Ravens will not reveal the starting returner until the first kickoff of the season opener
The Baltimore Ravens released their first official depth chart of 2020 on Monday and even though their public relations staff has second year running back Justice Hill as the first in line to return kicks and veteran Willie Snead to do the same with punts, the coaching staff isn’t tipping their hand at who will actually be their official starting returner just yet.
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton told members of media in a press conference on Thursday that they will have to wait until the season opener alongside to fans and viewing public to see who they will line up back deep when they trot out their return units onto the field for the first time at M&T Bank Stadium to face both of the Cleveland Browns kicking units.
“We’ve waited a long time. I think we can wait three more days to figure out who’s going to be out there,” Horton said. “Whoever we put out there is going to be the guy for the job.
Heading into training camp, the battle to be the Ravens’ top return specialist was one of the most underrated with the race for the starting right guard spot replacing Marshal Yanda garnering most of the attention. However, it was one of the most tightly contested competitions in camp that was the hardest to judge considering there was no preseason to go live against.
In addition to Hill and Snead, Baltimore had rookie receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche, second-year wideout Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown, and veteran running back Kejon Barner (cut on Sep.5) competing at returner in training camp and liked what they saw from each candidate.
“Those guys, James and Devin, along with Willie and along with Marquise, those guys have all done a great job this camp catching the football. We’ve put them through the wringer.”
Veteran receiver and special teams ace, Chris Moore, was listed as the second-string kick returner behind Hill on the initial depth chart even though he missed all of training camp with a broken finger and could be back in the mix when healthy.
Hill hasn’t practiced in the last two weeks while he’s been dealing with a lingering soft tissue thigh injury and Moore has still yet to practice since breaking his finger. Neither player is expected to play in the opener which means that the Ravens will be without their top two options at kick returner.
That likely leaves those duties to one or both of the rookie receivers. Since Duvernay is slated to have more of a role in the offensive game plan according to Harbaugh after looking good running with the first-team offense in training camp, my best guess is that Proche will get the first one to line up back deep to return kicks in Week 1.
The Ravens have historically been among the league’s best in the often-overlooked third phase of football, especially under Head Coach John Harbaugh who is a former Special Team Coordinator. They have the best trio of specialists in the league with kicker Justin Tucker, punter Koch, and long snapper Morgan Cox who are famously referred to as ‘The Wolf Pack’.
However, they’ve been lacking a true difference-maker at the return specialist position since Jacoby Jones last graced the gridiron in purple and black in 2014. Hopefully, one of these players can provide a spark in the Ravens return game and set the offense up with some advantageous field position every now and then this season and maybe even take a few the distance for a momentum-swinging touchdown followed by a creative celebration.