Ward to get chance at punt returns


Main specialist Brightful has faltered this season

Pro Football

October 24, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Ravens coach Brian Billick confirmed that Dedric Ward will run back some punts Sunday, but there has been speculation that the recent free-agent addition will replace Lamont Brightful as the primary return specialist.

Ward, who signed with the Ravens nearly three weeks ago, averaged 10.6 yards on 16 punt returns with the Miami Dolphins last season. During yesterday's special teams practice, he fielded a majority of the punts.

Brightful has admitted this season that he has not lived up to expectations. A sixth-round pick in 2002, Brightful has been inconsistent in his decision-making and has averaged 7 yards a return, which ranks 23rd in the NFL.

Billick said the Ravens would use Ward and Brightful on punts and indicated Ward could return kickoffs, too.

"We're getting more and more comfortable with Dedric all the time," Billick said. "We don't want to give up on Bright because he's been solid for us and helps us in the secondary. But we're working him in. If we find an appropriate place to do it, we'll do it."

Ward had a memorable initiation returning punts as a rookie in 1997 with the New York Jets, where coach Bill Parcells would stand at his side and yell, "Don't drop it!" on every kick.

"Having done it for Coach Parcells early on in my career, it kind of hindered some of my confidence at first," Ward said. "But after having success with it, it really helped my confidence. I think that's a big part of it."

Boller `fine'

Rookie quarterback Kyle Boller had no setbacks after Wednesday's practice and was upgraded to probable, making it a near certainty that he will start his seventh straight game.

"He took almost all the snaps and he's fine," Billick said. "We think we're in good shape there."

Secondary changes

Oft-injured nickel back Tom Knight was downgraded to doubtful with a groin injury and did not practice. Without Knight, the most likely scenario in passing situations is moving free safety Gary Baxter to cover the slot receiver and inserting Will Demps at free safety.

"You always have to prepare yourself like you're going to play a big role in case an injury like this happens," said Demps, who started 10 games last season. "I've been there before so it's going to be nothing new to me."

End zone

Right offensive tackle Orlando Brown was added to the injury report (back) but is expected to start. "It was a bad mattress," Billick said. ... Right guard Bennie Anderson will return to the starting lineup after missing the end of Sunday's game with a sprained shoulder. His backup, Casey Rabach, is scheduled to spell Anderson for some series. ... The Ravens are averaging 22.3 points a game, tied for 11th in the league.

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