M. Smith excels outside backfield

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

November 07, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

The Ravens might have found a return specialist in running back Musa Smith.

Thrust into the kick returner role after an injury to rookie Yamon Figurs and the deactivation of backup Cory Ross, Smith had three returns for 89 yards (an average of 29.7 yards) in Monday night's 38-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

"I've been on that since Cincinnati," Smith said, referring to the kick return depth chart. "I don't take any reps. I just do it on the fly. But I knew I was second on the depth chart. When Yamon went down, I had to step in and tried to make some plays."

With a 6-foot, 232-pound body that seems to defy many experts' vision of a returner, Smith's biggest asset is his strength, which came into play when he had a 52-yard return - the team's third longest this season - late in the second quarter.

After collecting the football at the goal line and weaving through blocks, he stiff armed the Steelers' Allen Rossum to gain more yards before he was pushed out at Pittsburgh's 48-yard line.

A face-mask penalty on Rossum added 15 yards to the end of the play, and running back Willis McGahee ran 33 yards the next play for the Ravens' only touchdown of the evening.

"The blocks were perfect," Smith said of his return. "The wedge handled their guys, and I just hit that thing."

It's unclear whether Smith will be returning more kickoffs Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Figurs, who sprained his right knee during a 33-yard kick return, said he did not think the injury was serious, but also that he would reserve judgment until the team's medical staff examined his knee.

If Figurs can't play, Ross would likely be activated. But Smith said he is comfortable with returning.

"I just have to read the blocks and run," he said. "I'd do anything to help this team get back on a winning track."

Pryce returns

Defensive lineman Trevor Pryce did not start against the Steelers.

Pryce, who had not played since fracturing his left wrist in Week 2, did not record a tackle and might still be working off the rust.

That might explain how Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to slip out of Pryce's sack attempt before finding tight end Heath Miller for a 17-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.

"It's hard to tackle with one hand," Pryce said.

Defensive lineman Dwan Edwards started in Pryce's place alongside Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata. It was Edwards' fifth start in the past six games.

Injury update

On his WBAL radio show, Ravens coach Brian Billick said he was optimistic about tight end Todd Heap and starting cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle all returning for Sunday's game.

Billick said Heap has "rounded the corner" with his hamstring injury.

He also said McAlister has a "good chance" to come back from a knee strain and said he was "hopeful" Rolle will return from an undisclosed illness.

Lloyd kicks off

Kicker Rhys Lloyd played in his first regular-season game, handling the kickoffs for Matt Stover (right thigh injury).

Lloyd booted two kickoffs for 125 yards, including a 69-yarder that traveled from the Ravens' 15 to Pittsburgh's 16. (The Ravens were penalized 15 yards after rookie fullback Le'Ron McClain was flagged for unnecessary roughness after McGahee's touchdown.)

"It was good to get out on the field," Lloyd said. "You get your butterflies before the game. But I wouldn't say I was completely nervous because in my position, I just have to kind of whale away on the ball. But it was good."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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