The Ravens have been waiting on someone to separate themselves in the competition for the starting returner job.
Asa Jackson made his bid for that job Saturday against Washington, coming up with the Ravens' biggest special teams play of the preseason on a 103-yard kickoff return that fell just short of the goal line.
"All you need is one," Jackson said. "We've been close on a couple of returns earlier this season, and it was time."
The flip side to Jackson's big play, however, was that he made an even more costly miscue on a punt return later in the game. He tried to return a booming punt with a pair of defenders right in front of him, and they forced a fumble by delivering a big hit as soon as he fielded the ball.
"Asa made a bad decision, and he knows that," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "You have to fair catch that. That kind of hang time, you have to fair catch it."
"I wanted to make a play," Jackson added. "I should've taken a peek, I didn't. I tried to catch the ball, and I got hit. It's nothing other than that, it's all on me. That's inexcusable, and I can't put my team in that position. It's not going to happen again, I'm going to get better from this in the regular season."
The up-and-down night for Jackson leaves the Ravens in somewhat of a difficult predicament in picking their returners going into the season. He showed on the kickoff that he has big play potential, but they also need reliability.
No matter who the Ravens pick as their returners, a good sign is that the special team units had strong blocking to open the lane for Jackson on his long return.
"The guys blocked so well on that play, I could see it setting up," Jackson said. "They just gave me a crease, and I tried to hit it and let my instinct take over from there."
Despite returning the kickoff 103 yards, Washington kept Jackson out of the end zone by bringing him down at the 2-yard line. He had shrugged off a tackler and outran most of the Redskins' coverage unit, but he just needed one more step to get into the end zone.
"I probably should've stayed up the right sideline, but I decided to cut it back and ended up getting caught at the end," he said.
Part of the difficulty for coaches in assessing the returners this preseason is that the Eagles and Saints gave the Ravens very little to work with in the first two games. They booted their kickoffs out of the end zone and kept the punts close to the sidelines where return yardage is limited.
Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg has practically begged opponents to put their kickoffs in play to allow the Ravens to get an actual assessment of their units, and Baltimore's return team finally got their chance against Washington.
In addition to Jackson, wide receiver Michael Campanaro is also in the mix for the jobs when he returns from a soft-tissue issue that has sidelined him the last two games. The Ravens could also use veterans Steve Smith Sr. or Lardarius Webb, who Harbaugh previously described as the "aces in the hole".
"I'm just trying to do the best I can at whatever role they want me to play on this team," Jackson said. "As long as I'm here, and as long as I'm able to contribute, that's all I want."