John Harbaugh Likes Steve Smith As His Punt Returner


It doesn't sound like Steve Smith Sr. being the Ravens' punt returner was just a one-game decision or a passing fancy.

"I think we have guys that can do it and be effective, but I kind of like Steve back there," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday. "He looks good to me back there."

Smith returned two punts for 32 yards. He had one 22-yard return in which he spun off one tackle and nearly hit a seam for a big gain.

Although Michael Campanaro is the only punt returner listed on the depth chart, the move didn't come out of nowhere.

Harbaugh indicated throughout the summer that the Ravens could use Smith as their returner. He called the veteran receiver his "ace in the hole," but fans and pundits doubted it as a real possibility given how valuable Smith is to the offense.

However, Harbaugh has consistently rejected the idea of not using valuable offensive or defensive players on special teams. He puts the best players in the proper situations while factoring in the injury possibilities.

And the Ravens wouldn't be the only team to put one of their top receivers as a returner. For example, the Steelers use Antonio Brown and Broncos use Emmanuel Sanders.

While Smith entered the NFL in 2001 as a dangerous returner, he hadn't returned a punt since 2010. There aren't any other 36-year-old returners in the NFL.

Smith brings a unique dynamic to the position. He's still got plenty of quickness and he's difficult to bring down given his physical nature and pure desire.

"Steve loves doing it, and I think he likes the blocking that he's going to get from our guys," Harbaugh said. "If he gets good blocking, any kind of a playmaker wants to be out there with the ball in his hands. So he wants to do it."

Campanaro still could take over as the punt returner down the line. However, he missed a lot of practice time and preseason action due to a hamstring injury early in the summer and soft-tissue issue later in the preseason.

Campanaro returned two punts last year before injury his hamstring. He only played in the first preseason game and returned one punt for 10 yards.

"Campanaro, I didn't really want to put him in that environment, in that situation, where he hasn't done enough of it," Harbaugh said. "Camp gets more reps, he can go back there and do it. We have [Lardarius Webb]. Webby practices all the time, he can go back there and do it."

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