According to ESPN Stats & Information, there have been only two players 36 or older who have returned more than 16 punts in a season: Mel Gray in 1997 and Michael Lewis in 2007.
"He's the best guy we got," Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said Thursday. "If we had someone that we felt at this time was more appropriate to put in there for that position, we'd put him in. At this time, right now, right here, Steve Smith is our best option."
Smith was a Pro Bowl returner in his rookie season, in 2001, but he hadn't returned a punt for four years before doing so in the season opener.
"Steve loves doing it, and I think he likes the blocking he's going to get from our guys," coach John Harbaugh said. "And if he gets good blocking, any kind of a playmaker wants to be out there with the ball in his hands. So he wants to do it."
The Ravens needed a returner because they didn't sign a free agent or draft anyone to replace Jacoby Jones, who was released by Baltimore in February.
Asa Jackson, who was the team's punt returner in the preseason, was cut before the regular season after he fumbled two punts.
"We're excited about him because you saw what he did last week," Rosburg said. "His experience shows, his competitiveness shows, his judgment shows. It's fun to watch. I'm excited to have him back there myself. I see him trot back there, and it gives me a lot of confidence."
The Ravens don't see it as a risk to use their No. 1 receiver as a returner.
"The way we look at it, we want to put our best football team out there," Rosburg said.