OWINGS MILLS — During organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, the Baltimore Ravens allowed a diverse collection of players to display their talents fielding kicks.
The battle to be the Ravens’ primary kick returner is one of the most wide-open competitions heading into training camp in two weeks.
“Every position is wide open. That’s why we play football,” first-year special teams coordinator Chris Horton said in June. “No job is guaranteed to any guy. You have to come out here; you compete; you work. Whoever wins that job as a returner, you’ll see him out there.”
Horton succeeds special teams guru Jerry Rosburg, who retired after leading the unit for 11 years.
Baltimore has been without incumbent return man Cyrus Jones. Head coach John Harbaugh said Jones was out with a ‘health issue’ after he had ‘an episode a few months ago.’ Harbaugh added he expects Jones back for training camp, but he needs to clear certain medical tests before he can practice.
The Ravens signed Jones early into the regular season last year and the Baltimore native still managed the third most punt return yards (304) in the NFL.
Horton said the Ravens have a myriad of options in the competition, but noted two guys in particular.
“Tyler Ervin has done a pretty good job for us,” he said. “Willie Snead is back there. We have a ton of guys. We’re just trying to figure out who’s going to be that main guy for us this year.”
Ervin returned 56 punts for an average of 8.9 yards in three seasons with the Houston Texans. Snead has only returned a single punt and two kickoffs in his career and he will also be a top wide receiver in the Ravens’ offense, so it seems unlikely coaches will want to frequently subject him to the physical task.
Fellow wide receiver Chris Moore has been a primary kickoff returner for Baltimore in his first three seasons, but the team could lessen that load for him in Year 4 as he expects to have an increased role in the offense.
Another surprising player to field punts during minicamp was cornerback Tavon Young, who the Ravens signed to a lucrative three-year contract extension following last season. Even rookie quarterback Trace McSorley, a sixth-round pick out of Penn State, has had the chance to show his hand fielding punts.
“Early on in Tavon’s career, we had him back there returning for us a little bit,” Horton said of Young. “We wanted to see how he does in practice. He’s caught the ball fairly well, so we’re going to give him an opportunity.”
Young has shown the ability to do what any return man needs to accomplish first and foremost.
“Who’s going to catch the ball consistently?” Horton said. “Other than that, what you do after the catch, you see those things on the field. A guy with the ball in his hands, what kind of skillset he has. But, the most important thing is the obvious one: catch the football.”
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