Struggling Figurs has yet to return to 2007 form

November 21, 2008|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

John Harbaugh recently said the Ravens have more returners than any team he has coached.

While the Ravens continue to back Yamon Figurs, it might be time to explore some of those other options.

One of the Ravens' glaring problems this season has been their diminishing returns.

Their average starting field position after kickoffs has been the 23.8-yard line, which is worst in the AFC. Their punt-return average is 8.1 yards, which is 22nd in the NFL.

That's what has made the Ravens' offensive renaissance even more impressive. Joe Flacco and teammates are scoring points without the benefit of good field position.

The Ravens' struggles can be traced back to Figurs' sophomore slump.

Last season, the rookie third-round pick became the first Raven to return a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in the same year.

But Figurs hasn't come close to sniffing the end zone as a returner this season. He ranks 19th in the NFL on punt returns and 34th on kickoffs.

His punt-return average has dropped from 10.7 yards last season to 6.5 this year. His kickoff-return average has dipped from 24.7 yards to 21.2 yards.

The Ravens were so desperate for a big return Sunday that they used Ed Reed instead of Figurs once in the second half.

The next step would be replacing Figurs on a regular basis, a notion that special teams coach Jerry Rosburg dismissed yesterday.

"He's our returner right now," Rosburg said. "We have other guys that can return the ball. We're always looking for opportunities - sometimes certain guys run certain returns better. But we expect big things out of Yamon."

There's no questioning Figurs' speed. He was the fastest rookie at the 2007 NFL scouting combine. He beat Pro Bowl returner Devin Hester twice in high school track meets in Florida.

The problem is that Figurs still looks indecisive when it comes time to call a fair catch or run the ball back.

It would be unfair to pin all of the struggles on Figurs because a returner is only as good as his blocking.

But the Ravens' return game was measurably better when Figurs missed three games this season with knee and hamstring injuries. Jim Leonhard had a 10.8-yard average on punt returns, and Ray Rice had a 23-yard average on kickoffs.

"It's a team effort when you get a return," Rosburg said. "Part of that has been blocking, part of it is getting used to a new system and part of it is [Figurs has] been nicked up a little bit during the course of the season. Hopefully now he's over that hump and everybody else in the unit understands what they're supposed to do. We're looking for big things from this point forward."

TAKING A STEP BACK

A comparison of Yamon Figurs' first two seasons:

2007 ................................... Category............................ 2008

46 ................................... Kickoff returns ......................... 19

1,138 ..................... Kickoff-return yards ...................... 403

24.7 ...................... Kickoff-return average .................. 21.2

1 ..................... Kickoff-return touchdowns ..................... 0

16 .................................. Punt returns ............................... 15

171 ......................... Punt-return yards ............................. 98

10.7 ...................... Punt-return average ........................... 6.5

1 .......................... Punt-return touchdowns .......................... 0

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