Ravens' Sams will return punts against the Lions

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens rookie running back B.J. Sams has been medically cleared and will return kicks Saturday night against the Detroit Lions.<br><br> And special-teams coordinator Gary Zauner is eager to watch Sams make his debut in a game for the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium after missing the majority of training camp with a broken thumb that required surgery.

An undrafted free agent from McNeese State (La.) who has two metal pins in his left thumb, Sams will return punts followed by rookie cornerback Lance Frazier and incumbent return specialist Lamont Brightful. Brightful will return kickoffs again, followed by Sams.

"I worked him out down at his school and my comment was, ‘He was the best punt catcher I had seen in a long time since David Palmer,'" said Zauner, comparing Sams to the versatile former Minnesota Vikings' standout. "Now, can he do it when the lights are on and how well can he return it when he gets a chance to return? He had some great numbers playing for his school."

Sams averaged 11 yards per punt return with three touchdowns and 24.6 yards per kickoff in three seasons. He totaled 4,903 all-purpose yards with 19 touchdowns.

Most importantly for a return game that has endured Brightful's fumbling issues, Sams has been especially sure-handed in practice.

"Counting minicamps and all, I think it was 23 straight days he had not dropped a punt, a kick or an offensive pass," Zauner said. "He was the only guy who had a record going where he hadn't dropped anything, and you had defensive guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed making comments that we don't have anyone who can cover him out of the backfield."

Zauner stressed that it remains an open competition in the return game between Brightful, Sams and Frazier. Randy Hymes and Reed are emergency options.

"We need someone to show up that can do that on a consistent basis," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Brightful said he isn't flustered by the situation, adding that being tested has heightened his motivation.

"I'm going out there to show what I can do," said Brightful, who fumbled against the Atlanta Falcons and was replaced on punt returns last week by Frazier. "I think they know what I can do, but I'm working hard to prove myself again."

TRAINING ROOM: Billick is optimistic about the availability of rookie receiver Devard Darling (quadriceps), but doubtful about Travis Taylor (groin). Cornerback Fred Weary (quadriceps) returned to practice, but was limited.

Quarterback Anthony Wright (shoulder), linebacker Peter Boulware (knee), cornerback Corey Fuller (bruised lower leg), return specialist Derek Abney (shoulder), defensive end Tony Weaver (high ankle sprain), tight end Todd Heap (bruised shoulder) and tight end Trent Smith (leg) didn't practice.

Defensive end Marques Douglas (dislocated elbow) is practicing and won't play Saturday, but hopes to return for the Ravens' first regular-season game.

"Marques is tougher than hell," defensive line coach Rex Ryan said. "He's overcome a lot in his career. If anybody can do it, it's him. He's tough and he heals fast."

OLYMPIC GLORY: Tonique Williams-Darling, Darling's sister-in-law, won the gold medal in the 400 meters for the Bahamas. It's the first individual gold medal ever for the country.

Dennis Darling, Darling's older brother, will compete today in the 4x400 meter relay.

Darling's cousin, Frank Rutherford, won the bronze medal in the triple jump in 1992 for the Bahamian team.

"It's crazy," Darling said. "Not just for my family, but for the whole country."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.
 


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