Ravens expect heated battle to boost return game in 2020

Todd Karpovich

James Proche and De'Anthony Thomas will battle to return kicks for the Ravens, who uncharacteristically struggled on special teams last season.

 Baltimore was ranked 27th in Rick Gosselin's "Special Teams Rankings," just ahead of the Panthers, Colts, Falcons, Cowboys, and Buccaneers in 2019. 

"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." 

The Ravens could get a significant boost from James Proche, who was taken in the sixth round of the 2020 draft. Last season, he led the Mustangs with 17 punt returns for 164 yards.

“He’s really instinctive, has really good vision,” said Joe Hortiz, the Ravens' director of player personnel. “Again, he catches it really secure, but then he gets upfield quick. He doesn’t waste time trying to go east and west. He gets upfield and he has that vision and balance where he can make guys miss along the way and can get positive yards.”

Proche will embrace the opportunity to make an impact on special teams. He likes to have the ball in his hands. 

“I love punt return,” Proche said. “I really just love catching the ball. Anything that involves catching the ball and go make a play, that’s more what I do. As far as punt return goes, that’s something I feel comfortable [with], kind of being back there alone, having full control, judge the ball and showcase my abilities once I catch the ball.”

Proche will battle De'Anthony Thomas as the top returner in 2020. 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 

"We did a lot of studying this offseason, and that’s one area that we feel like we can be better in," Horton said. "Whether it’s how we’re coaching it [or] how our players are responding to that coaching. That’s something we’ve felt like we could be much better [at]. I thought our coverage units were really sound outside of one game we had.”