Notebook: Figurs dashing ahead of the pack

OWINGS MILLS -- In the blink of an eye, he was gone. Yamon Figurs reversed his direction and sprinted upfield for a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, manufacturing one major bright spot for the Baltimore Ravens in a 44-20 blowout loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

It offered another reminder of the rookie return specialist's blazing speed, and his effort broke a 30-0 shutout a few minutes into the second quarter Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

"It was just great blocking from the guys upfront," Figurs said modestly. "They sealed off the front line for me, and I just cut back into open field and had to outrun everybody."

Outrunning people is something Figurs has done since his high school days growing up in Ft. Pierce, Fla., where he twice defeated Chicago Bears return man extraordinaire Devin Hester in 100-meter track and field competitions.

The score also emblazoned Figurs in the Ravens' record book as he became the first player in franchise history to return a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in the same season.

It was also the first kickoff return for a touchdown by a Baltimore player since Jermaine Lewis' 84-yard return against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.

"Everybody expected me to come in here right away and compete," Figurs said. "So, I was expected to do that."

Perhaps, but even Figurs and the coaching staff were encouraged by his eye-opening progress. Following a string of shaky outings this season where ball security became a paramount concern, Figurs seems to be learning on the job and maturing into a dangerous threat on every kickoff and punt.

His 196 yards on seven kickoff returns is the second-highest total in club history as he averaged 28 yards per kickoff return.

Earlier this season, the third-round draft pick from Kansas State returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals.This time, Figurs displayed his versatility by running back a kickoff in the cold rain.

"Obviously, there was a spark there," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Figurs, who replaced B.J. Sams when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the season-opener in Cincinnati. "You can see the maturation coming, the confidence in what he's doing, the look in his eye, just over the last couple of weeks."

Figurs made a rare appearance at wide receiver late in the game, but was unable to gather in a deep pass to the end zone from rookie quarterback Troy Smith.

"He had to scramble out of the pocket and it threw the timing off the whole route," Figurs said. "Sometimes, that happens."

TURNOVER TURNAROUND: Just a year ago, the Ravens forced 40 turnovers for the second-most in the NFL behind the Chicago Bears.

That included a league-high 28 interceptions. Now, the Ravens have just 18 takeaways overall as they've dropped to last in the league in turnover margin as the offense has produced an NFL-high 35 turnovers.

Because of this inequity, it creates concern that the defense will gamble too much in its zest to make up for the offensive shortcomings.

"Everybody wants to make a play to impact the game, but by the same token, you have to stay within structure," Billick said. "It's their job to stop an offense and get the ball back and create turnovers. But ... a defense has to stay within structure because if you break structure and try to make that big play, then you also leave yourself vulnerable."

QUICK HITS: Billick attempted to clarify his remark Monday that he will return next season even though that hasn't been announced by team owner Steve Bisciotti. "That was something that took on a life of its own," Billick said during his weekly radio program Tuesday night. "It's my intention to be back. I have no reason to think that I won't be back, but there's been no definitive statement. There are no guarantees for anybody, but I'm very confident in the direction we're going. I think it's been blown a little out of proportion." ... When asked by a critical fan why he should be back, Billick replied: "From a general standpoint, I think my record speaks for itself," Billick said. "It has been a tough year clearly, but I don't know how dramatically I've changed. If I was a good coach last year when we went 13-3, how is that different now one year later?" ... Wide receiver Derrick Mason wasn't too excited about breaking his franchise record for 86 catches established in 2005 as he finished with three catches to pad his season total to 88 receptions. "I didn't even know because of the way the game went," Mason said. "I'll think about it after the season, but there's no reason for me to think about it now. We're in the dumps right now, and we've got to find a way to get out." ... Kyle Boller gave a thumb's up to Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State who scored on a six-yard touchdown run in the final minute. ""It was awesome to see him out there, he's a hardworking kid," Boller said. "I'm very happy for him. It's just one of those things: when it's your time, it's your time. Taking that first snap from center is a huge step. He did an awesome job." ... Embattled Miami Dolphins coach Cam Cameron told South Florida reporters that he'll announce today whether he'll start rookie John Beck against Baltimore or former Ravens quarterback Cleo Lemon.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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