Could Steve Smith Or Lardarius Webb Be Punt Returner?


The Ravens don't have too many positions still completely up for grabs. 

But the spot that might be the most uncertain at this point is punt returner.

Michael Campanaro has experience and has shown potential, but injuries have also hindered him in training camp. The Ravens drafted former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds with hopes he could develop as a punt returner, but he has struggled thus far in camp. And Kaelin Clay, who might have been the most explosive of the group, was waived Monday after fracturing a bone in his foot.

Another possibility is turning to veteran players in cornerback Lardarius Webb and wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., but the question remains whether the coaches would want to risk them on special teams.

"We have those guys in the bullpen, so to speak, but we'd like to find another returner," Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "I want them to be the guy if that's where we end up, but the rest of training camp, it's our challenge to find another guy."

The Raven took a hard look at Campanaro, Reynolds and Webb in Tuesday's practice. They challenged all three returners to catch punts while also holding several other footballs. Campanaro and Webb were able to consistently field the punts while holding two other footballs, but the success rate dropped when they held four footballs in their arms.

The drill is intended to make life difficult on the return man in practice so that catching a punt in a game is a much easier task.

"We need to find a returner," Rosburg said. "For training camp from this point forward, one of the big missions we have is to find out who that player is and how he fits into our roster."

Webb and Smith have more experience than any other returner on the roster. Webb has returned 55 punts in his career for an average of 9.8 yards, but the Ravens have primarily used him in fair-catch situations the last few years.

Smith was a premier return man early in his career, but he has returned just two punts in the last five years. He's also coming back from a torn Achilles and is one of the team's best offensive players.

"Obviously, Steve Smith was outstanding when he was a younger man," Rosburg said. "He's still outstanding in catching the ball and securing the ball, but his role is still yet to be defined, as you all know."

Campanaro is officially first on the depth chart at both kick and punt returner. He has returned five punts in his first two seasons for an average of 13.2 yards.

He's in line for the job as long as he can stay healthy, and he's focused on proving he can do that over the next three weeks.

"I think they have the same confidence in me as they do in Lardarius [Webb] – catching the ball, making smart decisions and not doing anything stupid back there," Campanaro said. "Punt return is my favorite play in football. I love returning punts, so I'm definitely looking forward to doing that."

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