The Baltimore Ravens’ top return specialist has been working diligently to increase his role as a reserve wide receiver.
One year after catching just one pass for 36 yards as a rookie, the former track star is beginning to learn the subtleties of duties beyond returning punts and kickoffs.
Although he still isn’t consistently surehanded, Figurs has made significant progress as a deep threat. He has operated as the third or fourth receiver several times since training camp started.
"I love playing more at receiver," Figurs said. "It gets me on the field more."
Informed during minicamps that he would be given an extended look at receiver, Figurs has been preparing for his audition. After practice, he puts in extra work on the JUGS machine to hone his hands.
"My hands are getting there," Figurs said. "That’s what training camp is for. I’m looking to catch the ball and get into the end zone."
Last season, Figurs emerged as the first player in franchise history to score touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns. He ranked 15th in the league in kickoff returns with a 24.7 average.
Yet, he faces competition for his job as the team drafted three players — Ray Rice, Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura — with return ability in addition to signing free agent Jim Leonhard.
Figurs is aware that he must secure the football better than he did last season when fumbling was an occasional issue.
"I’m fine with having someone to compete with," Figurs said. "Competition does nothing but make you better. You never want to assume that you have nothing left to work hard for."
MCGAHEE OUT: Running back Willis McGahee will definitely be out for Thursday night’s preseason opener against the New England Patriots with a left knee injury.
"We decided to take about a week and work the knee, strengthen it, get the swelling down and get him back after the game," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
Rookie running back Ray Rice, who has been one of the stars of camp, will start in his place.
"He’s a rookie, but, gosh, he’s had a lot of carries his whole career," Harbaugh said. "As a running back, he’s a veteran. It will be new for him playing against an NFL defense, particularly that defense, and it will be interesting to see how he’ll do. But I’d be surprised if he’s not up to the task."
When McGahee returns, the Ravens envision Rice operating as a complementary presence in the backfield.
"Willis is our back, no question about it," Harbaugh said. "You need at least two good backs to get through an NFL season. Most offenses would prefer to have an explosive weapon like Ray to throw in there, no question."
Added Rice: "I’m looking forward to his return to see how good a duo we could be."
INJURY UPDATE: Several players didn’t practice besides McGahee.
That group includes: cornerbacks Samari Rolle, who just arrived at camp following a death in the family, Chris McAlister (right knee) and Fabian Washington (leg), wide receivers Patrick Carter (dislocated left shoulder) and Mark Clayton (sprained shoulder) and Demetrius Williams (left Achilles’ tendon), safety Ed Reed (shoulder), running back P.J. Daniels (cramps), linebackers Dan Cody (right foot), Bart Scott (leg) and Gary Stills (knee), offensive tackles Adam Terry (sprained left ankle) and Jared Gaither (sprained right ankle), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (sprained right medial collateral ligament), nose guard Kelly Gregg (left knee), tight ends Todd Heap (right calf), Aaron Walker (left knee) and Daniel Wilcox (offseason toe surgery) and linebacker Terrell Suggs (contract dispute).
Ngata seems to be nearly recovered from his injury.
Cornerback David Pittman, who has been dealing with a foot injury, practiced without incident.
Defensive end Trevor Pryce had the day off.
QUICK HITS: Wide receiver Marcus Smith turned in a circus catch of a Kyle Boller pass, skidding across the grass for a low reception. … The Ravens will not be practicing in Westminster for the next three days, starting today. They will have a walkthrough practice today at their training complex in Owings Mills that’s off-limits to the public and media, then will play the Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., on Thursday with a day off Friday. The next practices at McDaniel College are Saturday with an 8:45 a.m. session and a 2 p.m. special-teams workout.