Abney working to make up lost ground

WESTMINSTER -- Minutes after the Baltimore Ravens concluded practice Wednesday afternoon, rookie return specialist Derek Abney launched himself into extra work.<br><br>

Abney caught several arcing footballs propelled from a punt machine before finally calling it a day. However, during special-teams drills in the morning session at McDaniel College, Abney dropped another punt.

The former Kentucky star was drafted in the seventh round to try to supplant incumbent Lamont Brightful. So far, though, Abney has struggled noticeably with his hands and confidence in his new environment.

"I've been dropping a couple punts and I don't do that," said Abney, who tied a Division I-A mark with eight kicks returned for touchdowns in college. "I've been catching punts my whole life and lately I've been having some trouble. I just have to get over it. Then, my self-confidence and instincts can take over."

Meanwhile, Brightful is maintaining a position of strength in the competition one season after his shaky hands and 7.8-yard punt return average prompted the team to draft Abney.

The winner of the job will be determined largely by preseason game performances. Promising rookie B.J. Sams is out with a broken thumb. Kareem Kelly is another candidate.

"If I run two or three back this year, next year there will be somebody else there challenging me for that spot," said Brightful, who averaged 24.7 yards on kickoff returns last season and 16.1 yards a punt as a rookie two years ago. "It doesn't matter what you do, good or bad. You can never relax and think everything is set for you."

Aaron Wilson writes for The Carroll County Times

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