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Ravens counting on Jacoby Jones to improve kick and punt returns

Wide receiver expected to take Lardarius Webb's place as primary return man

By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

6:04 PM EDT, September 3, 2012

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Jacoby Jones' philosophy on football can be explained by some words of wisdom a coach shared with him when he played at Marion Abramson High in New Orleans.

"The first thing my coach told me was, 'You're built to run,'" Jones recalled. "So I'm just going to run. It doesn't matter what position."

That outlook has helped the wide receiver add kick and punt return duties to his resume, and he is primed to assume those roles again for the Ravens.

The team is leaning on Jones to be the primary kick and punt returner. Lardarius Webb, last year's primary punt returner, could get a few punt returns, too, but Jones is expected to get the brunt of the action.

"We have Jacoby," special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said last week. "We know Jacoby can return. He's had a really good preseason, and he likes what we're doing with him. As of right now, he and Webby are our leading punt returners, and he's our leading kickoff returner at the present time."

The Ravens could use some punch in the return game. Although they ranked ninth in the NFL in kick returns with a 24.9-yard average, they were only 19th in punt returns with a 9.6-yard average.

Since 2008 — when John Harbaugh succeeded Brian Billick as coach — the Ravens have scored three times on returns (two kick and one punt). That's one fewer than Jones has scored over the same span (three punt and one kick).

While Webb handled 30 of 36 punt returns, averaged 10 yards per return, and took one 68 yards for a touchdown last season, the team hasn't found similar stability on kick returns. Six different players took at least one return in 2011.

And with wide receiver-return specialist David Reed beginning the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list while recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, that responsibility now appears to fall on Jones.

Jones hasn't taken a kick return in his past 24 contests, but he said he is eager to get back on the horse.

"To me, it's all the same," he said. "It's like playing 'It' in the backyard with your friends. Catch me if you can. All I do is catch the ball and trust in the 10 guys in front of me and follow them. I'm going to do what I can do with my God-given talent as fast as possible."

Jones' presence will cut into Webb's workload, but the starting cornerback who led the defense in interceptions with eight (five in the regular season and three in the playoffs) isn't complaining.

"I played corner last year, and I was the full-time punt returner. So now, it'll be a lot easier knowing that I've got a guy who can take it the distance just like me and we can switch out and help each other out," said Webb, who has handled punt return responsibilities in each of the past two seasons and kick returns in 2009. "I'm just happy to be back there as one of the guys that they believe in to catch those punts. Whatever role they want me to play, I'm here."

Because of Jones' status as the No. 3 receiver on offense, the team has auditioned rookies Bobby Rainey and Deonte Thompson on kick returns and Rainey and fellow rookie Asa Jackson on punt returns. All three rookies made the active 53-man roster.

Thompson paced the team with a 39.8-yard average on five kick returns, and Jackson had an 85-yard return against the Detroit Lions on Aug. 17 nullified by a holding penalty.

"We have others that are working in competition with him, but like we've said all along, a lot of it has to do with the load he's going to be carrying on our offense," Rosburg said. "We understand he's a valuable part on our offense. That's why we got him here. So it'll be shared during the course of the season. We expect that to happen, and that's why we're developing other players as we go along."

Jones said he understands the concern over the team asking him to do too much, but he came up with a solution when asked about solving the dilemma over returning a kick and then lining up at wide receiver.

"Who knows? I might just house it and the offense can stay on the sideline. How about that one?" he said with a grin. "And then we're all good and squared away."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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