The Baltimore Ravens' coaching staff has sent a clear message to Yamon Figurs following an outstanding rookie season in 2007: they need more from him.
To say Figurs was effective as a kickoff and punt returner during his initial campaign would be accurate, if a bit of an understatement. This season, Figurs could have even more opportunities to showcase his big-play capacity.
A third-round draft pick out of Kansas State, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound speedster took a punt 75 yards to the house in just his second NFL game and added a kickoff return for a touchdown later in the year.
The first Raven to score a return touchdown on both a kickoff and a punt in the same season flashed enough talent to earn a spot on the *Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America *All-Rookie Team.
But where the second-year vet fits in this year remains somewhat hazy even as training camp comes to a close.
However, despite the magnitude of this training camp for Figurs, the coaching staff recognized that big moments in life sometimes need to take precedent over football, allowing Figurs to return home and witness the birth of his first child.
Kennedi Nicole Figurs entered the world on Monday, August 11, weighing seven pounds and measuring 19 inches.
"I can't even describe it," said Figurs, unable to hide a beaming smile. "It was an amazing feeling. I don't know what it is, but something about you just changes."
Now that Figurs has begun living his dream of being a dad, which he describes as "something I've always wanted," he expects to bring the inspiration he receives from little Kennedi onto the gridiron in the coming months.
Though successful on special teams in 2007, Figurs didn't see much of the field as a wide receiver, tallying one catch all season. But with Demetrius Williams and Mark Clayton seeing limited action throughout training camp, Figurs has been getting increased reps at receiver and hopes to capitalize on the opportunity.
"It's very nice," Figurs said of the added snaps he is getting. "I go to the room and get into the playbook a little more than I was, too. You've just got to go out there and play."
So far, wide receivers coach Jim Hostler has liked what Figurs has shown.
"He's done well," Hostler stated. "For a young guy, he's picked things up pretty quickly. He's constantly working on technique. Obviously, he's a fast kid. He has the ability to run up on guys. Speed is critical in this league. You can't teach that or develop that. That's a starting point that helps him move forward."
As the Ravens continue to learn offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's offense, the wide receiver picture is far from clear - apart from the presence of 12th-year veteran Derrick Mason.
"Right now, we've got one veteran guy that has played a lot," Hostler noted. "We know where he's at. The rest of the group is young, it's learning how to play this game not just in practice, but in the games, too."
Figurs is still listed as the team's primary return man for both punts and kickoffs, but the Ravens have looked at several new additions in the return game, including running back Ray Rice and safeties Jim Leonhard and Tom Zbikowski.
Figurs' response to the added competition has been positive, according to assistant special teams coach Marwan Maalouf.
"He's been good," Maalouf said. "He hasn't backed down yet. Even when we started to limit his reps during the scrimmage, he wanted to get back in. Right now, he's being competitive and that's huge."
In the Ravens' preseason opener, Figurs once again demonstrated his special teams prowess, taking one punt return 52 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the Patriots' two-yard line. The play set up Baltimore's lone touchdown of the 16-15 victory in New England.
"The key is we know the return, and they don't," Figurs pointed out. "You can feel it. I call it a Kodak moment. You look, you take a picture, you see everybody running down, their speeds, and go back to the ball.
"When I see somebody out of position on the return, I know there's going to be a hole there. I'm running to that spot before the hole even gets there. Once I get there, the hole should be there."
With all the roles Figurs can fill, his coaches are confident that new responsibilities won't overwhelm him.
"He has a role on special teams," Hostler said. "That's part of his deal, and it's very important. But it really has nothing to do with him being a receiver. Those are all things he does in that world. In our world, he's a receiver. So he comes to work just like he'd be a receiver every day, and he fulfills that role."
And don't expect Figurs to back down from any new challenges thrown his direction.
"You want to do a lot," Figurs stated. "It's just really something you're coming to do. You've got to come out here [with the attitude], 'Give me everything you've got. I'm going to learn and do it.' I want to do everything. I want to make that full-time adjustment to wide receiver, then still do punt and kickoff returns because I love to do them."
So if the multi-talented No. 16 is making noise on both offense and special teams this season, don't be surprised. Given his game-breaking speed and his developing offensive skills, you would expect as much. It just figures.