Returner Competition Wide Open


The Ravens returner job is up for grabs.

After having Jacoby Jones handle the duties the last three years, Baltimore cut the Pro Bowler this offseason to help save salary cap space. Now the Ravens have vacancies at both kick and punt returner, and they are exhausting all options as a growing list of players fight for the job. 

"I think we'll limit it to keeping the offensive linemen out of there," Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg joked Monday. "We're not going to let any of those guys go out there, but we are going to have a long line when it comes to that time."

The returner competition includes players from several positions, all at stages of their careers. Undrafted rookie receiver DeAndre Carter and 15-year veteran Steve Smith Sr. are both fielding punts in practice. Cornerbacks Asa Jackson and Lardarius Webb, and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint are also in the mix.

"Everybody is getting reps, and we are doing that right now," Rosburg said. "We'll find out who does it best in those camp situations and go from there, and then divvy up the reps for the preseason games with the guys we think are doing the best in practice."

A challenge with rotating in veterans like Smith and Webb at returner is that they also have significant roles on both sides of the ball. Smith led the Ravens in receptions and yards last season, and they want to keep the 36-year-old receiver fresh down the stretch. 

Webb, a seven-year veteran, is starting cornerback and has been injury prone throughout his career.

Both players have displayed returning ability earlier in their careers, but making them the starting kick or punt returner is an additional injury risk and also physically draining within a game.

"It is a balance," Rosburg said. "They have both done it and both done it successfully. And when you are trying to win games, you'll do whatever it takes to win games. Having said that, when you have a starting corner and a starting wide receiver, you'd rather not have those guys do it on an every-down basis, because you've got to divvy up the work.

"We need a guy to come through for us so that doesn't happen. That's my view."

In an ideal scenario, the Ravens would have a young player establish himself as both the starting punt and kick returner. Jones thrived in that role during his time in Baltimore, and the Ravens would like to find someone to take on both jobs.

"You'd like to see a return specialist do both, and also contribute on offense or defense," Rosburg said.

Jackson could fit the mold for that role, as he's shown flashes of big-play ability in the return game during the preseason. He also isn't expected to have a starting cornerback job, but he will likely be a reserve in the defensive backfield.

Carter is also an intriguing option. The undrafted rookie from Sacramento State has impressed during Organized Team Activities, and he has return experience from college. Winning the returner job could be his avenue onto the 53-man roster at a crowded receiver field.

Rosburg didn't tip his hand at all in terms of who currently has an edge in the competition, and the position battle will likely extend until late in the summer.

"We will make a decision based on how they do in preseason," Rosburg said. "There's nothing like game reps – handling a crowd, handling a game situation is really important. So, we'll make the decision based on who is best in preseason."

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