Return Ticket

Ravens Preseason

Carr, Webb Most Likely To Grab Job Running Back Kicks, Punts

August 28, 2009|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,edward.lee@baltsun.com

Eleven regular-season wins and a trip to the AFC championship game notwithstanding, one area the Ravens desperately needed to address was the team's lack of punch in the return game.

And after a fairly active offseason and a similar preseason, the race to be the Ravens' primary return specialist has essentially boiled down to two players: veteran Chris Carr and rookie Lardarius Webb.

Coach John Harbaugh made that clear after Thursday's practice when he was asked about getting repetitions for a return group that had also included Yamon Figurs and Jayson Foster.

"We've got guys we want to look at," Harbaugh said. "We've also got guys that haven't had a lot of experience, and I'm talking about Lardarius Webb basically. He's a guy that needs a certain amount of reps because we have plans for him, and the other guys are going to have to take a back seat to that and get the reps where they can get them. But we're trying to get all of those guys in and take a look at them. We know Chris Carr is going to be here and Lardarius Webb is in our plans at this point, and then we just have to get those guys ready and work from there."

That leaves out Figurs, the only player in franchise history to return a kick and a punt for touchdowns in the same season and whose spot on the roster isn't secure with the Ravens hosting a crowded wide receiver position.

"That's the NFL for you," Figurs said. "We bring in good people all the time."

Carr and Webb can each make fairly compelling cases as to why he should get the nod as the team's returner in the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 13.

Carr finished in the top 13 in both kick and punt returns with the Tennessee Titans last season and was persuaded by the Ravens to sign a two-year, $5 million deal. Webb's versatility as a returner and cornerback convinced the organization to invest a third-round pick in the former Nicholls State standout this past April.

The man who is in the unenviable position of choosing between Carr and Webb is Jerry Rosburg. But rather than fret over the anxiety that goes into such a momentous decision, the assistant head coach and special teams coordinator is happy to be in such a position.

"It's certainly better to have the opportunity to pick from those guys than not having one," Rosburg said. "That's why we went out and got Chris, and Lardarius was valuable for us in the draft for those reasons. ... So we think we have an opportunity to have depth at that position as we approach the season."

That doesn't even include the likes of Ed Reed, Ray Rice, Mark Clayton and Tom Zbikowski - all of whom are capable of returning the ball.

But for now, the team seems content to give return duties to either Carr or Webb, both of whom have impressive resumes in the return game.

Carr ranked fourth in kick returns in the NFL last season with a 28.1-yard average and 13th in punt returns with a 10.1-yard average. His instincts and field vision appealed to the Ravens, who finished last season tied with the Green Bay Packers for last in kick returns and tied with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles for 18th in punt returns.

"It's nice to know they think highly of me in the return game," Carr said. "I think I've proven myself. But you can't read too much into it. I'm just out there trying to compete and do the best that I can. ... Whatever they want me to do to help the team, that's great because I know I'll find my niche helping this team somewhere. Of course, I want to do everything, but if somebody beats me out and does something that's best for the team, that's fine."

In two years at Nicholls State, Webb averaged 27.9 yards on 38 kick returns and 16.3 yards on 26 punt returns, totaling three returns for touchdowns. Webb, who has the speed and elusiveness to make potential tacklers miss, said he won't put any pressure on himself.

"If it's meant to be yours, it's meant to be yours," said Webb, who fumbled a kickoff return that the New York Jets converted into a touchdown in the Ravens' 24-23 win Monday night. "But I don't think it puts any pressure. I just go out there and have fun and play football like I've been doing."

Carr and Webb figure to split a majority of the returns in the Ravens' final two preseason games against the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons. Rosburg said that time will be critical in determining the team's primary return specialist.

"The competition is ongoing - into the season even," Rosburg said. "We're still going to find the best guy out there, and it's going to be going all year long. You're always trying to get someone else's job, and somebody's always trying to get yours."

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