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With An Assist From Tony Jefferson, Justin Bethel Ready To Impact Ravens

March 19, 2019
With a head coach whose background is in special teams, and with a former teammate providing a big assist with recruiting, Justin Bethel said he felt the Ravens organization was "the right fit" for him.

Bethel, a three-time Pro Bowl pick on special teams, signed a two-year deal with the Ravens March 19, but only after a big assist from Tony Jefferson, Bethel's former teammate with the Arizona Cardinals.

Jefferson has developed quite the reputation as a free-agency recruiter during his three years with the Ravens. This time, Jefferson played an even larger role than usual.

On a conference call with the local media after signing his contract, the terms of which were not disclosed, Bethel explained that Jefferson reached out to him March 15 and told him the Ravens were trying to contact him. 

"I'm like, man, I haven't heard anything," Bethel recalled with a chuckle. "Apparently they didn't have the right number. And so they were calling my old phone number." 

After Jefferson gave Ravens officials Bethel's correct number, "We started talking and it felt like the right fit, and it pretty much went down in a day. ...  It happened really fast."

The roster lists Bethel, 28, as a 6-foot, 200-pound defensive back, but he has made special teams the hallmark of his career, earning three consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl as a special teams player from 2013-2015 with the Arizona Cardinals. 

In some years -- including his Pro Bowl season of 2013, and again in 2018, his only season with the Atlanta Falcons -- he did not play a snap all season on defense, making his mark exclusively on special teams. He recorded 14 special-teams tackles this past season for the Falcons.

A sixth-round draft pick out of Presbyterian in 2012, Bethel has missed just two games during his seven-year career. He has made 14 career starts at cornerback and has four career interceptions -- three of which he returned for touchdowns.

Bethel said that in addition to Jefferson's recruiting, the Ravens reputation for strong special teams play, and head coach John Harbaugh's background, also made Baltimore an attractive destination.

"One of the biggest things is having a head coach who's really special-teams minded, and takes a lot of pride in that," Bethel said. 

On the day the Ravens agreed to terms with Bethel, longtime Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg announced his retirement, but Bethel said he expects the Ravens special teams unit to maintain its high quality of play under new coordinator Chris Horton, Rosburg's assistant for the past four years. 

"He's been in the program and he knows where this team's been and how they ran things," Bethel said. "I'm interested to see his spin on it and where he wants to lead it."

"I'm really excited to see what we can cook up," he added. 

The Ravens' cornerback group might be the deepest on the squad, so it's unlikely Bethel will be playing much on defense with Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady and Anthony Averett all on the roster. 

But Bethel clearly embraces his special teams role, and he figures to be one of the leaders who counsels younger players on the importance of things like punt coverage and kick return blocking.

"I always try to tell guys that special teams might not be the prettiest things," he said, "but it's something that can help your career last a lot longer. ... Don't take special teams lightly. It's a good way to make the team, and it can give a lot of years to your career."