CHARLOTTE — The last time Ted Ginn Jr. returned a kick in a game, Super Bowl XLVII ended with the ball in his hands against the Ravens.
Ginn, on his final play with the 49ers, fielded Baltimore's free kick and made it to midfield before being tackled. The Ravens needed no one to come off the sideline to assist with the tackle, as Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco had suggested to teammates.
The stakes are considerably smaller and the stage not nearly as big, but Ginn gets another crack at the Ravens Thursday night during the Panthers' nationally televised exhibition in Baltimore.
More importantly to Ginn’s new teammates and coaches, he is expected to get his first return with the Panthers.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera kept Ginn on the sideline the first two exhibitions rather than risk injury to a proven return specialist in a meaningless game in August. Ginn saw action at receiver in both games, but Rivera wanted to look at the team’s younger returners.
Ginn was set to return punts in the first half last week at Philadelphia, but the Eagles never punted in five first-half series. With the Panthers’ starters – including their top special teams players – scheduled to play about three quarters against the Ravens, Ginn will be lined up deep.
“I’m going to be back there some way, somehow,” Ginn said after Monday’s practice.
“This is a big week because this is really your trial run. We’ll have most of our front-line specialists on the kick return team,” Rivera added. “He’ll get a couple shots this week and it’ll be fun to see exactly where he is as far as that’s concerned and how we mesh with him.”
It's not like Ginn has been idle. While wideouts Armanti Edwards, Joe Adams and Domenik Hixon, another free agent acquisition, have missed time with injuries, Ginn has stayed healthy and helped his case in the competition for the third receiver spot.
Ginn caught two passes for 39 yards against the Eagles, and was open deep on a play in which Cam Newton was hurried and couldn't get his feet set to throw it to him.
“I just keep pushing and striving to be who I can be for this team. I'm getting a good opportunity at the receiver spot,” Ginn said. “I hope that my guys come back healthy and they come back 110 percent. Because at the end of the day it's not just me. It's not just Steve (Smith), (Brandon) LaFell, Armanti. We need everybody.”
Whatever Ginn provides in the passing game will be gravy.
A former first-round pick from Ohio State, he remains one of the top returners. He finished third in the NFC last year with a 10.2-yard punt return average, and ranked in the top four in the league in punt and kickoff returns in 2011.
The Panthers finished 22nd in kick returns and 14th in punt returns last season, but Ginn likes what he's seen from the blockers in front of him.
“I think they're getting to their spots and they're starting to understand that if we do this and do that, we've got some guys back there – not just me – but we've got some guys back there that can take it the distance,” Ginn said. “I'm just trying to let those guys jell.”
Thursday night, he'll do it in a game.