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Return job still up for grabs

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Return job still up for grabs

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.'

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Peter King awards Lamar Jackson with weekly honor for NFL start vs. Bengals

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Peter King awards Lamar Jackson with weekly honor for NFL start vs. Bengals

The Baltimore Ravens couldn't have drawn up a better NFL start for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. 

With the weight of keeping his team in playoff contention against a division rival that crushed those hopes less than a year ago firmly on his shoulders, Jackson stepped onto the field at M&T Bank Stadium and not only got the win, but set records along the way.

The 21-year-old's performance caught the attention of local and national pundits, earning him one of two Offensive Players of the Week honors in Peter Kings' Football Morning in America.

In the 24-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, the first-round draft pick was 13-of-19 for 150 yards in the air while rushing for 117 yards on 27 attempts.

Those 117 rushing yards were the second-most by a rookie quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger with 46 of them on the Ravens' opening drive alone. Coincidentally, Robert Griffin III holds the record for most rushing yards by a rookie QB with 138 back in October of 2012 with the Redskins.

His speed was an issue all afternoon for the Bengals as well. Jackson is so fast that according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jackson reached 15+ mph on 14 rushing attempts. No other player has hit 15+ mph on more than nine rushing attempts this season. 

"The way he bounced back and his composure," safety Eric Weddle told reporters after the game on what impressed him about Jackson's performance.

"He threw that pick [to start the second half], and what did he do next drive? He went down and scored. And it was like nothing happened and you can't teach that. It's something that you see in him, he's very even-keeled, cool calm and collected...that's what impressed me. His physical ability and the way he plays; we see it everyday so I expect him to play like that. But just to overcome some adversity early on in his first start and to come back and lead a huge drive and make some big plays...I just think his composure."

Now the Heisman Trophy winner will have to maintain that same composure when the Oakland Raiders come to town in what will likely be his second NFL start.

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With season on the line, rookies Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards carried Ravens to another week

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With season on the line, rookies Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards carried Ravens to another week

This was one of the most interesting weeks the Baltimore Ravens have experienced in a very long time.

Coming off three-straight losses and preparing to face division rivals with their season on the line, their starting quarterback was likely out with an injury, their backup spent an afternoon in the hospital with a stomach illness and job security was the buzz around town. 

But when the clock read one at M&T Bank Stadium and it was do-or-die, two rookies took their team and carried them to a win, literally and figuratively. 

In his NFL start, first-round draft pick Lamar Jackson was 13-of-19 for 150 yards in the air while rushing for 117 yards on 27 attempts.

All afternoon long we were in awe of his speed, and probably at times nervous, by just how confident the rookie was in taking the game into his own hands.

"I thought he played spectacular," head coach John Harbaugh said after the win. "I thought he played winning football. It's tough being a quarterback in this league."

"For a first-time-out rookie in an environment like that...All those operation things, I think, speak to his intelligence, his studiousness, and just his ability to run the show. And that's everything. The playmaking — that comes from God. He made use of that, too. Very proud of that."

Jackson hasn't been one to put his feelings into many words, and in the week leading up to his NFL start, the Heisman Trophy winner continuously remained humble.

When asked how it felt to lead the Ravens to a 24-21 win over the Bengals, Jackson said, "I don't know. Come out with a win. It was pretty good, I guess."

On the Ravens' opening drive, Jackson rushed five times for 46 yards while converting two third downs that ended with a seven-yard touchdown run from Alex Collins. The QB is so fast that according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jackson reached 15+ mph on 14 rushing attempts. No other player has hit 15+ mph on more than nine rushing attempts this season. 

Plus, his 27 carries were the most by a quarterback in an NFL game since Pittsburgh Steelers' Joe Geri's in 1950. 

"I think he brings a different dynamic to the game. As you can tell, our offense looks totally different, obviously from when Joe [Flacco] is in. It's hard for defenses to game plan for Lamar. And I think that shows with Gus [Edwards] having 100 yards as well. It's good to see, and it's a great win."

That brings us to our next rookie speedster; Gus Edwards.

The undrafted free agent out of Rutgers put up 115 rushing yards on 17 attempts averaging 6.8 yards-per-carry and one touchdown.

"I've got a great coaching staff," Edwards said on getting his big chance and playing well. "I've got a great group of veteran running backs [that] told me to always be prepared, from day one when I came in here, they told me what it was going to be like. This game, a lot of things played into it, and you;you've always got to be ready."

The last time the Ravens had two 100+ rushers in a single game was December 23, 2012 against the New York Giants when Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce ran for 107 and 123 yards respectively. Sunday also marked the first time in NFL history that a team had a rookie quarterback and running back each surpass 100 rushing yards in a game, per Elias Sports Bureau.

For a team that had many daunting questions surrounding them just a week ago, two young bloods came out and managed to change the aura in the city of Baltimore, at least for now. 

"It's just a confidence builder to be honest," Willie Snead said on having a quarterback like Jackson. "When we were running the ball how we were, it just gives us so much momentum and a lot of flexibility to do what we want. It was awesome to see that today, and [we] look forward to keep doing it."

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