Will the Ravens find a punt returner they can depend on?
One negative for the Ravens during their 22-19 victory over the Carolina Panthers in the 2016 NFL preseason opener was their inability to field punts cleanly.
Kaelin Clay muffed a punt that led to a Panthers field goal. Keenan Reynolds also fumbled a punt, although that miscue did not count officially because the Panthers were called for interference on the play.
The Ravens haven’t settled on their No. 1 punt returner and for Clay and Reynolds, returning punts well could mean the difference between making the team or not.
“We have to find a punt returner who can catch the ball, and I think we knew that,” said coach John Harbaugh following the Ravens’ preseason victory over the reigning NFC champions. “Kaelin Clay can catch the ball. He’s proven that in games, so I was really surprised by that one. Keenan is learning. Keenan is a work in progress. I think he’ll learn fast – we’re not going to give up on him. So we’ll just keep working with him. It was his first time under the lights, and guys were buzzing all around him, but that’s a catch he needs to make.”
Wide receiver Michael Campanaro has returned punts in the past, but he has continued to have problems staying healthy and did not play against the Panthers.
The Ravens would probably like to avoid using safety Lardarius Webb or wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. to return punts on a regular basis. Both are veteran starters, and Smith is still on the PUP list recovering from his Achilles injury.
So the Ravens will keep hoping that somebody seizes the punt return job with confidence before Week 1. But before you can return punts, you have to catch them.