Hester OKs deal to be No. 1 re­turner

Forsett could be re-signed to­day; 8 brought back to prac­tice squad af­ter cuts

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Zre­biec

The Ravens an­swered one of their sig­nif­i­cant ros­ter ques­tions Sun­day: Devin Hester will be their pri­mary re­turn man. The NFL’s all-time leader in re­turn touch­downs agreed in prin­ci­ple to a one-year deal with the team af­ter work­ing out for it over the pre­vi­ous two days.

All indications are they’ll an­swer an­other be­fore the team re­turns to prac­tice Tues­day and con­tin­ues prepa­ra­tions for the reg­u­larsea­son opener Sun­day against the Buf­falo Bills. The ex­pec­ta­tion re­mains that the team will re-sign run­ning back Justin Forsett as early as to­day.

Forsett, 30, was the most sur­pris­ing re­lease Satur­day when the team got down to 53 play­ers. He had taken rep­e­ti­tions with the first-team of­fense through­out train­ing camp and he was given other lux­u­ries af­forded to vet­eran starters, such as pe­ri­odic days off from prac­tice and not play­ing in the first and fourth preseason games. His de­par­ture also left the Ravens with just two healthy run­ning backs: Ter­rance West (Tow­son Univer­sity, North­west­ern High) and Buck Allen. That’s not Sea­son opener Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

sig­nif­i­cant now be­cause the play­ers are off un­til Tues­day, but it will be­come a more press­ing ques­tion as the team gets closer to Sun­day’s game.

How­ever, Forsett’s re­lease ap­pears to be a cal­cu­lated gam­ble by the Ravens, who bought a lit­tle more time and an ex­tra ros­ter spot for a cou­ple of days. The ex­pec­ta­tion all along was that Forsett will re­turn to the or­ga­ni­za­tion, where he res­ur­rected his ca­reer with a 1,266-yard and eight-touch­down sea­son in 2014.

But in his stead, the Ravens were able to keep in­jured de­fen­sive tackle Carl Davis (an­kle) and safety Matt Elam (an­kle) on the ros­ter. Both play­ers now can be placed on in­jured re­serve and el­i­gi­ble to re­turn at some point this sea­son.

Un­der league rules, the Ravens are al­lowed to bring one player back from in­jured re­serve, but that player couldn’t have gone on IR un­til af­ter 4 p.m. Sun­day. The Ravens now have that op­tion with Davis and Elam, who are ex­pected to go on IR to ac­com­mo­date Hester’s sign­ing and Forsett’s re­turn.

It is un­clear what this will mean for Forsett’s con­tract, as he was en­ter­ing the sec­ond year of a three-year, $9 mil­lion deal. How­ever, the con­tract was ter­mi­nated with Forsett’s re­lease. Whether the Ravens re-sign Forsett on the same deal or re­work his con­tract re­mains to be seen.

The most im­por­tant news is that the vet­eran run­ning back should be an im­por­tant part of their of­fense Sun­day against the Bills, as he and West fig­ure to be the team’s top ball car­ri­ers; Ken­neth Dixon, a fourth-round draft pick, is side­lined with a torn MCL.

A day af­ter waiv­ing 13 play­ers, the Ravens brought back eight of them to the prac­tice squad, in­clud­ing wide re­ceiver Keenan Reynolds and de­fen­sive end Kapron Lewis-Moore. Their prac­tice squad also in­cludes quar­ter­back David Fales, who worked with of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marc Trest­man when they were both with the Chicago Bears in 2014.

The Ravens’ ac­tiv­ity Sun­day dur­ing an­other busy day through­out the NFL pro­vided few clues, and coach John Har­baugh isn’t sched­uled to ad­dress re­porters again un­til Tues­day. The Ravens, who had the sixth over­all waiver claim be­cause of their 5-11 sea­son last year, were not awarded any claims.

They did, how­ever, have two of their for­mer early draft picks, who were let go Satur­day, get claimed by other teams. Devin Hester, shown in a game against the Steel­ers, is com­ing off a toe in­jury that lim­ited him to five games with the Fal­cons last sea­son and re­quired off­sea­son surgery. In­side line­backer Arthur Brown, a sec­on­dround pick in 2013, was snapped up by the Jack­sonville Jaguars, the Ravens’ Week 3 op­po­nent. Safety Ter­rence Brooks, a 2014 third-round pick, was awarded to the Philadel­phia Ea­gles.

Both play­ers failed to earn the coach­ing staff’s trust on de­fense in Bal­ti­more.

The rest of the young play­ers the Ravens cut, a group head­lined by Reynolds, cleared waivers Sun­day. The team promptly re-signed Reynolds to the prac­tice squad, giv­ing the for­mer Navy star quar­ter­back more time to make the tran­si­tion into an NFL wide re­ceiver.

Other mem­bers of the prac­tice squad are run­ning back Stephen Houston, tight end Daniel Brown, of­fen­sive line­men Matt Skura and Blaine Clausell, lineback­ers Bren­nen Beyer and Pa­trick On­wua­sor, and Lewis-Moore.

The Ravens filled the ninth prac­ticesquad spot and added a third quar­ter­back by sign­ing Fales, who was drafted by the Bears out of San Jose State in the sixth round in 2014. Fales has yet to play in an NFL reg­u­lar-sea­son game.

The Ravens were un­able to bring back two play­ers who flashed for them in the preseason. Wide re­ceiver Jeremy But­ler, who caught 31 passes in eight reg­u­larsea­son games last year and led the team in re­ceiv­ing this preseason, turned down the Ravens’ prac­tice-squad of­fer to join the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers’ prac­tice squad.

Out­side line­backer Vic­tor Ochi, an un­drafted rookie out of Stony Brook who had two sacks in the preseason, signed with the New York Jets.

The Ravens, though, had to be pleased to add a proven re­turner, af­ter they gave nine play­ers ei­ther kick- or punt-re­turn rep­e­ti­tions in the preseason and none of them seized the job. Wide re­ceiver Michael Cam­pa­naro (River Hill), the pre­sumed fa­vorite, strained his calf and was placed on in­jured re­serve Satur­day.

Hester, 33, is re­garded as one of the best re­turn spe­cial­ists in league his­tory. He is a four-time Pro Bowl se­lec­tion and he holds the NFL record for re­turn touch­downs with 20 and punt-re­turn scores with 14.

How­ever, he is com­ing off a toe in­jury that lim­ited him to five games with the At­lanta Fal­cons last year, and re­quired off­sea­son surgery. He took a phys­i­cal with the Ravens on Fri­day and the team ap­pears to be com­fort­able enough with his health to sign him.

Ac­cord­ing to NFL Net­work, Hester’s deal could be worth as much as $4 mil­lion with in­cen­tives.

JOHN BAZE­MORE/ASSOCIATED PRESS 2014

Devin Hester, a four-time Pro Bowl se­lec­tion and the NFL’s all-time leader in re­turn touch­downs, agreed in prin­ci­ple Sun­day to a one-year deal with the Ravens.

BRYNN AN­DER­SON/ASSOCIATED PRESS 2014

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