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McAlister, J. Hunter to handle returns


After using a draft pick to find a replacement for return specialist Jermaine Lewis, the Ravens instead will split the duties between a veteran and another rookie.

Cornerback Chris McAlister will handle punts Sunday when the Ravens play at Carolina, and rookie receiver Javin Hunter will be the primary kickoff returner.

Neither McAlister nor Hunter has returned a kick in a regular- season game. Lamont Brightful, whom the Ravens specifically drafted as a return specialist in the sixth round, began the preseason as the punt and kickoff returner but may be placed on the inactive list Sunday.

"Of course, it is the coaches' decision, but I'm going to prepare myself mentally as a starter," Brightful said.

"I expected it. That's how it is. When I got a chance to get in, I competed. And that is the only thing I can take it as."

Brightful, 5 feet 10, 170 pounds, struggled breaking tackles on punts in preseason games and looked hesitant at times returning kickoffs. Brightful, who dropped a few punts in practice, averaged an impressive 16.5 yards on six punt returns, but McAlister, 6-1, 206, has better hands and should be tougher to bring down.

McAlister, who is entering the last year of his contract, has been itching to return punts since the Houston Texans selected Lewis in the expansion draft. McAlister averaged 6.7 yards on three punt returns this preseason.

"I haven't talked to anybody," said McAlister, who was a part-time punt returner at the University of Arizona in 1998. "But if I'm the guy, then I'm going to do it. I'm going to make sure I get the job done."

Hunter had one of the only electrifying plays of the preseason for the Ravens, a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the New York Jets.

"I'm just looking forward to the opportunity," Hunter said. "It's my first regular-season game, so I'm just looking to provide a spark for us."

Hunter said he plans to start studying some of the top kickoff returners in the league today. Though he never returned a kickoff at Notre Dame, Hunter said the preseason touchdown he scored gave him the confidence he could handle the position as a professional.

"I was always able to do it, always in the [practice] rotation at Notre Dame," Hunter said. "It's just that certain things happened, coaches had things they wanted to do, so I didn't do it. But I did it in high school and was good at it.

"Every time I get the ball in my hands, I'm going to try and score, whether it is at wide receiver or kick returner. That is the attitude you have to have."

That is definitely the mind-set McAlister possesses. Asked if having such a limited number of punt returns in the preseason will hurt him heading into Sunday's game, McAlister said: "Not really. If you can do it, then that is something you can do. All it is is catching the ball and running.

"If you can't read a block, then you don't need to be back there."

The Ravens have put aside any fears of McAlister, among the top cornerbacks in the NFL, sustaining an injury returning punts. McAlister has yet to miss a game in his four-year career.

"He is explosive, outstanding at it and a solid fair-catch guy," Billick said. "You don't worry about the ball coming out. He's just a good athlete that ought to be a hell of a returner. He was in college.

"If you were worried about injuries, you'd leave them on the sideline and put all the other guys in so nobody gets hurt."

This does not mark the end for Brightful, though. He still could return punts this season, and the Ravens haven't ruled out using him as a defensive back.

"You could see him in nickel and dime [pass coverage]," Billick said. "His status, with the 53-man roster to 45 [active players in games] is frustrating, but you have to live with it. If he is [active], he has the potential to be a punt returner and nickel and dime guy."

NOTES: The Ravens signed quarterback Anthony Wright, receiver Randy Hymes and tackle Lawrence Smith to the practice squad. Wright spent the last two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and started five games. ... Cornerback Terry Fair will work out for the team today. Fair, a starter with the Detroit Lions the past four seasons, was released Sunday. ... The Ravens signed defensive tackle Howard Green to the active roster and waived defensive tackle Nate Bolling. Green was claimed off waivers from the Houston Texans. ... . Cornerback James Trapp practiced yesterday but is doubtful for Sunday's game. Trapp tore his pectoral muscle last week.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Carolina Panthers in season opener for both teams

Site: Ericsson Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 2

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