At the start of the season, Jacoby Jones was the Ravens' clear-cut starter at kick and punt returner. He had five returns for touchdowns last year and made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist.
But then Jones went down with a sprained knee in the season opener, and the Ravens had new players step in on return duties. The Ravens re-signed Tandon Doss as the punt returner and split kick return duties between Deonte Thompson and Bernard Pierce.
Now that Jones could return to the lineup this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, it's unclear whether the Ravens will thrust him right back into action fielding punts and kicks.
"That's the question we're asking ourselves right now," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "It probably depends on how he looks during practice. If he looks really, really good, we'd be willing to put him out there. But if we feel like we need to protect him, then we will."
Jones, who could also start at wide receiver, has missed the last four games with the injury. He stressed that he will take on any responsibility the coaches ask of him.
"If I can get on the field, whatever they throw my way, I'm with it," Jones said. "The biggest thing is that I'm on the field having fun with my teammates. I'm trying to contribute some kind of way. If I just have to block, then I'm just going to block."
Jones was a limited participant in practice Wednesday and Thursday, and said that he planned to "step it up a notch" throughout the week. Once he gets full clearance from the medical staff to play, the Ravens plan to get him involved in a variety of ways.
"When he's cleared for practice and he's healthy enough to play games, he'll be full-time and playing," Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "Now, how that fits in with the rest of the roster remains to be seen."
Jones was one of the NFL's most explosive players as a returner last year, finishing first in the league in kickoff return average (30.7 yards per return). He ranked 15th in punt return average (9.2 yards per return).
Doss and Thompson have also emerged as quality returners.
Doss leads the NFL in punt return average (16.7), and he also broke an 82-yard return for touchdown against the Texans in Week 3. Thompson returned to the lineup two weeks ago after a preseason foot injury, and has averaged 28.7 yards per kickoff return, third best in the NFL.
The development of Doss and Thompson as returners could allow the Ravens to ease Jones back into the lineup and have him focus at wide receiver. Jones started at receiver opposite Torrey Smith at the start of the season, and the Ravens want to utilize his skills on offense as well.
In addition to Jones, the Ravens also have receivers Marlon Brown and Brandon Stokley getting healthy, which gives them plenty of options on offense and special teams.
"I think now that our depth at receiver is coming back, and we have some depth now at returner – both with Tandon and with Deonte – we'll play the game, and whoever is the returner at that particular time will be the returner," Rosburg said. "But it gives us an opportunity to play others, certainly. Now, whether or not that will be the case, we'll find out on Sunday."