Ravens rise to new depth on `D'

Team hopes rotation on defensive line keeps foes off-balance

August 25, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

For starting defensive tackle Larry Webster, it is worth not playing every down just to see the weary look on an offensive lineman's face when Webster stands before him late in the game, full of energy.

It is a look that Webster and seven of his fellow defensive linemen could see a lot this season if the rotation works how defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and defensive line coach Rex Ryan envision.

Lewis said this is the deepest and healthiest the line has been in his four seasons as coordinator, which allows him to substitute freely throughout the game.

"We can interchange anybody," Webster said. "The parts are interchangeable and still workable. Everybody gets a break.

"We want to make it real discouraging for the offensive linemen as soon as they see we are eight deep. Offensive linemen have to play the whole game. Seeing a man come in fresh, then seeing another man come in fresh, that gets kind of discouraging.`

Eight-man rotations are nothing new to football, but many teams don't have the personnel to do it. With the improved play of reserve tackles Lional Dalton, Martin Chase, end Keith Washington and with the arrival of end Fernando Smith, the Ravens don't anticipate losing too much from the first to second unit.

The Ravens will start Webster and Tony Siragusa at the tackles, with Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett on the ends.

"That is what we were shooting for when I talked with Marvin at the beginning of the year," Ryan said. "We wanted eight guys who can play and we think we have that now. Hopefully everybody stays healthy and we get to the season at full strength.`

Two of the guys Ryan said are becoming forces in the middle of the defense, second-year players Dalton and Chase, made plays in succession in the 19-6 preseason win Saturday over the Atlanta Falcons.

With the Ravens up 10-6 in the fourth quarter, Dalton teamed with Chase to stop Falcons quarterback Danny Kanell on a third-and-one for no gain. Then Dalton broke into the backfield and stopped running back Harold Green on the next play, giving the Ravens the ball.

Chase was on injured reserve last season, and Dalton played in only the final two games. Now the two are going to be keys in the rotation.

They have eased the free-agent loss of tackle James Jones, who had 75 tackles and 5.5 sacks last season.

"Most of the time, offenses game-plan against the starters," Dalton said. "Now they have to game-plan against a second unit. So that is going to put them more in a bind."

Coach Brian Billick talked Smith, a free agent, into signing with the Ravens in the off-season. Smith played with the Minnesota Vikings, when Billick was offensive coordinator. Smith had 9.5 sacks in 1996 when he started every game for the Vikings.

He'll team with Washington, who has started both preseason games in place of McCrary and has 1.5 sacks, in helping linebacker Peter Boulware and McCrary pressure quarterbacks.

"We have a lot of young talent here," Smith said. "You got different guys with different pass-rushing skills. You got some guys that can bull-rush and some guys that are more finesse. I think that will throw them off. With Mike and Pete and Keith Washington on the ends, that is just pure speed."

Besides keeping everyone happy, Ryan feels substituting freely is a strategic key to success in the NFL. The 300-pound offensive linemen take a toll on the smaller defenders.

"Most teams that win have eight defensive linemen go in," Ryan said. "You look at Denver, the 49ers for years, they had defensive linemen. That is how you win football games.

"The game has changed a lot. It is the only position on the football field where you have to carry a 300-pound guy with you every snap. Obviously, that's a little taxing."

Then there is what Webster was alluding to in the psychology of the rotation. For continuity's sake, offensive linemen generally play the entire game.

In the fourth quarter, when the energy level is down and legs become weary, for a defensive lineman to be quicker mentally and physically than the man in front of him can mean the difference between winning or losing games.

Most important for Ryan, having everyone fresh will keep the line doing the primary thing the coaching staff wants -- pursuing.

"They [offensive linemen] want guys out there not running to the football," Ryan said. "What we always talk about is chasing the football. We pride ourselves in being an excellent pursuit team. We've got a good mix, and I'm anxious to see how they perform in the regular season."

Ravens camp

When: Through tomorrow

Where: Western Maryland College, Westminster

Today's practice times: 8: 45 to 11 a.m.; 4 to 5: 30 p.m.

Information: 410-261-FANS

Pub Date: 8/25/99

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