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Ravens' Sams cuts back into open field

The Baltimore Sun

B.J. Sams is free.

Free from a broken right ankle that sidelined him for the final five games last season, including the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Free from a driving under the influence charge.

Free to focus on the one thing that has meant the most to him: playing football.

"I'm feeling real good right now," Sams said of his physical and psychological states. "Everything's going real well, and I'm looking forward to bigger and better things."

It's a welcome respite for Sams, whose career as a return specialist has been marked by peaks and valleys. It's why every step, every cut Sams has made during the team's mandatory minicamp, seems to have an extra bounce.

"I think when something is taken from you, you appreciate it more," special teams coach Frank Gansz Jr. said. "No one has worked harder than him to come back. He's such a great kid. I think his teammates think a lot of him. He's just that type of person."

Sams has been the Ravens' return specialist since the team signed him as an undrafted rookie in 2004. That season, he set a single-season franchise record with 1,826 combined return yards, including a record 1,251 kickoff return yards.

The next season, Sams led the AFC and ranked second in the NFL in punt returns (12.2-yard average).

Last season, Sams was sixth in the league in punt returns and eighth in kickoff returns before he fractured his ankle in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 30.

The injury came nearly two months after his arrest on a DUI charge in October - his second charge in a 14-month span. Sams was acquitted of the most recent charge last month.

Sams acknowledged that as much as he tried to concentrate on football, the court case was a distraction.

"I am glad that it is over with," he said. "It's a burden lifted off my shoulders. Everything is straightforward from here."

Sams isn't completely worry-free. In April, the Ravens selected Kansas State receiver-returner Yamon Figurs with the 74th overall pick in the third round.

Figurs, who recorded the fastest time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, will try to pass Sams on the depth chart, but Gansz reiterated that Sams is the team's return specialist.

"He hasn't been unseated yet," Gansz said. "He's a talented player. I like the young kid, but B.J.'s done it, he's made plays in big games. It wasn't his fault that he got hurt last year, and at that point in time, he was really coming on. ... He's a real competitor, and I don't think drafting a player affects him."

Sams said while he appreciates Gansz's faith in him, he knows that he can't afford to let his on-field performance slip.

"It gives you a lot of confidence, but I still have to go out there and do my job and do a great job," Sams said. "They can say that he's the man, but I still have to go out there and perform."

Notes -- The Ravens broke out the two-minute drill for the first time yesterday and, as expected, the defense looked more in sync than the offense. Mike Kracalik, filling in for 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden (toe), got beat a couple of times by two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, and Steve McNair was forced to throw the ball away on a couple of occasions under a heavy pass rush. Said coach Brian Billick: "It showed them that they've got a little ways to go [to get into] football shape. They were a little gassed. They hadn't done that in a while. And the first time up is always about process. Did you get the verbiage out? Did you line up right? It's less about the clock and the time than getting everybody where they're supposed to be." ... Linebackers Mike Smith (shoulder) and Dan Cody (knee) and cornerback David Pittman (hamstring) did not practice, but linebacker Dennis Haley returned to the field after missing the first two days because of an emergency appendectomy last week. "I went to the hospital on Tuesday, on Wednesday I was in surgery, and I was out of the hospital on Thursday," Haley said. "Then I had to be in Virginia because my wife and I had our first child. So we were both laid up in the hospital - literally." Haley said his daughter, Leila Grace Haley, and wife are doing well. ... The Ravens signed free-agent defensive tackle Keyonta Marshall, a seventh-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005, who was on the New York Jets' practice squad last season.

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