The Ravens top kickoff returner last year was benched for a month after some problems with fumbles, and then ended the season on injured reserve. His top backup is now in Indianapolis. The top punt returner is also the top cornerback, so his role on special teams could be limited.
Thats one reason why the Ravens entered this offseason with major questions in the return game, part of a special teams unit that performed well below coach John Harbaughs expectations last season.
The Ravens seemingly made a major move to upgrade the return game when they signed former Texans wide receiver Jacoby Jones. Though he had one very costly turnover on a return against the Ravens in the playoffs last season, Jones ranked 13th in the league in punt returning last year with an average of 10.6 yards and one touchdown. He also has 64 kickoff returns for a 23.3-yard average and one touchdown over his five-year career.
Speaking to the media at training camp on Saturday, Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said he could see Jones serving as a dual return threat, though that would depend on his role in the offense.
I think we'll see how much he is playing on offense, Rosburg said. If he is playing a lot, he may be doing both, but he may not be doing every rep with both.
The Ravens primary kick returner last season, David Reed, averaged 29.7 yards over 18 returns. But he lost the job for a month after fumbling three times in a two-week span. Then he suffered a season-ending knee injury on Christmas Eve and remains sidelined as he recovers from surgery.
Lardarius Webb handled most of the Ravens punt return duties last year, averaging 10.0 yards, with one touchdown. But with his role increasing in the secondary, the Ravens seem less enthused about putting their top shutdown corner on the return team.
Webb, though, said he would like to be on the punt return unit occasionally, and Rosburg said Saturday that, I envision Lardarius being one of our returners.
The preseason, though, always gives lesser-known players the chance to make their mark. LaQuan Williams saw action in both return roles last preseason, though that didn't translate to much action during the regular season.
A couple of rookies to watch this preseason are receiver Deonte Thompson, who has burner speed, and rookie cornerback Asa Jackson, a record-setting return man at Cal Poly.
During the preseason, Rosburg said, "You're going to find a lot of those young returners with opportunities. It gets to the point of the game in preseason in the second half and then, 'OK, it's your turn. Go show us what you can do.'