Returner Hester to be used right away
Team took gamble with Forsett by releasing him
When Devin Hester was released by the Atlanta Falcons in late July, his first priority was getting healthy. Despite missing all but five games last year and having surgery on his toe in January, he still felt held back by the injury.
Once he started making physical improvements in the days ahead, his focus turned to finding a team where he could flourish again.
“Special teams was No. 1 for me. I’m a special teams guy,” Hester said. “I wanted to go to a special teams unit that was pretty much one of the most dominant teams in the league. I was finding the Ravens were in the top five the past five years or something. They were ranked No. 1 last year.”
Hester, 33, who signed a one-year deal with the Ravens on Sunday, participated in his first practice Tuesday, and Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the veteran will return kicks and punts for the team Sunday when it opens the regular season against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium.
“He looks like a player immediately,” Harbaugh said. “He practiced today — albeit not a real fast practice. But he looked good in the practice. He, as we said before, was good in the workouts. … As soon as he’s ready to play, I’m not worried about him being able to handle the job at all. So we’re excited about him, and we’re anticipating him being out there and returning kicks and punts for us at least on Sunday.”
In studying the Ravens as a potential fit, Hester realized they run the same return schemes as he did with the Chicago Bears under heralded special teams coach Dave Toub. In eight seasons with the Bears, Hester was named to the Pro Bowl team three times and had 19 return touchdowns. He added another punt-return touchdown for the Falcons in 2014, and his 20 total return scores are an NFL record.
“A returner, I feel, is all about experience. Everybody out here can run fast, can make guys miss,” Hester said. “I feel when you’re back there, you have to be able to manage the game, you have to make the right decisions, pick up small instincts just by repetition. I put a lot of time in it from the returner’s standpoint, and I feel like I can come here right away and contribute.”
Hester said the Ravens called his agent to express interest in him the first week after his release from the Falcons. As he got healthier, the Ravens’ need for a returner became greater with other internal options Devin Hester signed a one-year deal with the Ravens on Sunday and participated in his first practice Tuesday. “He looks like a player immediately,” coach John Harbaugh said. either getting hurt ( Kaelin Clay and Michael Campanaro) or struggling ( Keenan Reynolds).
“Not a day goes by where I don’t feel like I have to improve,” Hester said. “Even the greatest think that. Even Michael Jordan, if you ever pay attention to him, he always feels like he can get better. I always kind of look up to those types of guys and try to be like those types of guys. Deep down inside, I still feel like I have lot more to prove.” Harbaugh says team took risk with Forsett: The Ravens gambled that Justin Forsett would return after they terminated his contract Saturday. They also had steeled themselves to the possibility that the featured running back might get enticed by a better offer, though that scenario never seemed to seriously be in play.
“We understood that,” Harbaugh said. “You have to take risks. Noguts, no glory. You can’t achieve anything unless you’re willing to take some risks. Certainly you take calculated, smart risks, and that’s what we did there.”
Forsett returns for his second season under the same three-year, $9 million contract he signed before the 2015 season, plus a $100,000 incentive if he exceeds last year’s rushing total of 641 yards.
In releasing him Saturday and then re-signing him two days later, the Ravens were able to retain strong safety Matt Elam (knee) and defensive tackle Carl Davis (ankle) on the 53-man roster and then place both on injured reserve.
By keeping Elam and Davis on the roster through Sunday, the Ravens can bring back one player from injured reserve to the active roster later in the season.
Forsett, 30, who set career highs in carries (235), yards (1,266) and touchdowns (eight) in 2014, could have taken out his frustration and gone elsewhere. But Harbaugh praised Forsett for sticking with the plan.
“I thought Justin handled it exceptionally well,” Harbaugh said. “It was a team move on his part, and it didn’t hurt him in any way — financially or otherwise. He knew what the plan was all along. I thought it was well executed, and hopefully, it helps us in the end. It’s a small thing, but it’s not small thing for those two guys that have a chance to come back on the roster. It’s a big thing for those two guys and for our team. Just saw it as a plus all the way around and a well-executed move.” Butler a victim of team’s return needs: The popular thought that arose after the Ravens terminated the contract of Jeremy Butler on Saturday afternoon was that the wide receiver’s inability to contribute on special teams led to his departure.
Harbaugh said the 6-foot-2, 213-pound Butler, who led the team in the preseason with 16 catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns, had developed into a special teams player. But a pressing need for a return specialist forced the team’s hand.
“That was one of the toughest conversations — if not the toughest conversation — because in my mind, he deserved to make the team,” Harbaugh said Tuesday.
“He can play special teams. He’s a good special teams player. He’s learned how to play special teams since he’s been here. So [special teams coordinator] Jerry [Rosburg] was all for him being on the team as a teamer. But we needed a returner. Whenyou looked at who would have to go and stay, just for the team, he was a guy whothere wasn’t a chair left for in the end.”
The Ravens eventually got the return specialist they sought in Hester. Butler decided to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice squad. End zone: Cornerback Jerraud Powers has not played since Aug. 20, and Harbaugh revealed that the eight-year veteran is battling a sprained ankle. But Harbaugh expressed confidence in Powers being able to help solidify the defense. “We knew why we brought him in,” he said of Powers, who signed as a free agent May 13. “Here’s a guy who has played for seven years. So we have a pretty good idea of what he is as a player. He played many practices for us. So we understand how he fits into what we’re doing here, and we anticipate that Jerraud’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing.” ... The Ravens filled out their 10-man practice squad Tuesday morning, adding quarterback David Fales and offensive lineman Jarell Broxton. Fales was a 2014 sixthround draft pick of the Bears, who were coached by Marc Trestman at the time. Trestman is now the Ravens offensive coordinator. Broxton signed with the Ravens as an undrafted rookie in May. … Rookie kicker Wil Lutz, who converted 2-of-3 field goals in the preseason before getting cut by the Ravens on Aug. 30, was signed by the New Orleans Saints as their starting kicker. The Saints released Kai Forbath.