Return game needs a kick-start

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Judgment on kickoff runbacks has cost Ravens

Leonhard might be next man up

October 17, 2008|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,edward.lee@baltsun.com

The rule of thumb regarding whether to down a kickoff in the end zone or bring it out is that there is no rule of thumb.

"There's no black or white, no thing where if it's 4 yards [into the end zone], you're staying in, and if it's 3 1/2 , you're bringing it out," said Ravens backup returner Jim Leonhard, who might fill in for the injured Yamon Figurs in Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.

"It's kind of a feel thing. Sometimes you make the right decision, and sometimes you make the wrong one. It is tough, and you see a lot of guys bring balls out that you wouldn't expect to and be successful. A lot of guys do the same thing and get tackled at the 10. It's tough. It's a judgment call by that returner, and you hope it works out."

The Ravens have overstepped that fine line on kick returns in two of their three losses this season. In Sunday's 31-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Figurs returned two kicks in the end zone to the Ravens' 14- and 16-yard lines. In the 23-20 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 29, he failed to reach the 20 on two kicks into the end zone, returning them to the 12 and 17.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said return specialists have to gauge the depth and hang time of kicks while monitoring a mental clock that runs down as the opposing coverage team races down the field.

"That clock ticks when the ball is in the air, and you have to make an assessment of whether is it a line drive or is it not a line drive," Rosburg said. "Some line drives that are brought out 3 or 4 yards deep in the end zone are successful returns because the timing works with that hang time. ... Generally speaking, if the ball has a high hang time and it gets 5 yards deep in the end zone, your mental clock goes off and you take a knee."

Kick returns are crucial in giving the offense good field position. The Ravens' best start on the field against the Colts on Sunday was the 20, courtesy of two touchbacks.

"Everyone realizes that we've been struggling a little bit, but we can't let that happen," Leonhard said. "We can't put our offense in a hole. Right now, that's kind of our main focus, getting that return game going."

Injury update

Free safety Ed Reed (hamstring), offensive tackle Adam Terry (meniscus issue in right knee) and wide receiver Yamon Figurs (left knee bruise) did not practice yesterday. Terry and Figurs missed their second consecutive practice.

After sitting out Wednesday, wide receiver Demetrius Williams (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis. Offensive tackle Jared Gaither (neck/shoulder), cornerback Fabian Washington (dislocated right shoulder) and rookie safety Tom Zbikowski (shoulder) were also limited.

Asked whether he thought Washington would play against the Dolphins, assistant head coach-defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said: "I'm not sure on that. But you'd like to have your best players out there. So hopefully, Fabian will be ready."

Porter doesn't bite

Longtime Ravens nemesis Joey Porter, now a Dolphins linebacker, refused to be baited during his conference call with the media Wednesday.

Porter, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, got into a shouting match with linebacker Ray Lewis outside the Ravens' team bus after a game at Heinz Field in 2003. Porter was the target of even more scorn a year later when he shoved tight end Todd Heap to the turf after Heap had sprained an ankle on the previous play.

"I saw them last year," Porter said of his run-ins with Lewis and Heap. "It was a football game. I don't know what you all are looking for, what kind of story you're looking for, but I thought you were going to call me and ask me what type of game plan or something like that, something on that page. But it doesn't sound like that's what you all are trying to talk about."

Heap was similarly diplomatic, saying: "Oh, he's my favorite guy now. You know what? I've gone against Joey a lot, so we know each other. I know his game, he knows mine, and it's always a battle."

End zone

With Williams and Figurs dealing with their respective injuries, rookie wide receivers Marcus Smith and Ernie Wheelwright might see their first extended action Sunday. "Both of those guys are getting reps with the first team," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. ... Ryan said he enjoyed meeting with Bill Parcells when the Dolphins' executive vice president of football operations was interviewing head coaching candidates in January. "He's like my dad. What you see is what you get from him," Ryan said. "No nonsense. That's a football guy right there. No doubt about it." ... Miami starting fullback Casey Cramer missed his second consecutive practice because of an ankle injury.

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