Baylis likes to stick his nose in middle of Stallions' defense Veteran lineman key to CFL's stingiest unit

September 23, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Don't let his warm smile and jovial laugh fool you.

Jearld Baylis has a nasty side -- and nothing gives him more pleasure than unleashing it for the Baltimore Stallions from his nose tackle position.

It is not a place for the timid, and it is a job with an unattractive description. In most pass-rushing situations, you will be double-teamed. On running plays, your job is to occupy blockers. Be unselfish, while the tackles, sacks and statistics mainly are recorded by others. On every play, you are going to get hit, often more than once.

"You really have to study three people: the center and both guards. You're always looking for a tip-off from one of those three," said Baylis, who will lead the Stallions' defense into tonight's game against the Shreveport Pirates at Memorial Stadium.

"The worst part is getting hit by people you can't see. I don't mind freeing things up for other players. It's been like that my whole career. You're always going to get beat up."

For 11 seasons, nine of them in the Canadian Football League, Baylis has dished out and taken abuse. This may be the most gratifying year of his distinguished career.

With the 6-foot, 257-pound Baylis controlling the middle, the Stallions' defense has become one of the CFL's stingiest, overall and against the run. Baltimore is surrendering a league-low 18.7 points and is permitting only 73 rushing yards per game, third-best in the CFL.

Team speed and pass-coverage skills are big reasons for the Stallions' defensive success, but the package starts with the anchor in the middle.

"Everything revolves around him. He's the center of our defense," Marty Long, Baltimore's defensive line coach, said of Baylis. "Of all the inside guys we've had, he's been the steadiest. He's another coach on the football field, and an extremely good one at that."

Baylis, 33, is two years older than his line coach and is Baltimore's oldest player, but you wouldn't know it by watching the bounce in his step. He has beaten his man consistently inside and chased down his share of runners from behind while collecting 32 tackles, sixth best on the team.

And to think, just a year ago Baylis seriously considered retirement after playing through an injury-plagued 1994 season. In the home opener against Calgary, Baylis hurt his left knee when he got leg-whipped from behind in the trenches. A few weeks later, he tore his right biceps. Then he tore his right calf muscle, probably because he was over-compensating for the knee injury.

The bottom line was that Baylis still missed only one game, while recording 44 tackles, to help Baltimore reach the Grey Cup title game in its first season. Soon after that, he underwent reconstructive knee surgery.

"There were several points during the season where I wondered if I should just pack it in, but I have a commitment, not just to the team, but to myself," said Baylis, who is signed through this season, while the club holds an option for 1996. "And I have a goal I knew I couldn't reach if I retired. I know the opportunity for that Grey Cup ring is here."

Baylis knows plenty about comebacks. Starting in 1986, he played for four productive seasons in Toronto, which lost the Grey Cup game in 1987. A hand injury compelled him to retire in 1990, after he went to the B.C. Lions in a trade for quarterback Matt Dunigan.

Baylis spent that season coaching the defensive line at the University of Buffalo. The Lions then coaxed him out of retirement, but Baylis suffered a burst appendix at the start of the 1991 season, causing him to miss nearly half the year. The Lions released Baylis after the season, but he wasn't through.

Saskatchewan, then coached by Baltimore's Don Matthews, signed Baylis in 1992, and he gave the Roughriders two superb seasons. He was the CFL's Defensive Lineman of the Year in 1992, and its Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 with a league-high 18 tackles for losses.

Baylis, who dropped 20 pounds during the off-season and hasn't been in the training room in two months, is approaching that level again, while imparting wisdom to players such as rookie defensive tackle Demetrious Maxie. He makes his third start of the year tonight.

"He has shown me all kinds of tricks," Maxie said of Baylis. "He'll help you on whatever you need. You can call him anytime. He's a good motivator, a great player and a great guy."

NOTES: Injuries and illness will force the Stallions to make numerous changes in their lineup tonight. The offensive line gets a new look at the guard positions. CFL rookie Bob Meeks, a 6-foot-3, 290-pounder, will replace Mike Withycombe at left guard. Withycombe missed practice all week with the flu. Rookie Mark Dixon moves from left to right guard and John James rests his sprained ankle for another week.

Also, Mark Orlando (Towson State) will make his first start at wide receiver as Shannon Culver sits out with a neck sprain. Toby Cates, a rookie out of South Carolina who was timed in 4.39 seconds for the 40-yard --, the fastest performance at Memorial Stadium in team history, comes off the practice roster to be a backup receiver.

Courtney Griffin will start at free safety, replacing Brian White, who has gone to the practice squad. And rookie Jason Bryant will start in place of linebacker Matt Goodwin (hamstring).

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