Rookie James Proche has edge to return punts for Ravens
Rookie James Proche was expected to battle the veteran De'Anthony Thomas as the top punt returner for the Ravens.
However, Thomas was one of two Baltimore players to opt-out of the 2020 season over concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed Proche atop the depth chart.
Willie Snead and Marquise Brown could also get some looks, but it's Proche's job to lose, according to coach John Harbaugh.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s James’ role to win, and he has to go win it," Harbaugh said. "We have Willie Snead IV, and I know Willie would like to do it, too. He’s back there all the time. Marquise catches punts every day. We’ll see as we go, but I really like James. He’s a really dedicated, motivated guy. It’s tough for a rookie to do it – a rookie doing it without preseason games. I exactly know where you are coming from.
"Believe me, I think about that too, and that will be a challenge. I believe he’s up for the challenge; he’s the man for the job, but he’s going to have to show us that he’s ready to do it. I’m pretty sure that there will be some competition run at him as well, so we’ll see where that goes in the next few weeks.”
Baltimore is looking to have more consistency out of its return game. The Ravens were ranked 27th in Rick Gosselin's "Special Teams Rankings," just ahead of the Panthers, Colts, Falcons, Cowboys, and Buccaneers in 2019.
Proche, who was taken in the sixth round of the 2020 draft, led SMU with 17 punt returns for 164 yards last season.
"What we’d done last year, I thought our guys showed up," special teams coach Chris Horton said. "We played hard every week, and I thought we had gotten better. We were sound earlier in the year. In the middle of the year, we had some hiccups. But I think if we’re talking about one thing that we think we all need to improve on, as coaches, just talking about it, is in our return game."
Thomas, who was signed to the Ravens’ 53-man roster in Week 10, returned 13 punts for 93 yards (7.2 avg.) and posted 10 kickoff returns for 166 yards (16.6 avg.) in eight games. He also spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs, who selected him in the fourth round (124th overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft.