SAN JOSE, CALIF. — The Ravens' decision to use top receiver Steve Smith Sr. as their primary punt returner wasn't a one-game deal. Ravens special teams coordinator and associate head coach Jerry Rosburg said Thursday that Smith will continue to be used in that role, believing that the 36-year-old remains the team's best option.
"He's the best guy we've got," Rosburg said. "He's going into the game because we're trying to win. The discussions that we have about who plays where and what their role is, is all a part of the fabric of the team. It's a big-picture discussion. If we had someone who we felt at this time was more appropriate to put in there at that position, we'd put him in. At this time, right now, right here, Steve Smith is our best option."
Smith returned two punts for 32 yards in the Ravens' 19-13 loss to the Denver Broncos last Sunday. The wide receiver was once considered one of the league's best returners. As a rookie with the Carolina Panthers in 2001, Smith made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist.
However, before the Broncos game, Smith hadn't returned a punt in an NFL game since the 2010 season.
"It was cool. When you are an older player, guys always wonder or ask, 'Do you still have it? Are you able to stay focused and all of that stuff?'" Smith said Thursday. "It was good to be back there, but I've always practiced punt returns to some degree. I've been doing it since I was probably about 10 years old. The muscle memory is there and understanding the spin of the ball is something I've paid attention to. I just think it gives me an extra opportunity to be on the field and a chance to touch the ball."
And that ultimately is why the Ravens have decided to keep Smith back there. Michael Campanaro (River Hill) and Lardarius Webb are also return options, but the coaching staff feels that Smith gives the team the best chance for a big play.
"We're excited about it because you saw what he did last week," Rosburg said. "His experience shows, his competitiveness shows, his judgment shows. It's fun to watch."
A Super Bowl XLVII rematch
At some point during Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders, cornerback Jimmy Smith could find himself matched up against Oakland receiver Michael Crabtree, and the two can recreate one of the more memorable plays in Ravens history.
It was Smith who was matched up against Crabtree, then a San Francisco 49er, on fourth down late in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLVII. As Ravens fans remember well, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick tried to hit Crabtree in the corner of the end zone. However, his pass — and San Francisco's final chance at the go-ahead touchdown — sailed out of bounds.
Crabtree and the 49ers felt that Smith should have been called for pass interference. Smith felt that Crabtree gave just as much as he got. It's a moot point now.
"We've actually practiced after that and he said nothing about that," Smith said, referring to the joint practices between the Ravens and 49ers before last season. "It's probably over and done with."
Smith was asked if the matchup will conjure up good memories.
"I have a memory right here forever," he said, pointing to the tattoo that he has of a Super Bowl ring on his left forearm. "That memory never leaves."
Wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) and left tackle Eugene Monroe (concussion) remained the only Ravens out of practice for health reasons. Middle linebacker Daryl Smith and defensive end Chris Canty were given veteran days off. Running back Justin Forsett (shoulder), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee) practiced in full while cornerback Rashaan Melvin (thigh) was limited … For the Raiders, veteran safety Charles Woodson (shoulder) was limited and quarterback Derek Carr (thumb) practiced in full. … If Ravens rookie cornerback Tray Walker finds himself matched up against Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper, it will be quite the reunion for the two who were teammates at Miami Northwestern High in Florida.