The battle for Baltimore's primary return man has been cloudy thus far into Organized Team Activities (OTAs), but Chris Carr and Yamon Figurs may be the primary two Ravens to fight for the first-team kickoff and punt return specialists.
Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg* *isn't worried that the right player will eventually emerge. However, he may have to wait until training camp before he can finalize his depth chart because a few key candidates have not been practicing. Cornerback Chris Carr has sat out all of the Ravens' offseason minicamps after undergoing shoulder surgery earlier this year, while Yamon Figurs was missing from this week's voluntary sessions due to undisclosed reasons.
That has left Ray Rice and a slew of young prospects to handle the bulk of return duties.
"If you lose a guy or two guys, somebody else is going to have to play there, so for us, there have been some chances for some of our younger players," Rosburg said Thursday. "When one guy faces adversity, another guy faces an opportunity. There have been a lot of returners that have received more reps in practice than normal."
Figurs led Baltimore last season with the most kickoff (29) and punt returns (23), but he finished 24th in the league with a 6.0-yard average on punts and 35th in kickoffs, averaging 21.0 yards. Carr's 28.1-yard average on kickoff returns for the Tennessee Titans were the NFL's fourth-best, while he also pitched in 10.1 yards per punt return.
Meanwhile, when Figurs was hampered by a knee injury at different times during the season, a combination of Ray Rice and Jim Leonhard took over on kickoffs and punts, respectively.
With Leonhard joining the New York Jets via free agency, it's been Rice who has led the rest of the contenders. According to Rosburg, Rice, who had seven kickoff returns for 161 yards in 2008 (23.0-yard average) has implemented himself firmly in the hunt as the primary returner.
"Ray Rice demonstrated last year that when he has the football in his hands, he is a threat," Rosburg said. "What we're trying to do is give him more opportunities to have the ball in his hands. With kicking plays, you can basically determine who is going to get the ball – the returner in most situations. On offense, the ball can go to any number of guys.
"So, we're trying to get Ray in a position to where he can do some things in open space because that's what he does so well."
Because Rice can't take all the reps, the Ravens have allowed other young players to get on the field in a role they might not otherwise have filled.
Lawrence is relishing the chance to participate in any capacity and realizes that special teams may be his ticket to a roster spot.
"I did that all through college, and that's pretty much how I got my first break," Lawrence said of returning kicks. "I feel like it's an area that I can shine in. I just have to keep working hard to show what I've been doing for the past five or six years."
But coming from the University of Massachusetts of the Football Championship Subdivision, a play so seemingly simple as a return is an entirely different experience.
"They may have had one thing to do in college, and now there are four things to do here," said Rosburg. "The communication part of it is completely different, too. There is plenty to practice."
Carr said last week that he may be ready to join in drills soon and is anxious to practice, so Lawrence and Parmele will need to make the most of their chances.
"Coach Rosburg really gets you where you're supposed to be, so that you're reading the right blocks and running the play," Lawrence noted. "That's a big help, coming from my college. There is more of a science to the return game at this level. There is a way the Ravens do things, and it's working for me."