"The Competition" is a BaltimoreRavens.com series that breaks down every position battle leading up to training camp.
WR Jacoby Jones (6-foot-2, 212 pounds, seventh season) Jones was a Pro Bowl returner last year, bringing back two kickoffs for touchdowns (versus Cowboys and Raiders), and a punt for a touchdown (Steelers). He also returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLVII. He was an explosive special teams weapon who led the NFL with an average kickoff return of 30.7 yards. His punt return average (9.2 yards) ranked 15th in the league.
WR Deonte Thompson (6-0, 200, second season) Thompson was the Ravens' kickoff returner at the start of last season. He held that position for five games, averaging 25.9 yards per return. He lost it after he fumbled in Kansas City in Week 5, leaving the door open for Jones to take over the next week. The Florida product has speed to burn.
WR Tandon Doss (6-2, 205, third season) Although Doss was a strong returner in college at Indiana, he didn't do any of it in his rookie season. He was sent back for four punt returns last year, however. Doss averaged 13.3 yards per return with a long of 40 yards against the Denver Broncos in Week 15. Doss has sure hands and burst.
CB Lardarius Webb (5-10, 182, fifth season) Webb still holds the title of "return specialist," but has had a shrinking role since becoming the Ravens' top cornerback. In 2011, Webb returned 30 punts (10.0 average, one touchdown) and two kickoffs (29.5 average). Last year, he had just one punt return before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
CB Asa Jackson (5-10, 190, second season) A major reason for drafting Jackson in the fifth round last year was his return ability. He's a fast, shifty returner and showed it off during last year's preseason with a weaving 85-yard touchdown that was called back because of a penalty.
CB David Reed (6-0, 190, fourth season) Reed led the NFL in kick return average in 2010 when he averaged 29.3 yards, including a 103-yard touchdown. Reed was off to a good start the next year, averaging an even better 29.7 yards per kickoff return. Then he lost two fumbles in Seattle and temporarily lost his job. He got it back near the end of the year, but tore his anterior cruciate ligament on a return versus Cleveland. After repairing the knee, Reed didn't make any returns last year.
RB Bobby Rainey (5-8, 205, second season) Rainey was a kickoff returner in college at Western Kentucky, and got a look there during last year's preseason. He averaged 15 yards per kickoff return with four attempts and 1.5 yards per punt return with eight attempts. Rainey is a stocky, powerful runner.
WR Omarius Hines (6-0, 215, undrafted) The Florida speedster returned five kicks for 79 yards (15.8 average) last season in college. He's one of the fastest players currently on the team, claiming to run the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds.
Jones is perhaps the best kickoff returner in the NFL, and the Ravens likely want to utilize that talent as much as possible. But with the departure of Anquan Boldin, Jones is currently slated to be the Ravens' No. 2 wide receiver. That would mean more offensive snaps, which could eat into his special teams role.
If Jones isn't the kick returner, Thompson, Reed and Doss are probably the top candidates. Special Teams Coach Jerry Rosburg has showed enough confidence in Thompson and Reed to go with them before as the primary returners.
If the Ravens want to cut down on Jones' special teams role, they could leave him as kick returner and take him off punt returns. That would leave Doss, Jackson and perhaps Thompson as the top options at punt returner.
Baltimore is looking to get Doss more involved, and his good hands would be welcomed. Jackson is more explosive, but doesn't have as much NFL experience and doesn't have as much of a projected role on defense as Doss has on offense. Thus, Jackson would be more of a true specialist and take up another active roster spot on gamedays. The Ravens could potentially save a spot if they went with Doss.
Thompson would make sense, except he hasn't returned punts yet at the NFL level. With Webb coming back from a second knee injury, the Ravens may keep him locked into defense, especially early on in the season. Punt returner may be one of the more contested positions on the team.