Brightful has Ravens seeing double

He looks like Je. Lewis, but can he play like him?

August 14, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

In searching for a replacement for Jermaine Lewis, the Ravens chose a clone.

Stand return specialist Lamont Brightful and former Ravens returner Lewis toe to toe and they would probably look at each other eye to eye.

Lewis is thicker around the chest and tougher to bring down, but both have similar running styles and an extraordinarily quick first step.

The Ravens, though, will have to wait and see if Brightful, a sixth-round pick out of Eastern Washington, can come close to matching Lewis' Pro Bowl production in both kickoff and punt returns. Lewis was selected in the expansion draft by the Houston Texans after spending his career with the Ravens.

His departure left the Ravens with a significant hole in their return game for the first time in six years.

"I saw [Brightful] on film running, and he runs extremely fast," special teams coordinator Gary Zauner said. "The scouts timed him at 4.31, 4.32 [in the 40-yard dash]. When he ran, he reminded me of Jermaine Lewis; his moves and just the way he set up his blocks."

So far, Brightful has shown flashes that there may be a respectable return game without Lewis.

Brightful, 5 feet 10 and 170 pounds - as he is generously listed in the media guide - returned a punt 34 yards in the second quarter of the Ravens' preseason win over Detroit. He averaged 18.3 yards on three punt returns, 19.5 yards on two kickoff returns.

"For my first time out in an NFL game, I thought I had a pretty good performance," Brightful said. "I just want to see my blocks a little bit better, make some better decisions which way I want to cut."

In practice, Brightful looks more comfortable returning kickoffs than punts. It could be he is more at ease in the former role because he does not have someone actively pursuing that job.

Cornerback Chris McAlister has made it known that he wants ownership of punt returns. "I know that I'm the best person qualified to do the job," McAlister said. "If I return one 100 yards, if I return one period, I think they are going to be forced to put me back there."

Not necessarily, said Zauner. He may use McAlister, who has better hands than Brightful, if the Ravens want to have two return men for certain situations or on windy days, but it is doubtful McAlister will win the job outright.

"I sent out profile sheets, and looked at one that said, `If you give me a chance, I will make you forget Jermaine Lewis.' I turn it over and it's Chris McAlister," Zauner said.

"I talked to him, and I talked to [Ravens coach] Brian [Billick], and he's working at it. But we want to be smart about it. We drafted a man to do it, and again, it's a backup plan."

One that will only go into effect if Brightful, who did not return punts his senior year but did have a 30-yard average on kickoffs and five touchdowns for his college career, struggles catching the ball. It was a problem he has improved upon since minicamp.

"I told him he had to catch 200 balls a day during the summer, and he did that," Zauner said. "From what we saw in the spring, he definitely improved.

"That is where Lamont is right now. He really runs fast with the ball, runs with great acceleration and moves, but we've just got to make sure he catches the ball and makes the right decisions."

Brightful may have the dimensions of Lewis, but he has yet to garner the admiration.

Bigger receivers go out of their way to block Brightful, who is also a third-string cornerback, during practice. Secondary coach Donnie Henderson nicknamed him `Mini-Me' after the Austin Powers character. And special teams assistant Bennie Thompson rides Brightful from the moment the players finish stretching until the final horn.

Any drops require more severe punishment. Brightful laid two punts on the ground yesterday, walked straight over to Thompson after practice and began his pushups in a scene that reeked of player-coach interaction at a high school football practice.

Mental toughness was a major component of his predecessor. Lewis once scored two touchdowns on punt returns in a game less than two weeks after the stillborn death of his infant son.

"I always followed the things he did because I always [patterned] myself after him," Brightful said. "If I can do the things he did, I'm definitely going to help this team."

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