On Same Day Devin Hester Asks Teams To Call, Ravens Say Returner Job Is Open
You can chalk it up to a coincidence, but just a couple hours after the most accomplished return man in NFL history posted a video of him working out on his rehabbed toe, the Ravens declared their punt and kick returner jobs are still wide open.
Devin Hester, who was released by the Atlanta Falcons in July, posted an Instagram video showing off his ability to plant and cut on his surgically-repaired toe. The 33-year-old said he will be ready for action in two weeks and asked NFL teams to call.
Hester missed the first 11 games of the 2015 season with the injury, but there's no questioning his ability when he's healthy. The four-time Pro Bowler has set the record for career return touchdowns (20) and also holds the NFL record for punt return touchdowns (14). He did most of his damage years ago, however.
Even though the Ravens haven't settled on a returner halfway through the preseason, Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg has already said the answer is in the building. That means the Ravens are unlikely to answer Hester's plea unless there is an emergency situation brought on by injuries.
In Baltimore, last year's leading returners — Kaelin Clay and Jeremy Ross — are no longer on the team.
The leading candidates at punt returner are now Michael Campanaro and Keenan Reynolds. If you read between the lines, my colleague Garrett Downing thinks Campanaro is in the driver's seat. Three running backs returned kicks last week, including Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West and Stephen Houston. Nobody has stood out thus far.
Hester would be a luxury signing that the Ravens likely can't afford with limited roster space available. In an ideal situation, they want a productive player on offense or defense to also man the returner roles.
"I've been consistent in saying this, but I don't believe the Ravens have enough roster flexibility to be able to keep a player strictly for returns," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec back when Hester was first released.
"In the current NFL with new rules and strategies in place that have further lessened the impact a return man can have on a game, I'm not sure it even makes sense to use a precious 53-man spot on an exclusive return man."
We'll Finally Get Better Idea Of Running Back Rotation
We still don't know how the Ravens will use their bevy of running back talent.
Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman was asked Wednesday if he will use a single featured back, a committee approach or wait to see who has the hot hand each week.
"The next couple of weeks will give us a better idea," Trestman replied, noting that he's employed all strategies before with various teams.
The goal over the second half of the preseason is to get all four backs – Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, West and Dixon – plenty of opportunities to see what they're best at and then make a plan going forward.
ESPN's Jamison Hensley has an idea of how the Ravens could employ the unique talents of each candidate.
"The end result could be Forsett gets the start, Allen and Dixon become third-down backs, and West turns into the power back in the red zone," he wrote. "But the Ravens are still trying to figure out their plan going forward.
"This is looking more like the Ravens' situation in 2008, coach John Harbaugh's first season. Le'Ron McClain, Ray Rice and Willis McGahee all took turns getting the ball in what became a successful combination for the Ravens but a frustrating one for fantasy football owners. They totaled 142.9 yards rushing per game collectively, but no one averaged more than 57 yards per game individually. By the end of the 2016 season, the division of carries could be similar with Forsett, Allen, West and Dixon."
Lions CB Darius Slay Will Ask Steve Smith For His Jersey
One of the league's top-paid cornerbacks, the Lions' Darius Slay, is showing respect to Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.
When Slay visits M&T Bank Stadium Saturday, he plans on asking the 16-year veteran for his jersey to add to his collection of about 12-13 he's picked up over the years. He stores the jerseys in a case for now, but plans on hanging them when he builds a home in Georgia.
"I would love to have his jersey," Slay told ESPN's Michael Rothstein. "I would love to. He needs to give me that. I don't know how that is going to work but I do want it, though. I will ask for it, too."
There's a chance that Smith may not even suit up for Saturday's contest, which means he would have to make special arrangements if he wants to give Slay the memento.
Slay, 25, grew up watching Smith and loves his style of play. If Smith winds up playing, Slay welcomes the jawing he knows usually accompanies the veteran's game.
"I'm grown. He's grown. He can talk," Slay said. "I just want to meet him on a respect level because I respect him. He earned a lot of respect in the game and I like to meet respectful people."
One Raven Lands On ESPN Top 100 List
Only one Raven made ESPN's top 100 list, based on votes from 50 NFL reporters, and I bet you can guess who it is.
Yup, the best guard in the league: Marshal Yanda.
It's really not a surprise that the Ravens had just one player selected considering their 5-11 finish last season with nearly half of the starters on injured reserve.
Still, ESPN's John Clayton sees quarterback Joe Flacco as the biggest snub from the list.
"Colleague Mike Sando's 2016 NFL QB Tier Rankings, which use league insiders to rate every starting quarterback, had Flacco as a Tier 2 signal-caller," Clayton wrote.
"That should put him somewhere in the 90s of #NFLRank. He led the Ravens to a Super Bowl XLVII title – though he hasn't performed at that level in recent years, and he's coming off a torn ACL and MCL – and he has 10 career playoff wins. He's still one of the league's top 100 players."
Hensley disagrees with his coworker – for now.
"Some will call [Flacco's absence] a snub, such as ESPN's John Clayton. But based on what Flacco has done since the Ravens won the Super Bowl after the 2012 season, it's understandable," wrote Hensley.
"That being said, Flacco has a very good shot at making the top 100 next season. He has more weapons in the passing game than in previous seasons with the free-agent signings of Mike Wallace and Benjamin Watson along with the return of Steve Smith Sr. and Pitta. He will be protected by Ronnie Stanley, the Ravens' first top-10 pick in 13 years."
Ravens Remain Short On Healthy Defensive Backs
While the starting defensive backs are healthy and ready to take on the Lions this weekend, the depth of the group has been decimated.
Per Zrebiec, five defensive backs were sidelined for Wednesday's practice due to injuries. The list includes cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (concussion), Maurice Canady (hamstring) and Jerraud Powers (undisclosed), and safeties Matt Elam (knee) and Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed).
Other than Elam, none of the injuries are serious enough to be considered season-threatening, per Head Coach John Harbaugh.
Ray Lewis Featured On 'Cigar Aficionado' Cover
Ravens legendary linebacker Ray Lewis is featured on the "Cigar Aficionado" cover, which will hit newsstands Aug. 30.
Lewis gave the magazine an in-depth one-on-one interview about everything from his (likely) Hall of Fame career to the charges he faced in Atlanta as a young player. We've heard most of the stories before, but here's a link to a Q&A and several videos.