All offseason, the Ravens struggled to find a kick returner they could rely upon long-term. Between Asa Jackson, Kaelin Clay, and Michael Campanaro (among others), coaches were pulling their hair out till nearly the start of the regular season, as each player had serious issues. When no one emerged from the pack, Baltimore inked 34-year-old Devin Hester to a one-year emergency deal worth $1.1 million.
Without a doubt, Hester is a future Hall of Famer thanks to his prolific career as a return specialist. Since he entered the league in 2006, Hester has amassed nearly 11,000 return yards and recorded 20 total return touchdowns. He made four Pro Bowls, was a first team All-Pro three times, second team All-Pro once, and he was elected to the NFL 2000s All-Decade team.
Unfortunately, Baltimore's version of Devin Hester is a shell of the player he was when he was drafted by the Chicago Bears a decade ago. A lingering toe injury prompted his release from the Falcons after just two seasons in Atlanta, and he hung around on the free agent mark until the Ravens became desperate. Already, in just seven games, Hester has fumbled the ball four times, losing one, and he has averaged only 5.9 yards per punt return. Often times, he lets the ball bounce in front of him rather than running up to catch it, which is costing the Ravens valuable yardage. Though he blamed injury and missed practice for his hesitation, Hester is clearly a player the Ravens cannot trust.
Enter Michael Campanaro. If you follow the Ravens at all, you know they had (have) high hopes for Campanaro, a seventh-round pick out of Wake Forest. Affectionately known as Camp, the 25-year old receiver has been injury prone throughout the early stages of his career, but he makes an impact when healthy. During the preseason this year, Camp averaged 15-yards per punt return with a long of 21-yards, just a glimpse at his potential.
Campanaro was waived due to injury earlier in the season, but the Ravens re-signed him to their practice squad this week. While his transition to the 53-man roster is no guarantee, there are numerous reasons to give him another shot at the return job, not the least of which are Hester's recent issues. Not only could Camp give a boost to the return game, but he also gives Joe Flacco another target on offense, something that cannot be said about Hester. Given Campanaro's injury history, the smart move would be to activate him to the 53-man roster but retain Devin Hester in case of another emergency.
With the rest of the special teams unit stepping up to help the Ravens win games, now is the time to get the return game up to par. Bring back Campanaro, and let Hester ride out his final days on the bench. Feel free to sound off in the comments!