SAN JOSE, California — Steve Smith Sr. went five years between punt returns and hasn't returned more than nine in a year since his Comeback Player of the Year season in 2005.
He's back on special teams now, though, as the Baltimore Ravens have made him their primary punt returner for the foreseeable future.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh, though, reserves the right to change things when needed.
Smith, the oldest player on the team at age 36, returned a pair of punts for 32 yards in the Ravens 19-13 loss to the Denver Broncos last week.
That was enough for Harbaugh and special teams coach Jerry Rosburg to call him the best man for the job Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
Why risk putting your top receiver and five-time Pro Bowler in jeopardy of taking a shot?
"It's not a simple this or that," Harbaugh said Friday from the team's final workout at San Jose State. "You want to give your team the best chance to win this game and moving forward, to field a good team."
Smith is an experienced returner, getting his hands on 180 punts, the first 178 with the Carolina Panthers. He led the NFL with 55 returns in 2002. He's returned four for touchdowns, though none since 2003.
"It's about what gives you the best chance to win this game," Harbaugh said. "If we block for him, he'll make things happen."
Smith will also be an important piece of the offense as one of their top deep threats. He's the active leader in 25-or-more-yard pass receptions with 129. He's gone over 1,000 receiving yards eight times.
"We want to have our best football team, our best players and right now he's our best option," Rosburg said earlier in the week. "His judgment shows, his experience shows, and his competitiveness shows. He's a competitor, he likes the ball in his hands. He's the best guy we have."
He's not the only guy the Ravens can turn to returning punts either.
"We do have choices," Harbaugh said. "We believe in all our guys. The focus is on this game, and this is our best option."
The Ravens opted to stay in the Bay Area this week instead of returning to Baltimore for practice.
"The wisdom is in the results," he said. "If we take care of business, it was a great move. We had a good, focused week of football. I was pleased that players spent a lot of time with each other, talking football and also having fun together."
San Jose State's football team left for its game against Oregon State on Friday morning. There were no conflicts or overlapping on or off the field throughout the week.
"San Jose State has been first class with the use of their facilities and the weight room," Harbaugh said.
NOTES: WR Breshard Perriman (knee) and LT Eugene Monroe (concussion) were declared out for the game. ... DT Timmy Jernigan (knee) and RBs Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee) and Justin Forsett (shoulder) are listed as probable. ... CB Rashaan Melvin (thigh) is questionable.