Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason nominates himself to return punts

November 01, 2010|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

Derrick Mason said he hasn't returned punts with any regularity since 2004, but that hasn't stopped the wide receiver from seriously offering his services to the Ravens coaching staff.

"I've done it before, and I was very good at it," said Mason, who went to his first Pro Bowl in 2000 as a member of the Tennessee Titans after leading the NFL in punt return yards (662) and ranking second in average yards on kick returns (27.0). "Not taking away from the guys that are doing it, but if you feel you can help the team in some aspect, you mention it to a coach. And if I need to go out there — and I'm not saying that I'm going to break a long one each time — and you get blocks from guys on the outside, I can get some yards. I'm going to hold onto the ball and hopefully make good decisions on the back end."

To be fair, Mason said he wasn't sure how serious the coaches were considering using him, and coach John Harbaugh ruled out Mason on Monday as a punt returner for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.

"I would say it's an option," Harbaugh said. "Like I said when I said it the other day, he's in my ear to do it, and that tells you what he's all about. He's probably not the first guy I'm going to think about putting out there, but if it turns out that he's the best choice, we're willing to do it. I'm not anticipating him for Miami, but the fact that he wants to do it, I think, is kind of neat. Says a lot about Derrick."

Tom Zbikowski, the team's primary punt returner, is averaging 6.3 yards on 16 attempts, but he sat out the team's 37-34 overtime win against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 24 and wore a boot to protect his bruised right heel.

Chris Carr has averaged 2.7 yards on three returns, while Ed Reed and Lardarius Webb have each made a fair catch.

Mason, who had surgery a week ago to fix a broken right pinky, disagreed that returning punts could be dangerous to his status as a starter.

"I think I put myself more at risk going out there as a wide receiver than I do as a punt returner," he said. "When I'm out there, I have full confidence in the guys who are blocking for me. As a returner, if you don't have confidence in the guys who are blocking for you, you're not going to be a good returner."

Koch still proving himself

According to the team, Sam Koch is on pace to set a league record for punts inside the 20. Koch, who is tied with the St. Louis Rams' Donnie Jones and the Seattle Seahawks' Jon Ryan with 19 punts inside the 20, is on pace to finish with 43, which would eclipse the NFL mark of 42 shared by the San Francisco 49ers' Andy Lee (2007) and the Arizona Cardinals' Ben Graham (2009).

But Koch, who signed a one-year, $1.7 million tender in March, said he can't rest on his laurels.

"I still feel like each week I've got to go out there and prove that I can do it," said Koch, whose 129 career punts inside the 20 edged out Kyle Richardson's 128 punts for the franchise's all-time lead. "It is nice being around with the guys for five years. You get a little more comfortable with the guys and everything, but when it comes to the games, you've got to play almost as if you're a rookie. So each game means a lot to me, and I just have to go out there and do what I do every week and do the best that I can."

Koch has been instrumental in helping the Ravens win the field-position battle in the team's last five contests.

"We've been a team that's been fortunate enough to be punting down into people's ends a lot, and Sam's as good as any pooch punter," Harbaugh said. "What's he had – one touchback? That's kind of unheard of. … Sam's as good as anybody and that makes a big difference."

Gooden's status undecided

Tavares Gooden said he practiced in full pads Monday, but he acknowledged that his availability for Sunday's game is still up in the air.

Gooden pointed out that Jason Phillips has been playing well in his absence. More importantly, Gooden said his status will depend on the strength of his dislocated left shoulder.

"It all depends on if I can be strong and be myself," he said. "That's what we're looking at. Every practice, we're going to assess it and see whether I can be an impact player. That's basically what it boils down to."

End zone

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