In the battle for the Ravens' punt return job, the two most talked about names are safety Tom Zbikowski and rookie cornerback Prince Miller.
But Mark Clayton wants to be thought of as a serious part of that conversation as well.
"I love to have the ball in my hands," Clayton said. "That's always fun, and returning punts gives me that opportunity, which is great."
Clayton had success returning punts in college, averaging 14.4 yards per return and taking one kick back for a touchdown during his senior year.
The Oklahoma product had six punt return opportunities in his rookie season with the Ravens, but he didn't find as much success in that aspect at the pro level. Clayton averaged five yards per return that year, with a long of 10 yards.
His two punt returns this preseason (which have gone for a 7.5 yard average) are Clayton's first in game action since his rookie year, but he's stayed on top of that art the past few years by catching punts in practice and serving as the scout team punt returner during special teams drills.
"It's not something that got put on the shelf for a long time," Clayton says. "Just now, I'm doing it in the games."
Clayton will almost certainly see fewer passes thrown his way on offense this season, as the Ravens' additions of Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth will limit Clayton's playing time and targets. But returning punts would be one way for the wide receiver to stay involved as much as possible.
Clayton says the return skills come naturally to him, and he feels like he's got the ability to do the job successfully in the NFL. Asked to describe his returning style, the 28-year-old laughs.
"I'm a possession returner that can go 80," he says. "Just be smart. Know that we're getting the ball back and our offense is really good, so it's always good that we have possession. First, get the ball, then outside of that, get a crease, do what you've got to do to find it, and hit it. Whatever it takes to get to the zone is how I see it. But first thing's first is get the ball back."
The two main guys competing with Clayton's for punt return opportunities have both had strong starts to the preseason. Zbikowski has averaged 11.3 yards on three returns so far, and Miller has averaged 18.8 yards per return and broke off a spectacular 57-yarder two weeks ago against the Panthers.
Clayton knows he has some strong competition for the return job, but says if called upon, he'll be ready.
"I think that's a blessing to have a group of guys that can do it," Clayton says. "For me, if they ask me, I'm there. As it's been, whatever needs to be done to help this team win ballgames, that's what I'm here for."