Where do Ravens turn for returns?

Where do Ravens turn for returns?
September 7, 2013, 8:30 am
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Jacoby Jones is now expected to be sidelined from four to six weeks with an MCL sprain sustained in Denver, leaving the Ravens with pressing questions both at wide receiver and at return specialist.

It's likely that rookies Aaron Mellette and Marlon Brown will have to step up and play a more prominent role in the offense, but perhaps the more pressing issue is, where do the Ravens turn for returns?

The Ravens had a lot of depth at return specialist in training camp, but almost all those players are now gone. David Reed was traded. Bobby Rainey and Tandon Doss were cut. Deonte Thompson remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Asa Jackson is suspended through the first eight games. So who's left?

Lardarius Webb returned punts against Denver and is probably the next man up in that role, but he is the Ravens top coverage corner -- a fact made very clear in Denver -- and is coming off his second ACL injury.

Thompson is listed as the Ravens No. 2 kick returner on the team's depth chart, but he has been out a month after suffering an ankle injury in the preseason opener at Tampa Bay. With Jones and Thompson out, Bernard Pierce lined up as the Ravens kick returner against Denver, but every kick was a touchback.

That's probably not a role the Ravens truly want for Pierce, who doesn't have a returner's breakaway speed and, perhaps more important, is one of only two running backs on the roster.

If you told Ravens general manger Ozzie Newsome he could gaze into a crystal ball and see that Jones would go down for a  month in the season opener, maybe the Ravens wouldn't have traded Reed. Or wouldn't have cut Rainey. Now, neither is available; Reed made the Colts 53-man roster, and Rainey was claimed off waivers by the Browns.

If Thompson remains sidelined, the Ravens might have to make a roster move. Might they call on Doss? He was a record-setting kickoff returner at Indiana, though he never has had that role with the Ravens. What about LaQuan Williams? He too was cut, but he had five kickoff returns with the Ravens in 2011.  Both are already familiar with the Ravens offense and can fill receiver and return roles. Williams, though, was waived-injured, and probably wouldn't be an option until his hamstring injury has healed.

Mellette or Brown? Neither have much collegiate experience as return men, but it's fair to wonder whether they will get a look.

The kick returners looked to be a strong, deep group two months ago. Then cuts happened. Then Brynden Trawick plowed into Jacoby Jones. Now the Ravens are scrambling.

What a difference three weeks makes.