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With Devin Hester gone, Michael Campanaro looking forward to chance as Ravens returner

With Devin Hester gone, Michael Campanaro looking forward to chance as Ravens returner

Michael Campanaro is looking forward to playing Sunday instead of watching.

The struggles of veteran returner Devin Hester, who was cut Tuesday, hurt the Ravens with field position this season and led to a safety against the Patriots on Monday night. Sunday against the Eagles, Campanaro figures to get his opportunity to return punts, with possible help from safety Lardarius Webb.

“Just looking to go out there and make a positive impact,” said Campanaro, who was elevated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster Tuesday. “We haven’t done a good job as a team (in the return game). I don’t think it’s put on one person when it comes to kick returning and punt returning. It’s a collective group.”

Campanaro, a Baltimore-area product from River Hill High School, has been injury-plagued since the Ravens drafted him in 2014 (seventh round). When healthy, Campanaro has displayed sure hands and the ability to get open as a slot receiver. However, Campanaro has only played in eight games during his career, and he was waived with an injury settlement in September before being re-signed in November.

“I definitely have a lot to prove my teammates and team, and (I) have a lot of plays to make,” Campanaro said. “This is my third year. I’m just excited to get back out there and play football.”

Hester no longer looked like the great returner he once was, but he shared some of his wisdom with Campanaro over the past few weeks.

“Great mentor,” said Campanaro. “Was willing to teach me, always giving me advice. It sucks to see him go, but it is an opportunity. I’m just looking to make the most of it.”

MORE RAVENS: Can Ravens win without Jimmy Smith?

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Lamar Jackson gets help warming up for the Pro Bowl from Drew Brees' son

Lamar Jackson gets help warming up for the Pro Bowl from Drew Brees' son

Lamar Jackson’s season may have ended a little sooner than he would’ve liked, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to have a little fun over the offseason.

The presumptive MVP is in Miami for the Pro Bowl festivities, figuring to be a popular target for young fans to look out for. Among those fans is Baylen Brees, the son of future Hall of Drew Brees. The Saints quarterback reached out on Instagram to tell Jackson his son hoped to meet him.

That evidently came to fruition, as Jackson was spotted throwing the football with a group of kids—Baylen among them.

Jackson has already taken plenty of time to hang out with kids, messing around with them at the hotel and on the field.

In good spirits, Jackson will represent the Ravens and the AFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday.

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What lessons the rest of the NFL should, and shouldn’t, take from the league’s top rushing teams

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USA Today Sports Images

What lessons the rest of the NFL should, and shouldn’t, take from the league’s top rushing teams

A glance at the NFL over the final two months of the season gave an interesting glimpse where the league was headed. 

The Ravens, the NFL’s best offense, were a predominantly rushing team. They rushed for a league record 3,296 yards in the regular season and were the league’s top regular season team. 

The Titans rode running back Derrick Henry all season, which led to him finishing as the league’s leading rusher. Over the final nine games he rushed for an average of 24.6 carries per game, including 30 or more carries in three of the team’s final four games. 

And most recently, the 49ers won the NFC in dominating fashion over the Packers with just eight passing attempts and 42 rushing attempts. 

With a handful of the league’s best rushing teams advancing in the playoffs, there appeared to be a change in the way teams attacked defenses in the NFL.

But those stats have been a bit misleading for the crowd that wants to establish the run for the sake of establishing a ground attack. What the Ravens and Titans did was make rushing the football more efficient than any other team in the league. 

Baltimore rushed for 5.5 yards per carry in the regular season, half-a-yard more than any other team in the league. They were only one of three teams to surpass the five yard-mark — one other team was the Titans. 

When compared to passing stats across the league, however, none of the qualified quarterbacks had worse than a six-yard average when passing the ball. Speaking strictly from the numbers, passing is still more advantageous than rushing the ball, no matter what teams that advanced far in the playoffs accomplished. 

What the Ravens and Titans do have, however, are two athletes that are unique in the NFL. Lamar Jackson was the league’s best rushing quarterback of all time and Henry led the league in total rushing yards. 

So the Ravens and Titans didn’t reinvent the wheel and show the NFL the ground game was more effective, but instead showed the league to lean into the special talents that both teams had. 

While the Titans were clearly better when Henry had his best days on the ground, there’s not a direct relationship to more Henry touches equaling a better day for the Titans. 

When the Ravens fell behind 14-0 to the Titans, Henry had just seven rushes for 28 yards on the ground. Down the stretch, he rushed 23 more times for 167 yards — a 7.26 yard average. Essentially, the Titans used Henry most effectively when they had already scored the winning points. 

The same can be said for the 49ers in the NFC Championship, who barely used Jimmy Garoppolo's arm. But when Raheem Mostert averages more than seven yards per carry, it’s difficult to get away from the run. 

So while it might seem that simply running the ball got teams to the playoffs, and championship games, it was the fact that they were able to run the ball more efficiently than other teams across the league. Rushing attempts weren’t the reason those teams won, but how they used those rushing attempts instead.

And when Jackson and Henry are leading the charge, it’s hard not to give them the ball.

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