In his first three seasons with the Ravens, cornerback Asa Jackson struggled to find his niche.
Injuries and two different suspensions stalled his progress over his first two seasons. He struggled at times in six starts at cornerback last year and then lost his grip on the primary returner job this preseason, when he couldn't consistently hold onto the football.
But in the Ravens' past two games, Jackson has shown another skill: the ability to get his hands on kicks and punts. Jackson blocked a Drew Butler punt in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 26. The following week, he came around the edge to block Josh Lambo's extra-point try late in the second quarter, a key play in the Ravens' 29-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
"You watch Asa play on defense and you watch him return punts, what you see is a suddenness about him. He's a very quick, explosive athlete," said Ravens associate head coach and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg. "They come in all different shapes and sizes. Asa is not 6-2, but what he has, some guys that are 6-2 don't have. He's got a real quick change of direction, an ability to start fast. The other part of that whole formula is he's willing to study to figure out what exactly he can do to get an edge to get a fast start. He's done that in two successive weeks."
Jackson said following the Cardinals game, in which his punt block led to a Ravens touchdown and started a late-game rally, that he hadn't blocked a kick since Pop Warner. Now, he has done it twice in the NFL, becoming the league's first player since Alex Carrington of the Buffalo Bills to block a kick in back-to-back weeks, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Rosburg joked Wednesday that he still has the "scars" from two special teams plays that the Jacksonville Jaguars made against the Ravens last December. But in case he had forgotten, several of the Ravens' core special teamers reminded him this week.
"The guys who were here last year, they brought it to my attention, which is really remarkable. They know, too," Rosburg said. "They're a prideful bunch, they want to do well, and give Jacksonville credit. They found two things and took advantage of them and it was really a long afternoon, because those two plays were looming large for that entire game. The good news was we won the game, so from that regard, it ended up with a happy ending. But we have to do better in those areas."
The two plays that Rosburg was referring to were an onside kick that the Jaguars recovered in the second quarter, and a fake punt in the third quarter deep in Jacksonville territory. On fourth-and-3, punter Bryan Anger threw to Will Ta'ufo'ou for a 19-yard gain.
"We definitely talk about it and make sure it never happens again," said Ravens safety Brynden Trawick, one of the team's core special teams players. "It definitely has our attention and we're ready for it if it happens again this year."