Ravens rookie Yamon Figurs has bittersweet memories from the game when he ran back a kickoff for a touchdown for the first time.
"I was in the Pop Warner Super Bowl at Walt Disney World," Figurs recalled this week. "I was about 12. It was 98 yards."
Figurs' touchdown tied a championship game his team from Fort Pierce, Fla., wound up losing to a team from nearby Orlando. But it started Figurs on a path that led him to Kansas State and eventually to becoming a third-round NFL draft choice this year by the Ravens.
Figurs estimates he had about five kickoff returns and two punt returns for touchdowns in high school, and had two punt returns and one kickoff return for touchdowns at Kansas State, where he started 29 games at wide receiver and finished with 73 catches for 1,144 yards.
"The sensation that goes through you when you step in the end zone, you know you just outran everybody, and you had great blocks, and you've brought your team to a point where they feel they can't be stopped, and it goes on from there," Figurs said.
Figurs is hoping to get that sensation for the Ravens. Though the team hasn't announced who will replace the injured B.J. Sams, Figurs is expected to get his first opportunity to return kickoffs and punts when the Ravens play their 2007 home opener against the New York Jets tomorrow at M&T; Bank Stadium.
The plans to use Figurs sometime in the future changed when Sams was lost for the season with a knee injury Monday night in a 27-20 loss at Cincinnati. Figurs didn't dress for the game, but that doesn't mean he isn't ready to jump in tomorrow.
"I've been getting mentally prepared for this the whole time, coach [Frank] Gansz told to stay focused and stay on my toes," Figurs said.
Figurs got the attention of Gansz, the Ravens' special teams coordinator, as well as the team's scouts, at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis before the draft. Figurs' time of 4.29 seconds in the 40-yard dash was the fastest of any player there.
"He's got rare speed; when you're the fastest guy at the combine, that says a lot," Gansz said yesterday. "There's not that many guys that run that kind of 40 time. When you watch him on film, he plays with that speed. There are guys that are maybe fast but don't play as fast. He's definitely explosive."
Figurs would love to have the same result this week against a team that gave up the longest kick return in NFL history, 108 yards by Ellis Hobbs of the New England Patriots in their 38-14 win over the Jets.
"It takes all 11 guys, it's not just one person," Figurs said of a successful kick or punt return. "Really, the people who get the job done are the 10 blockers. My job is make one guy miss."
Trial by error
Le'Ron McClain, who was drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round this year and recently earned a promotion to starting fullback, had a rough indoctrination in his debut.
On his first career reception, McClain was hit by Bengals linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Lemar Marshall after catching a pass in the flat and fumbled after trying to fight for more yardage.
Safety Madieu Williams (Maryland) recovered, and the Bengals turned the third of six Ravens turnovers into a field goal.
"In college, I probably would have dragged the guy for a little bit longer," said McClain, who played at Alabama and had been playing behind Justin Green during the preseason. "I'm in the pros now, I'm going to get what I can and get down. Somebody had to learn. It was a rookie mistake I made."
Tight end Daniel Wilcox missed much of the preseason with a sprained left ankle, then sprained his right one against the Bengals. "It's not as bad as the first one," Wilcox said yesterday.
Wilcox hasn't practiced all week and hoped his availability would be a game-time decision. The Ravens tried out a number of tight ends after practice, but would not disclose their identities.
Safety Ed Reed, who sat out practice Thursday with a sore ankle, returned to the field yesterday. Missing from practice were linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps), cornerback David Pittman (ankle) and tackle Jonathan Ogden (hyperextended toe).