Cribbs, Figurs Return Weapons


Ravens return ace Yamon Figurs has made a name for himself as a slippery flash who can accelerate out of a crowd with one quick gear-shift.

However, a different type of returner will come to Baltimore this weekend, as the Cleveland Browns will try to counter Figurs with the powerful Joshua Cribbs.

The Ravens certainly know Cribbs, after the 6-foot-1, 215-pounder torched Baltimore's special teams for 306 total return yards – including a whopping 245 on kickoffs – last year in a 33-30 overtime victory at M&T Bank Stadium.

He even had a 39-yard kickoff return with less than a minute left in regulation to set up a game-tying field goal.

But the knowledge of Cribbs runs deeper than that. Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg actually coached Cleveland's special teams from 2001-06.

Rosburg was a key reason Cribbs went from an undrafted quarterback out of Kent State to an elite special teamer that returns and covers kicks.

"Josh was a college quarterback and never played any on defense – or played gunner or returner for that matter – but he was a football player, and you saw that early on with Josh," Rosburg said. "He made sure that he made the most of every opportunity."

Cribbs led the NFL with a 30.7 kickoff return average and 1,809 kickoff return yards last year. He scored touchdowns on two kickoffs and one punt, and even led the team with 23 special teams tackles, earning Pro Bowl honors for his efforts.

His size gives him an advantage in the return game, where he is a tough target to bring down.

"He's a big, strong guy and he's got a great stiff arm," Rosburg noted. "He's a powerful player; he's got powerful legs. He's the kind of returner who doesn't wait for you to tackle him. He'll go after you first."

Rosburg wouldn't divulge any secrets as to how the Ravens can neutralize Cleveland's special teams weapon.

"Strategic information. We'll do whatever we can to try to limit his production," Rosburg stated. "He's a fine returner, and everybody tries things all during the year with guys like Josh Cribbs and Devin Hester. They do whatever they can to try to limit him.

"But he's a great challenge for us, and we're going to do whatever we can to try and limit his production."

The Ravens do boast a solid core of special teamers. Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo made the Pro Bowl twice for his coverage skills. Cornerback Corey Ivy and safety Haruki Nakamura both lead the team with two special teams stops each.

And, Figurs has emerged as a solid gunner, even posting one special teams tackle of his own in the Ravens' season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. 

Figurs is a different type of player than Cribbs, with speed being the 5-11, 180-pounder's best asset.

As a rookie last year, the former third-round draft pick averaged 25.3 yards per kickoff return. He also became the first Raven to return a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same season.

For a player who ran the fastest 40-yard dash at the 2007 NFL Combine, Figurs is just beginning to translate that talent to covering kicks.

"I'm particularly pleased with the fact that Yamon has now seized the opportunity to play gunner and has been productive in his first contest as a gunner," Rosburg explained. "That's something that we were looking for him to do in the offseason – not just be a returner, but be a productive player in other phases."

In a game where rookie quarterback Joe Flacco will make only the second start of his career, field position will be crucial for the Ravens.

It will be up to Figurs and the rest of Baltimore's special teams to make sure Cribbs stays controlled.

"We have to do everything we can to help Joe and get every yard we can," Figurs said. "We've got a good special teams, and they do too. I'm looking forward to getting it done."

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