Ravens slot cornerback Tavon Young was signed to a three-year contract extension this offseason that solidifies him as the team's top slot cornerback, but he also is a candidate in the punt return competition that figures to heat up when training camp begins in July.
Special teams coordinator Chris Horton, who has succeeded the retiring Jerry Rosburg, confirmed that Young is one of several candidates for the punt return position that ultimately was won by Cyrus Jones last season.
Jones, a Baltimore native, missed all spring workouts with what head coach John Harbaugh described only as a "health issue," and without elaborating, he said further testing would be required before Jones could be cleared to practice. In the meantime, Young, receiver Willie Snead, backup running back Tyler Ervin and several others are in the mix for the punt return job.
"That job is open for any guy that can go out there and compete and win that job," Horton said. "That's football. It's all about competition."
The most important factor in winning the job, Horton said, will be holding on to the ball, something that cost Janarion Grant and Tim White the job early last season. Jones, a former Gilman star, then arrived in Baltimore after being released by the New England Patriots and held the punt return job for the final 11 games.
Jones ranked fourth in the league with an average of 13.2 yards on 23 punt returns, including a 70-yard touchdown against Oakland and a 55-yard return at Kansas City. Jones' career in New England was marred by fumbles, with five in 10 games in 2016, and he had one fumble with the Ravens last season.
Other than Jones, Ervin has by far the most experience among returning players. He averaged 8.9 yards on 56 career punt returns with the Houston Texans from 2016-2018, then joined the Ravens' practice squad after being cut by the Texans in November. It's also possible that an undrafted rookie could claim a roster spot by flashing on returns, which was Grant's route to the roster a year ago.
Returning punts would be a new role for Young, who has not done that at the professional or collegiate level in game situations, and although it's early, Horton liked what he saw from Young this spring.
"Early on in Tavon's career, we had him back there returning for us a little bit, so we put him back there," Horton said. "We wanted to see how he does in practice. He's caught the ball fairly well, so we're going to give him an opportunity."