Brightful stepping up, Jenkins cut

Freedom for Lamont Brightful meant an end-zone pose scant miles away from his old neighborhood. For the Baltimore Ravens' rookie return specialist to score on the longest punt return in franchise history required the convergence of several elements for the former West Baltimore resident.

Unoccupied real estate, a tooth-rattling crack-back block from Ed Reed and a sprained ankle that kept cornerback Chris McAlister from returning punts contributed to Brightful's 95 yard score in the Ravens' 38-27 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. "I think anybody likes to be in the open field, because you've got more freedom and a little more room to work with," said Brightful, once on thin ice with special teams coach Gary Zauner after repeatedly flubbing punts during training camp. "It's just waiting and having an understanding about the game. Being new, it's all a learning process." Generously listed on the roster at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, the former West Baltimore Middle and Dunbar High student capitalized on Sunday's situation in the final minutes of the first half after being ruled inactive by the coaching staff for the first four games. This 201-yard total performance by Jermaine Lewis' tiny successor may have earned him kick and punt return duties for the remainder of the season. "He made a big impact," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Brightful, Baltimore's sixth-round selection from the April draft. "That's what we drafted him for, and now he has a feel for it. You can see the speed that he has once he gets that step." Brightful caught the punt at the Ravens' 5-yard line, drifted to the right and accelerated up the left sideline behind a shield from Alvin Porter and Robert Tate. Once Reed knocked a pursuing Bengal out of his way, Brightful scooted the rest of the way for the touchdown. "It was fun to watch on the punt return because he was waiting for those blocks," Billick said. "He did a nice job, but at some point, he said, ‘Hey, you guys are too slow. I'm out of here.' He has that element to him, and he's a tough little kid." For the season, Brightful is averaging 30 yards on four punt returns. He has a 21.0 average on 14 kickoff returns, including a 54-yard effort that set up Matt Stover's second-quarter field goal against the Bengals. Billick said the Ravens have been grooming Brightful over the past few weeks by slowly increasing his workload. "Hopefully, he can fulfill it the rest of the way," Billick said. When asked to address the coaching staff's apparent lack of confidence in him prior to McAlister's injury and Tate losing the kick return job with two fumbles against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brightful wouldn't bite. "I can't even comment on that," said Brightful, a Division I-AA All-American at Eastern Washington who set NCAA marks for career kickoff return average (30.0) and kickoffs returned for scores with five. "You would have to ask them what their thinking was. I knew I was going to get my opportunity. "I just didn't know if it would be two weeks, eight weeks or 15 weeks. By making a big play like that, I'm trying to erase their big play." NOTES: The Ravens released kickoff specialist J.R. Jenkins on Tuesday after his shoddy work against the Bengals. The rookie from Marshall's short kickoffs contributed to Brandon Bennett's 94-yard kickoff return for a score. The Bengals began one drive at the Baltimore 42 along with starting possessions at their own 38 and 32-yard lines. Bennett averaged 38 yards per return. The handwriting was all but scribbled on the walls of the Ravens' training complex after Billick's remarks at his Monday news conference. "The kickoffs were atrocious and you can't leave yourself at risk that way," Billick said. "The thing that disappointed me the most was under incredibly adverse situations that defense played magnificently, and to have to start as many times as they did at the 40-yard line we could have put this game away a lot earlier. "Their impact could have been a lot more dramatic if we didn't cut the field in half the way we did."

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