One of the very few - and I mean very few - positives that came out of Sunday night's blowout loss at San Diego was seeing second-year wide receiver David Reed back making a positive impact as a kickoff returner.
Reed, who led the NFL in kick return average last year as a rookie, lost the return duties following a two-fumble performance back in Week 10 in a loss to Seattle. He was a gameday inactive the following week and while he's been active the last three games, he's had to sit and watch safety Tom Zbikowski get the kick return opportunities.
With the game out of reach in San Diego, however, the coaches decided to give Reed a chance to return a fourth quarter kickoff. He took it back 47 yards, slashing through the Chargers' kick coverage unit and showing the type of speed and agility that makes him effective as a return man.
"It felt amazing," Reed said. "It's a true blessing what God has put me through and done for me. I thank Him for every part of it.
"Whatever the coaches want to do, I'm with it. I just keep it moving."
Since that Seattle game, in which Reed lost two fumbles deep in Ravens territory, the coaches have been spending extra time working with the Utah product on protecting the football.
Reed has become a pupil of running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, who has stressed keeping the ball close to the body while running and making sure to hold it high and tight.
"I am really pleased with the progress he has made with his ball security, and he demonstrated that the other night on that one return," special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "Wilbert Montgomery has done a great job with him, and even on the sideline they were talking through it. He demonstrated that he is learning, so we are going to go through with (it). ... He is still one of our kickoff returners, and so is Tom Zbikowski. Then we will make a decision on (Saturday) who is going to start the game."
The difference in styles between Reed and Zbikowski is striking. Reed is a much more explosive returner; he has averaged 29.6 yards per return this season with a long of 77, but obviously presents more of a risk because of his past fumbles.
Zbikowski is a much more sure-handed returner, but he doesn't offer the game-breaking speed or shiftiness that Reed brings to the table. Zbikowski (who filled in admirably during this five-game stretch despite having very little kickoff return experience) has averaged 23.1 yards on eight returns, and his long - 30 yards - is right about Reed's average.
The Ravens would obviously prefer to have Reed out there in that role so long as he takes care of the football. The coaches aren't planning on divulging their kick return plans for Saturday against the Browns, but if I had to take a guess, I'd say Reed retakes that job this weekend.
He just needs to be aware of that fact that ball security is priority number one.
"I think we'll see," head coach John Harbaugh said. "It's not something we're prepared to make a statement on right now. It was good to see (Reed) get back in there and do a good job with it. That's why you hold onto guys. (You) try to work through tough times, and guys have those tough moments. David is a competitive guy. He's a good guy. He's a talented guy. So, we'll see how it goes."