A Wild Card Option
I don’t think it takes the keen eye of a professional NFL analyst to tell you that the Devin Hester experiment with the Baltimore Ravens has been nothing shy of a debacle thus far, and the end of the experiment could be right around the corner with the bye week in the rear-view mirror, giving the Ravens time to reassess all major facets and failures on this team.
John Harbaugh, in his typical side-stepping, non-commital fashion told me all I needed to know after their fourth consecutive loss to the Jets last Sunday. A loss in which Devin Hester muffed yet another punt (3rd on the season, coupled with 2 fumbles).
“You know I’m not going to comment on anything like that. I’m still very confident Devin can secure the football. I like the fact that Devin can still break a big return. He’s been battling some injuries. It’s my hope that it’s not because he’s gotten older, and that’s going to continue all year. But I don’t know. It’d be a good question to ask him when you see him.”
Why is this quote so telling?
Simply because 1) John denies to confirm Hester’s status; 2) He mentions Hester’s injuries and hopes it’s not age related; and 3) defers to the player to answer further, which he tends to do when he’s unsure or a player is in the dog house (Ravens players always defer to the coach when it comes to health, not the other way around).
And think about this…
If Devin Hester lost his role as punt returner & kick returner… what value does he have?
Such a fall from grace is very reminiscent of Jacoby Jones during his final days in Baltimore. He had no value as a wideout, and he was no more than marginally better than any of the Ravens stop-gap return men over the past few seasons who would simply catch & kneel, or wave a fair catch & hold on to the ball.
Fast forward back to present day, and Devin Hester is good for a fair catch signal when nobody is within 10 yards, muffing kicks more often than any return man should, and he’s even been guilty on multiple occasions of not being aggressive while letting a ball bounce down inside the 10 when he had a clean shot at the ball with better field position.
With an offense that struggles to score, those turnovers and that insufficient field position is doing nothing but hurting the team.
SO… assuming Hester’s days are numbered with the Ravens, who should his replacement be, and where can we find him?
I say you look no further than the practice squad, and here’s a hint: it’s not Keenan Reynolds.
This writer is jumping back to a guy who has shown some promise in the return game while donning the Ravens uniform just a year ago…
Yup. I’m crazy. But desperate times call for desperate measures!
Also, hear me out on this one…
Asa Jackson was signed to the Ravens practice squad a few weeks back, and it can’t be a simple coincidence that his timing coincides with a struggling special teams unit, as well as an injury riddled secondary.
Jackson immediately offers something that Devin Hester doesn’t: the ability to provide more than 1 function for this team. He can play special teams, but he can also offer a backup role in a much maligned secondary, which may be the initial reason Jackson gets called up.
So PR/KR and secondary…
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
Lost in the chaotic disaster that was the 2015 Ravens season, Asa Jackson became quite the blocker of boots after his return from suspension, having blocked a field goal attempt in Week 8 vs the Chargers, and blocking a punt in Week 9 against the Cardinals (he also had a blocked FG against former Raven Billy ‘shank’ Cundiff when the Ravens faced the Browns back in the 2014 season).
Devin Hester on the other hand, a former DB and WR, has no shot at being serviceable in either area for the Ravens, leaving the PR/KR duties his only value for this team.
While Jackson is more known as a defensive back and less a return man, he has shown us that he can break one off in Hester-esque fashion not long ago, as he returned a kickoff 103 yards against the Skins in the ’15 preseason. Jackson also had a preseason punt return touchdown in 2013, coupled with a few glimpses of his speed and vision fielding kicks in the ’13 and ’14 preseasons.
Of course, we can’t act as if Jackson is some phenomenal talent in the return game, as he’s shown some mental mistakes returning kicks, namely trying to squeeze a return with men in his face last preseason, resulting in a fumble.
Most of Jackson’s errors were aggressive mistakes, as he tried to turn nothing into something far too often. Those mistakes are easily corrected, and I think a player like Jackson whose been suspended multiple times, cut multiple times and stuck on the Ravens Practice Squad multiple times will have humbled himself, recognized those errors, and is looking to make amends in order to resurface in the league.
Hester on the other hand is muffing punts- something he hasn’t been known for in his illustrious career- and has also been stripped a few times, rather easily. While John Harbaugh ‘hopes’ those aren’t age related slip ups, I think we all can see the writing on the wall here.
While other options are being floated about in the form of rookies Chris Moore and Kenneth Dixon, or the return of the prodigal son, Michael Campanaro, none of these options are truly clear-cut answers.
Would the Ravens trust rookie Chris Moore? With Kenneth Dixon’s potential to step up in the offense and see more snaps, would the team risk putting him out there to return kicks? And with Campanaro, it’s the same old story- injury after injury proves he cannot be trusted over the course of a season. Plus with 5 wide receivers already on the roster (aside from Hester who is listed as a WR), why add another in Camp? And who would the team be likely to cut in order to add another wideout?
There’s no real option at the position with Smith Sr, Wallace, Perriman, Moore, Aiken all proving valuable in the offense… perhaps they’d carry 6 wide receivers? After all, the Ravens wouldn’t simply bring Campanaro back strictly as a return guy.
Indeed, there’s no clear-cut answer. But given his value in the secondary, his proven ability in the return game and he’s knack for blocking kicks?
Asa Jackson is hands down the most logical.