For the first time in his NFL career, Anthony Poindexter can inflict pain rather than endure it.
Poindexter, the Ravens' last pick of the 1999 draft, has been making up for lost time, delivering an impact on special teams - and causing a few along the way. Poindexter's first regular-season action in 22 months completed a torturous journey back from tearing three of the four ligaments in his left knee midway through his senior season in college.
Despite having played in only half the Ravens' games this season, Poindexter has made four tackles, fourth-best among special-teams players, forced a fumble and recorded the season's most devastating open-field block.
"You can see his eyes were big," special teams coach Russ Purnell said. "He had those silver-dollar eyes and maybe a little froth at the edge of his mouth. He was definitely ready to make some people pay for all that pain and suffering he had rehabbing so he could play the game at the level he's used to playing it."
If suiting up wasn't rewarding enough, Poindexter received a game ball for his work on special teams last Sunday.
On eight Ravens' kickoffs, he stripped Tremain Mack in the first quarter to set up the second touchdown of the game and recorded three solo stops. He was a major reason why the Bengals' average start off a kickoff was the 23-yard line.
And on a 23-yard punt return, Poindexter lit up the Bengals' Canute Curtis, snapping Curtis' helmet back on a crushing block. Poindexter sized him up a few yards out and put his helmet right on Curtis' chin. It became the players' favorite slow-motion replay in Monday's film review.
"A lot of people said I would never come back to play in an NFL game, and here I am," Poindexter said. "Even though I'm not starting on defense, I'm contributing on special teams. It's like, I'm finally here. Now, let's try to do something."
Poindexter's climb tested him physically and mentally.
A year and a half ago, Poindexter had 4 1/2 -hour reconstructive knee surgery. He needed further arthroscopic surgery four months later.
Plus, the two-time first-team All-American at Virginia had to cope with the blow of falling from a potential top-15 draft pick to the 216th player taken as a result of his knee injury.
And just when he was ready to start his NFL career earlier this month, he suffered a thigh bruise near his troublesome left knee and was inactive for the Ravens' first two games.
Now healed, this late-round project could become a steal. After a year of rehabilitation with the Ravens, Poindexter leapt at his chance to make an impression.
"Let's put it this way, the body is mighty miraculous," said team trainer Bill Tessendorf, who has spent so much time with Poindexter that he refers to him as "my son."
"He's overcome a lot, and it's great to see him out there," Tessendorf said. "He's gone through a lot of physchological stress from getting injured when he was thought to be a high draft pick. He made his mind up that he wanted to play at this level and he's still developing."
Poindexter's development could lead him into a battle for a starting spot next training camp. He is the type of thumper at strong safety the Ravens have coveted over the years.
But that position is logjammed, with starter Kim Herring putting together his best NFL season and backup Corey Harris waiting for another shot. Poindexter, however, will have another full year in the Ravens' defensive system and could come crashing into the picture next year.
"Just when you go to college or any new level of play, you always want to be the starter," Poindexter said. "It's certain steps you have to take to be a starter. I knew coming back off an injury, I knew they weren't going to throw me in there and start, no matter what. We got great safeties. Who am I to come off a reconstructive knee injury and think I'm going to bump these guys out?
"It's like, I got to wait my turn and have to be patient. Whatever the coaches ask me to do right now, that's what I go out and do."
Right now, he appears focused on special teams, but he doesn't intend his two-year story of perseverance to end there. He's looking to make his comeback a hit in more ways than one.
"I just feel like I've been blessed," Poindexter said. "All the hard work has paid off."
NOTES: Ravens coach Brian Billick said linebacker Peter Boulware had a good week of practice and will start tomorrow against the Browns. Boulware has been slowed by a hesitancy to use his surgically repaired right shoulder. "The game is the crowning moment," he said. "I hope it shows how much I've done." ... Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa practiced yesterday, and, pending treatment for muscle spasms in his neck, should play. ... Quarterback Trent Dilfer took most of the backup's reps and should resume that role tomorrow, Billick said. Right tackle Harry Swayne (ankle) also is expected to play. ... Inactives named yesterday were cornerback Clarence Love, linebacker Brad Jackson, wide-out Brandon Stokley and tackle Sammy Williams for the Ravens. Inactives for Cleveland are starting linebacker Rahim Abdullah (abdominal strain), defensive back Lamar Chapman, guard Paul Snellings and defensive tackle Marcus Spriggs.