner role, but “I believe he’s up for the challenge. He’s the man for the job.”
Horton noted that Proche returned kickoffs at SMU and could handle those duties as well.
“It’s not easy coming in from college … but he’s got great ball skills,” Horton said. “This guy can catch the ball and get north and south really quick. That’s what we want to see from our punt returner.”
Tavon Young ready
Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said slot cornerback Tavon Young is “moving well and shaking any rust that he had off” as he returns from a neck injury that cost him the entire 2019 season.
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The Ravens made a three-year, $25.8 million investment in Young before last season, so they’re eager to have him back as a key playmaker in the middle of a talent-stacked secondary. He produced an interception, two sacks and three fumble recoveries in 2018.
Thomas going 100 mph
Martindale also praised the early form of veteran safety Earl Thomas III, who made his seventh Pro Bowl last season in his Ravens debut.
“Earl’s just getting ready to add another year to his Hall of Fame career,” the Ravens defensive coordinator said. “He’s coming in in great shape. Last year, he was coming off a leg injury … and it took a little while for him to get going. But now, he’s going 100 miles per hour, and it looks like he’s ready to go.”
Thomas acknowledged that he did not immediately acclimate to his role with the Ravens after nine seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He covered well but did not make as many game-altering plays as he did in his peak years. This offseason, he dealt with unwanted attention when his wife was charged with burglary and intent to commit assault with a deadly weapon after she allegedly held him at gunpoint.
Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman left little doubt that Mark Ingram II will remain the featured performer in a crowded backfield. “Mark’s obviously, in my opinion, one of the best running backs in the league over time,” he said. “He still maximizes runs as good, if not better than anybody I see in the league."
Martindale has liked everything he’s seen and heard from rookie linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison. “I think they are exactly what we expected,” he said.