Jeremy Ross' ball security issues forcing Ravens to make decision

The Jaguars' Nick Marshall, right, recovers a muffed punt return by Ravens' Jeremy Ross, left, in the fourth quarter.
The Jaguars' Nick Marshall, right, recovers a muffed punt return by Ravens' Jeremy Ross, left, in the fourth quarter. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

The Ravens had hoped that Jeremy Ross would provide a lift to their return game. There have been some moments in which he has, but Ross has also made two critical mistakes in the past three games, both of which led to touchdowns for the opposition.

The ball security issues are nothing new to Ross, who lost his return job with the Detroit Lions because he struggled to hold onto the football.


Against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 26, Ross fumbled a punt late in the second quarter. The Cardinals converted the turnover into the go-ahead touchdown and they never trailed again in a 26-18 win.

Ross and the Ravens felt that the returner's knee was down on the fumble against the Cardinals, There was no ambiguity, however, about his muffed punt in Sunday's 22-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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With the Ravens holding a 14-13 lead early in the fourth quarter and having just forced a three-and-out, Ross settled under a punt by Bryan Anger at his team's 33-yard line. Ross had plenty of room to make a clean catch, but it bounced off his hands and chest and right into the hands of Jacksonville's Nick Marshall.

"I was just sitting back there and the ball started dropping at the last minute," Ross said. "The wind just kept taking it behind me. I tried to go back and catch it, but it kind of got behind me a little bit and I dropped it."

Five plays later, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles hit Allen Robinson for the go-ahead 15-yard touchdown pass.

Ross, 27, has speed and play-making ability, but he has fumbled nine times over the past three seasons. That included five fumbles last year for the Lions.

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Ravens associate head coach and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg has praised the strides Ross has made with his ball security, but it's unclear if the Ravens can afford to stick with him.

Lardarius Webb was back on the next punt after Ross' muff, but it was a fair-catch situation, a role that the cornerback has occupied in the past.

Ross has averaged a respectable 10.9 yards per his 10 punt returns and 29.3 yards on his seven kick returns, but the Ravens coaching staff has traditionally been unforgiving of fumbles.

"You just have to move forward. It's a part of the game," Ross said. "You look at all returners, man, and everybody has mistakes that they make back there. Punt returning is a tough job, but you have to be skillful to be back there. You always got to focus on your technique.

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"You just move forward, you've got to push through it. You harping on what happened is not going to help you for the next play or the next game. You've just got to keep pushing through."

The question is whether Ross will get another chance. The Ravens' most obvious replacement is cornerback Asa Jackson, who has had ball security and decision-making issues of his own. The Ravens could also turn to Raheem Mostert, who has shown some explosiveness returning kicks.

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