James Proche

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Ravens training camp preview: Special teams in a good place behind lead of 'Wolfpack'

Ravens training camp preview: Special teams in a good place behind lead of 'Wolfpack'

Special teams players rostered: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker, Nick Moore, Dom Maggio, Nick Vogel

Of all position groups on the roster, this is by far the easiest to project. 

Not many teams in the NFL have as popular of a special teams group as the Ravens do. Then again, not many teams have Justin Tucker, Sam Koch and Morgan Cox. 

Known as the "Wolfpack,” the Ravens core special teams group has become one of the most endearing position groups in franchise history — and perhaps the most popular special teams unit in the NFL. 

Cox, the long-snapper, is a three-time Pro Bowler and has been with the team since 2010. Koch has been with the team the longest, since 2006, and has made one Pro Bowl and was a Second-team All-Pro in 2015. But no one has been as successful as Tucker. 

In 2019, Tucker went 28-of-29 on field goals (96.6 percent) and 57-of-59 on extra points (96.6 percent). His touchback percentage on kickoffs was 53.8%. He was a first-team All-Pro, the fourth First-team selection of his career. 

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Tucker is, without hyperbole, the most accurate kicker in league history. He’s made 90.8 percent of his career field-goal attempts and missed just three extra-points in his entire career. 

On the punting side, the Ravens kept Koch fresh all season long. They scored more offensive touchdowns (58) than Koch registered punts (40). Koch still was proficient, though, as his punts went for an average of 46.4 yards. He downed 21 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

Long-snapper Nick Moore, punter Dom Magio and kicker Nick Vogel will, unless they blow the doors off the Ravens’ facility in training camp, will just be camp bodies as the Ravens have another season of the “Wolfpack” to shine in Baltimore. 

Still, the Ravens' special teams unit left something to be desired last year. 

They struggled on kickoff coverage in a handful of games and weren’t able to nail down a consistent returner all year long. The Ravens hope they solved at least one of those problems with the draft. 

Baltimore picked wide receiver James Proche in the sixth round of the draft, someone who could immediately step in and make an impact as a returner. 

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“The one thing that I saw from James evaluating his college tape — really where we got a lot of information from James — is that he can catch the ball,” special teams coordinator Chris Horton said earlier this week. “He’s good underneath the ball and he can get vertical pretty quick...He has the right mindset. He has that DNA that we look for what type of player he is and what type of person he is.”

Proche averaged 9.6 yards per punt return at SMU and, though his offensive film, showed an ability to almost never let the football slip through his fingers. 

The Ravens brought De’Anthony Thomas, who is on the roster once again, in as a free agent midway through the 2019 season to give the team a spark in the return game. Thomas’ numbers didn’t provide a ton of spark, however, as he averaged just 16.6 yards per kickoff return and 7.2 yards per punt return. 

With Proche seemingly a lock for the roster as a recent draft pick, it’s up to Thomas to prove his worth on the roster as a returner.

Still, the Ravens’ special teams corps is in a better spot than perhaps any unit in the league, simply because of what Tucker, Koch and Cox bring to the table.

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Ranking the Ravens' five likeliest rookies to make an impact in 2020

Ranking the Ravens' five likeliest rookies to make an impact in 2020

The Ravens had, by nearly all accounts, one of the NFL’s best drafts in April. 

With their 10 picks, they addressed just about every need on the roster — edge rusher being the holdout — and got more talented at each position they needed to. 

And while the Ravens are hopeful all of their drafted players can fill a role next season, a few players like Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington have clear roles carved out as depth players for their rookie season, and safety Geno Stone appears destined for a special teams role to start his career. 

Here are the five Ravens’ rookies that can make an immediate impact in 2020:

1. Patrick Queen

The first one is as obvious can be. 

Not only is Queen the team’s first round draft pick, but he also likely filled the biggest need on the team and will join the Ravens and immediately be handed a starting role. 

Queen made 85 tackles for the national champion LSU Tigers last season and, at just 20-years-old, was one of the draft’s top risers last season at LSU.

He’s perhaps the most talented player of the Ravens’ 2020 draft class and with a starting role so clearly carved out for him, the room for strong production is right there.

2. Devin Duvernay

Duvernay will join a Ravens receiving corps in need of a second wide receiver to prove himself. With Mark Andrews at tight end and Marquise Brown as the team’s two clear top options in the receiving game, there is still an opening for a third option to emerge from the group. The speedster from Texas could be it. 

With 4.39 40-yard dash speed, Duvernay will immediately be one of the fastest players not only on the offense, but on the team. He posted 106 catches last season for 1,386 yards at Texas, but his toughness was what stood out to the Ravens. 

If he’s able to prove his worth early on, he could find himself as the team’s third option in the receiving game.

3. James Proche

This might seem out of sorts for Proche to be on this list so high, but hold up. 

Yes, he was the second-to-last pick of the Ravens’ draft. Yes, he’s just a rookie and draft capital matters in terms of who gets a look, and how much they do.

But Proche is also likely going to be the team’s punt and perhaps kick returner to start the season. There’s not a rookie on this list, besides Queen, who is in better shape to have some kind of starting role so quickly. 

Add into the debate that Proche is joining the same depth chart as Duvernay, and it’s clear there’s a path for the sure-handed receiver to find his way onto the field sooner than some may think.

4. J.K. Dobbins

Dobbins has perhaps the highest ceiling on this list, and the floor is higher than perhaps anyone but Queen for his rookie year. The problem is, the ceiling involves some exceptions. 

He’ll join a crowded backfield with Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, not to mention that his new quarterback is the league’s best running quarterback as well. 

Dobbins might end up having the greatest long-term impact on this list, but the odds of him taking on a major role in the offense — while he’s essentially guaranteed at least some kind of role in 2020 — would require him stepping up as the clear No. 1 running back, or a host of injuries. 

5. Ben Bredeson

Bredeson might make the quietest impact of anyone on this list, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for him to make the biggest. 

In a logjam to replace Marshal Yanda’s right guard spot, Bredeson figures to be the likeliest rookie to take over the position. If he’s able to, he’ll certainly have earned it.

The rookie started all four seasons at Michigan and certainly has the experience in big time games to step in and contribute immediately.

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What can rookie wide receivers James Proche and Devin Duvernay add to the Ravens' league-best offense?

What can rookie wide receivers James Proche and Devin Duvernay add to the Ravens' league-best offense?

James Proche has a mentor when it comes to studying his new playbook — his mother.

Proche, a sixth-round wide receiver out of SMU, is one of the Ravens’ 10 newest draft picks. He, alongside Devin Duvernay out of Texas, were the two additions the team made at receiver. 

The coronavirus pandemic has forced teams to teach and send workouts into the virtual world with all players still at their homes. For Proche, that means studying at home and picking up on the techniques his mom currently uses in school.

“My mom is in nursing school right now, so I’m kind of feeding off of her study habits, doing some stuff that she does for memorization,” Proche said. “I’ve just been working — taking a lot of notes, using a lot of notecards, staying on my iPad.”

Proche, Duvernay and the rest of the Ravens’ rookie class are in a unique position as they can’t be in the team facility to learn about the NFL hands-on. Meaning, they’re on their own for workouts and study time. 

Proche wakes up at 6:30 or 7 a.m. each day to get to a workout in. Then he studies what he needs to that day on the offensive side of the ball, gets a 30-to-45 minute study session dedicated to special teams play, adds another workout, and finishes the day with more studying. 

Both wideouts play style, though, don’t necessarily have match up with their physical characteristics. Duvernay is 5-foot-10 and Proche is 5-foot-11. Neither can be the 6-foot-5 presence in the red zone some thought the Ravens' offense needed. 

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What they both bring, however, is toughness and a keen sense of where they are on the field when it comes to route running. They’re both instinctive, a word director of player personnel Joe Hortiz both described them as, and can run clean and effective routes. 

But most importantly, they both catch the football very, very well. 

“The first thing you look for is you’ve got to catch the ball and you’ve got to have good hands,” Hortiz said Tuesday on a conference call with the media. “Then the other thing is the feel and the awareness. The one thing for wide receivers that’s probably the biggest challenge is the mental aspect of the game, because you’re getting a lot more coverages thrown at you, a lot more defensive concepts and it’s happening much faster. They’ve got to be able to process fast and we feel those two guys can do that.”

While Proche might have the surest hands of the two — he led the FBS in catches with 111 and dropped just nine passes on 437 career targets — Duvernay has the mean streak to him. He’s known to fight for extra yards after his catches rather than run out of bounds. He takes on contact, he doesn't run from it.

“I feel like I match up with the best of the best,” Duvernay said after his selection. “I work extremely hard to put myself in position to be successful. But, yes, (there’s) a chip on my shoulder. Always playing with it. I feel like I have to. (It’s) part of football. It keeps me going and allows me to play with that edge, play mean and physical.”

Duvernay’s physicality netted him 1,386 yards on 106 catches in 2019, his best season by far as a Longhorn. Proche had 1,225 yards and 15 touchdowns, both statistics led the American Athletic Conference.

Both Proche and Duvernay project to primarily play out of the slot at the NFL level, though they can move outside if need be. With Duvernay’s 4.39 40-yard dash speed, they’ve certainly got options to spread the field both vertically and horizontally.

“As you know, when watching us, it’s not really defined in traditional ways,” coach John Harbaugh said of the team’s offense. “We don’t just have an X and a Z and an S and a Y, a U and an H. We play all the guys in different spots, the same as we do on defense. Offensively, we have the same philosophy.”

With 2019 first-round pick Marquise Brown and talented tight end Mark Andrews already in the mix, the Ravens now have the ability to boast one of the fastest offenses in the NFL. Brown and Duvernay can keep secondaries honest with their top-end speed, and quarterback Lamar Jackson can control the run game and line of scrimmage with a less-crowded front. 

Now, the Ravens are hopeful both receivers are just two more pieces to the league’s best offense. 

“We’re pretty diverse on our offense, as you know, and we have different kinds of option plays and RPO plays and dropback passes and deep passes, play-action passes, and we have one guy that can really run like crazy and make all kinds of catches,” Harbaugh said. “We have another guy who can really run routes and has a feel for getting open and catch the ball like crazy. So, Lamar is going to love both those guys.”

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