The Ravens kept waiting for the spark from four-time Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Hester than never came.
Indecisiveness, fumbling problems, and injuries led to the 34-year-old’s demise as he was officially waived by Baltimore on Tuesday. Hester’s decision to let a punt bounce at the Baltimore 14-yard line and roll to the 1 led to a safety in the first quarter of Monday’s loss to New England.
It was the final straw in a disappointing season for Hester, who was one of the most exciting players in the NFL in his days with the Chicago Bears.
Monday’s scene was familiar to the Ravens as the once-feared returner frequently let punts bounce instead of catching them, often hurting field position for a below-average offense needing all the help it could get. Hester was hindered by a groin injury earlier in the season and did not play in the preseason while recovery from January toe surgery.
The 2006 second-round pick from the University of Miami also had issues securing the football, fumbling five times and losing one of them earlier this season.
Still trying to find the kind of production they once received from 2012 Pro Bowl returner specialist Jacoby Jones, the Ravens signed Hester to a one-year deal a week before the start of the regular season. Considered by some to be the greatest return man in NFL history, Hester holds the record for most all-time return touchdowns — punts and kickoffs — and the most all-time punt return scores.
He ranks sixth in the NFL among qualified kick returners with a 24.5 yard average per return and is 18th among punt returners with just a 7.2 yard average this season.
Though the move was not made official on Tuesday, the Ravens intend to promote third-year wide receiver and returner Michael Campanaro from the practice squad, according to The Sun. In addition to possibly contributing in the return game, the 2014 seventh-round pick will serve as another option at the receiver position, whereas Hester hadn’t played an offensive snap all season.
Campanaro has just three kickoff returns and five punt returns in his brief NFL career, hardly making him a sure bet to pump life into the position.
The Ravens also placed running back Lorenzo Taliaferro on injured reserve with a hamstring injury and signed linebacker Lamar Louis. Taliaferro had missed the last four games with the injury and only appeared in three games after coming off the physically unable to perform list.
An undrafted free agent from Louisiana State, Louis appeared in one game for Arizona earlier this season and was most recently with New Orleans.
It remains to be seen whether the Ravens will need to add a cornerback or two to the 53-man roster after starter Jimmy Smith left Monday’s game with a sprained ankle and nickel back Jerraud Powers sustained a concussion. Cornerback Robertson Daniel is currently on the practice squad and appeared in one game against the New York Jets earlier this season.