The Ravens signed Jacoby Jones as a triple threat who can catch passes as a wide receiver and return kicks and punts. The six-year veteran will get to undertake all three assignments this season.
Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said after Tuesday's practice at the team's training facility in Owings Mills that Jones is the primary kick returner at this time. Punt returns will be shared by Jones and Lardarius Webb, but with Webb starting at cornerback, that role could be shifted more in Jones' direction.
"We have Jacoby," Rosburg said. "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."
Jones, who has averaged 8.5 yards on four punt returns this preseason, has returned three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns in his previous five seasons with the Houston Texans – which is a record for that franchise. Ravens fans may remember Jones for botching a punt that led to a touchdown in Houston's 20-13 loss to the Ravens in an AFC divisional game at M&T Bank Stadium in January.
But because of Jones' status as the No. 3 receiver on offense, the team has auditioned rookies Bobby Rainey and Deonte Thompson and second-year running back Damien Berry on kick returns in August.
"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."
Rosburg said he'll be interested to see how Rainey and fellow rookie Asa Jackson handle punt returns in Thursday night's preseason finale against the St. Louis Rams. Jackson had an 85-yard return against the Detroit Lions Aug. 17 nullified by a holding penalty, and Rainey is averaging 6.8 yards on eight returns.
"He showed a lot of vision, he showed a lot of cutting ability on that long return he had," Rosburg said of Jackson, a fifth-round pick. "I loved the fact that he just kept going. He didn't quit on it, he gave it every opportunity to score, and he did. So that's what I've seen from him. Now Bobby has also shown some explosiveness. I can recall a couple 15-yard returns that I really like. He got vertical after he caught the ball, and he didn't mess around, and 15 yards is 15 yards. Now they're both young. They both have a lot of learning to do. They have experience which can help them do that. Hopefully, we'll give both of them some opportunities this Thursday night."