Ravens-Jaguars key matchup

November 14, 1999

Ravens offense vs. Jaguars FS Carnell Lake

Is there a job that Carnell Lake can't handle?

During his 11-year career, Lake has played strong safety, free safety and cornerback. He has been equally effective covering receivers and hitting them with authority. He can charge up to stuff a running play or blitz into the backfield to drop the quarterback.

Lake, 6 feet 1, 210 pounds, changed teams for the first time last year, when he left Pittsburgh via free agency and joined Jacksonville. The Jaguars' plan was to solidify a young secondary with a skilled veteran.

The plan is working. The Jaguars have the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL, largely because of their front seven, which include such possible Pro Bowl players as tackle Gary Walker, end Tony Brackens and outside linebacker Kevin Hardy. And then there is Lake, the free safety who has turned what once was a soft spot -- the defensive backfield -- into a strength.

Rookie cornerback Fernando Bryant is having an outstanding year. Second-year strong safety Donovin Darius already is one of the league's most intimidating hitters. Fourth-year cornerback Aaron Beasley has returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

The influence of Lake is apparent in the eyes of the Ravens.

"What Carnell has done is bring stability and experience to the secondary," said Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who worked with Lake for four years in Pittsburgh (1992-1995). "He's been helpful to Donovin Darius. He came in there familiar with the terminology that [defensive coordinator] Dom Capers is using."

The Ravens will be mindful of where Lake is at all times on the field. In passing situations, Lake will either line up in the slot to cover a Ravens receiver inside, or he could creep up to linebacker depth and blitz quarterback Tony Banks. Either way, he is a weapon.

"Carnell is reckless off the edge, being so big and fast," Lewis added. "And he's an effective rusher vs. running backs in protection, because he gets up on them so quickly."

In 10 seasons with the Steelers, Lake missed only six starts, played in 11 playoff games and made four Pro Bowls, most recently in 1997. This year, Lake ranks eighth on the team with 32 tackles and has 2.5 sacks.

"The strength of their team is in their front seven," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. Lake "has tied together that back end in a way that we kind of envisioned Rod [Woodson] doing here. He's that piece to the puzzle they were looking for." -- Gary Lambrecht Pub Date: 11/13/99

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