OWINGS MILLS - Coach John Harbuagh has not ruled out using wide receiver Steve Smith as a punt returner on occasion this season.
With Jacoby Jones departed to the Chargers, the returner’s job is wide open. The idea of giving Smith an opportunity with the ball in open space intrigues Harbaugh, particularly in key situations. Harbaugh believes the reward could outweigh the potential risk of injury.
“At some point in time, you put your best players on the field,” Harbaugh said. “Punt return is an opportunity in space to make a play, and guys like Steve Smith are pretty good at doing that. I like having our best players on the field as much as possible, but we’ll have to decide that. I don’t think it’s a given. We’ll have to pick our situation and see how we want to do it. We’re far from having that answer yet.”
Returning punts is OK by Smith, as long as he gets adequate blocking. He returned punts for a number of years with the Panthers, but stopped when he felt the blocking was not up to par.
“That’s what took me off it,” Smith said. “The blocking wasn’t there where it used to be. Basically, it’s kind of like going to a job, (and) they don’t want to pay you. We can’t pay you but we want you to work. No, I’m good.
“Blocking is essential. So with the good blocking, it’s really easy. It makes it very easy to focus on catching the ball.”
Smith said the idea of returning punts again intrigued him.
“I’ve been out there practicing,” Smith said. “I think I’ll do it at least once or twice, so I’m excited about doing it.”
If Smith does return punts, the kind if excitement he can create is what the Ravens are looking for.