Asked about the Ravens’ ongoing search for a solution at returner, Head Coach John Harbaugh casually threw out wide receiver John Brown as a possibility.
“I probably shouldn’t have even said anything, because now it’s going to be a big story, and it doesn’t need to be,” Harbaugh said with a chuckle. “But, if he’s back there returning punts, it’ll be exciting. He’ll have to catch it first, just like everybody else, and hold onto it next. Sorry I said anything, to be honest with you.”
The Ravens returner candidates who battled all summer – Janarion Grant and Tim White – both fumbled and haven’t been all that effective. Grant got the first shot, then White, and both are now on the Ravens’ practice squad.
Baltimore claimed Cyrus Jones off waivers Monday and will give the former New England Patriots a shot at claiming the job this week, but it appears the door is wide open.
“[Jones is] in the mix,” Harbaugh said, also listing Brown and Willie Snead IV as options. “Obviously, the thing about Tim and Janarion, we could bring those guys up on Saturday if we wanted to. … I guess we’ll just kind of find out on Sunday and let them figure out who it’s going to be.”
The last time Brown returned kicks was in 2016 with the Arizona Cardinals. He returned 17 punts with an average of seven yards and a long of 32. He fumbled once. He had one kickoff return for 51 yards. Brown said he volunteered his services to Ravens coaches.
“That’s exactly something I would want to do,” Brown said. “I was probably one of the top return specialists in college. I did it a little in my time in Arizona. It’s just something I want to do. It’s all hands on deck and I want to help as much as I can if you need me back there.”
The first big play of Brown’s college career at Pittsburg State was an 84-yard touchdown. Simply put, he’s a playmaker. Some other top receivers around the league have also occasionally doubled as their team’s returner, including the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill, Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. and Steelers’ Antonio Brown.
“If teams plan on doubling me and trying to take me out of the game, I’m going to find a way to put the ball in my hands,” Brown said. “You’re going to have to kick to me.”
Cyrus Jones Is Happy to Be Home Again
It’s been a whirlwind month-and-a-half for Jones.
A second-round pick of the Patriots in 2016, he was released at the end of his third training camp. The Ravens added him to their practice squad, then the Patriots re-signed him 16 days later. New England released him on Saturday and Baltimore brought him back, this time to its 53-man roster.
“It’s crazy,” Jones said. “I’m trying to wrap my head around it. I was trying to wrap my head around it the first time. But I’m back home; I feel like this is where I should have been since Day 1.”
Jones didn’t want to shed much light on his role moving forward, but it will surely be to compete for the returner job and provide depth in the secondary.
“I’m just trying to make the most of any opportunity and make a play when it presents itself to me,” Jones said.
One of college football’s most explosive returners at Alabama, Jones fumbled five times as a rookie returner with the Patriots. That landed him on the bench, then his 2017 season was lost to an ACL tear. He returned five punts for the Patriots this season and averaged nine yards per return with a long of 24.
Coming back to Baltimore, where he grew up and played high school football at Gilman School, is a fresh start. His Maryland roots weren't why the Ravens signed him, but it’s a nice bonus and could help Jones feel more comfortable.
“I watched him play in high school,” Harbaugh said. “I remember going over there and seeing him play at Unitas Stadium for a game. I talked to the team at halftime. They were playing a team from Colorado; they were down by 17 or 20 points. I gave them the halftime speech, big rally, [and] they won big!”
Anthony Levine Has Been Defense’s Best Under-the-Radar Player
Jack-of-all-trades Anthony Levine takes pride in being the "Co-Cap" of the Ravens' special teams unit, but he’s also been an integral part of Baltimore's top-ranked defense so far this season.
As a combo linebacker/safety, Levine is in the dime package. Since the Ravens have put opponents in a lot of third-and-longs, it’s meant an increase in snaps for Levine, and he’s made the most of them.
He’s the Ravens’ highest-graded defender in pass coverage through five games, per Pro Football Focus. He essentially sealed the Ravens’ win in Pittsburgh with an interception. Last week in Cleveland, he broke up a key third-down pass in overtime to force a Browns punt.
When safety Eric Weddle first arrived in Baltimore in 2016, he told Levine that he needed to have a bigger impact than just being an anchor on special teams.
“Slowly but surely, he’s [gained] a key role, a pivotal role,” Weddle said. “You look at our team the last couple years … when Levine’s in there, we’re a better defense. He can do so much for us. He can play the run, he can match up with tight ends, he can match up with scat running backs that maybe some of our linebackers have trouble covering. He can lock them down.”
Harbaugh also talked Wednesday about Levine’s versatility, and said the Ravens will probably need to give him a little break on special teams if he continues to play so many defensive snaps.
C.J. Mosley Doesn’t Care About Who Wears Mic’d Helmet
Perhaps this can be put to rest now.
When C.J. Mosley went down with a knee injury in Cincinnati, Weddle eventually took over wearing the helmet with the microphone communication in it, giving him the responsibility of relaying the calls from Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale.
Weddle likes doing it, and he’s done it well. So even after Mosley returned, Weddle has kept wearing it the past two games.
On Wednesday, Mosley was asked whether he doesn't like the shifting of responsibilities.
“No, I can catch my breath when a long drive is going,” Mosley said. “It just shows you again how the defense trusts each other and how Wink trusts whoever has the mic. So when Weddle gets the call, he relays it, and I’m still doing a lot of the talking up front and he can get back and do his thing. Whether I get it this week coming up or not, I mean, it won’t make a big difference.”
This also once again speaks to Mosley’s team-first attitude. While other stars entering the fifth year of their rookie contract held out this summer, Mosley was at every practice trying to help the defense get on the same page and has left contract talks to his agent.
Ravens Players Show Respect for Dean Pees
On Monday, Harbaugh talked about how “special” it will be to face off against Titans Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, who spent the past eight years in Baltimore. Two days later, Ravens players also voiced their respect for their former coordinator.
“It’s all love. I’m happy he’s doing well. I look forward to our offense playing against him and catching up with him after the game,” Mosley said.
Asked about what he remembers most about Pees, Mosley pointed to his work ethic and relationship with the players.
"[He was] always trying to put guys in the right position and doing his best as a coach," Mosley said. "One thing he didn’t do: he never steered us in the wrong direction. He always stayed upfront with us and told us the right things. He was on our side when we didn’t perform as well, and he stayed on our side when we did.”
Weddle said Pees and Martindale are “very similar” and recalled the weekly meetings that he, Mosley and other veterans would have with Pees to discuss the game plan.
“He was very open if I ever had anything that came up with what I thought with schemes or blitzes or the way we ran coverages or things like that,” Weddle said.
“He was an amazing man, great coach, nothing but great things my two years with him. It was tough to see him go, and then obviously seeing him go back into coaching, we were all happy for him because we know how much he loves coaching. But he’s with them now. We appreciate what he did here, but we’re doing our thing now and he’s doing his.”
The more important part of the reunion with Pees will be how the Ravens offense performs versus Pees’ Titans defense, which is ranked seventh in the league. Pees knows Flacco and Ravens Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but they know Pees too.
“It goes both ways,” Flacco said. “I’m sure that we think that we know probably more than we actually know. I’m sure that they think they more than they actually know. I think you’re dealing with prideful people and everyone tends to think that they have a leg up, but who knows.”