Billick extends credit to makeshift line

Injured Ogden, Swayne termed questionable for Sunday's game

October 05, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

He saluted players like quarterback Stoney Case and wide receiver Justin Armour, who produced the winning play of the second victory of his rookie year as a head coach, yet Brian Billick saved a special tribute for those who provided crucial depth on a battered offensive line.

Looking back on Sunday's come-from-behind, 19-13 overtime victory in Atlanta, Billick pointed to the poise the line displayed after it lost tackles Jonathan Ogden and Harry Swayne to injuries that could keep each player out of Sunday's contest in Tennessee.

By game's end, the Ravens, who went into Atlanta with only seven active linemen, were down to their last blockers.

Backup Spencer Folau, who had replaced Ogden after he suffered a neck injury near the end of the first half, had shifted to right tackle to replace Swayne, who left the game late in the fourth quarter with a contusion above his left ankle. Left guard Everett Lindsay, who had taken every previous snap of 1999, had moved to left tackle, leaving left guard duty to backup Mike Flynn, who had not played a down this year.

The patchwork group held things together long enough for Case to drop back, read the Falcons' flawed coverage down the deep middle, and hit Armour in stride with the game-winning pass.

Billick gave a game ball to Folau and Flynn for their emergency work. He also breathed a sigh of relief that no other injury cursed the line, thereby forcing Billick to play someone up front and out of position with the game on the line. Regardless of whether Ogden and/or Swayne can play against the Titans, Billick said he expects to activate eight linemen this week.

"The next man has to step up and do the job, and [Folau and Flynn] came in and did a great job," Billick said.

"Anytime you go with seven [linemen], it's precarious. It's very likely we will activate an eighth lineman this week, unless Reggie White comes in here and puts his hands all over our guys and there's this miraculous healing process."

The eighth man figures to be veteran James Atkins, who tore his right hamstring midway through training camp, then lost his starting job to Lindsay. Atkins, who has yet to play a snap this season, has practiced for the past two weeks. If Atkins isn't ready enough to suit Billick, he'll activate Edwin Mulitalo, a rookie whom the Ravens drafted in the fourth round.

Either way, Billick wants the Ravens' hot running game to keep humming. Against Atlanta, running back Errict Rhett ran his string of 100-yard games to three for the first time in his six-year career with 136 yards on 27 carries. One of those carries netted 28 yards, and it was sparked by a great block by Folau at left tackle early in the third quarter.

Rhett leads the AFC with 350 rushing yards, and ranks third in the NFL behind Washington's Stephen Davis (400) and Carolina's Tshimanga Biakabutuka (366).

"When guys come in off the bench, especially on the offensive line, it's usually after something bad happens," Flynn said. "You want to dominate, but your job is to go in there and keep the ship going. Whether you're in for five plays or 30 plays, you don't want to be making mental errors."

Ravens head trainer Bill Tessendorf said he would have a much better feel about the availability of Ogden and Swayne by tomorrow, the team's first practice day of the week. He termed both players as questionable.

Ogden suffered a blow to the back of the head while scrambling after a loose ball. "He had compression on one of the nerve roots, and had some irritation in his right arm," said Tessendorf, who described Swayne's injury as a "contusion-sprain" where the tendon meets muscle above his ankle joint.

"I'm pretty sore right now, but it feels a lot better than it did [Sunday night]," said Ogden, who was taken off the Georgia Dome field on a spine board. "I was just hoping people didn't think it was a really serious injury. It looked a lot worse than it was."

Said Swayne: "In my mind, I'm sure [the ankle] will get better. I'm hoping it will make a miraculous recovery [today]. Such is life on [artificial] turf in the NFL."

Speaking of turf injuries, defensive tackle Larry Webster had the big toe on his left foot wrapped yesterday. Webster, also is questionable for the Tennessee game, as is fellow tackle Tony Siragusa, who had minor knee surgery 10 days ago.

In a worst-case scenario, Webster and Siragusa could miss the Titans game, leaving interior defensive line duty in the hands of veteran Fernando Smith and second-year men Lional Dalton and Martin Chase.

Smith set a single-game team record in Atlanta by recovering two fumbles. Smith, who also recorded a sack, has recovered three fumbles this year, another team record.

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