Re­turner Hester to be used right away

Team took gam­ble with Forsett by re­leas­ing him

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS & NFL - By Edward Lee and Jeff Zre­biec edward.lee@balt­ jeff.zre­biec@balt­ twit­­wardLeeSun twit­­fzre­biec­sun

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.


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