Uncertainty persists at return specialist spot for Ravens

August 15, 2016 | Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — An uncertain return specialist competition became cloudier for the Ravens on Monday with Kaelin Clay being waived.

Despite muffing a punt in the preseason opener, the wide receiver who returned a punt for a touchdown in Cleveland last year had still looked like one of the leading candidates to win the job before injuring his foot during Saturday’s practice. The Ravens replaced Clay on the 90-man roster with wide receiver Darius White, a rookie free agent out of Missouri with virtually no return experience in college.

In seven games for the Ravens last year, Clay averaged 10.6 yards per punt return and 24.5 yards per kick return. He did not have any fumbles.

What this means for the ongoing returner competition is anyone’s guess as the latest depth chart released by the team Monday listed the oft-injured Michael Campanaro as the primary kickoff and punt returner. Former Navy quarterback and 2016 sixth-round pick Keenan Reynolds is listed as the backup at both spots.

“For training camp from this point forward, one of the big missions we have is to find out who that player is and how he fits into our roster,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “Just having a returner is the start of it. You have to have a guy that’s able to catch the ball and secure the catch and hang on to it afterwards, but he also needs to fit into your team. That’s the challenge.”

Campanaro might make the most sense on paper, but the Ravens counting on a receiver limited to just eight games in two years because of injuries is a dangerous proposition. Reynolds was interfered with while attempting to catch a punt against Carolina last week, but he was not in good position to field it cleanly before the penalty occurred and head coach John Harbaugh echoed after the game that he remains a work in progress.

The Ravens have made it clear that they want a returner who can also make meaningful contributions at an offensive or defensive position. Rosburg acknowledged that an established veteran such as safety Lardarius Webb could ultimately handle the return duties, but that is clearly not the preference at this time.

“We’ll find out what happens this week in the game,” said Rosburg, who reconfirmed his belief that the right man for the job is on the current roster. “The game reps are so valuable for us. That’s why this last weekend’s game was so disappointing, because we had our first game reps and we put the ball on the ground twice.”