Ayanbadejo passes for receiver

Ravens starting fullback leads team with 9 catches

Pro Football

September 16, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo is the closest thing the Ravens have to a secret weapon.

Opposing defenses don't know where to find him, but Ravens quarterback Tony Banks always can.

Two games into the season, Ayanbadejo leads the team in receptions with nine. In last week's 39-36 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, he caught seven short tosses from Banks, generating 53 yards and one touchdown.

The curiosity is that Ayanbadejo went virtually uncovered most of the day. Consider it a byproduct of the Ravens' multi-dimensional offense.

"If you're on defense, what do you do?" Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "Do you not cover Shannon [Sharpe] to cover Femi? Do you not cover Qadry [Ismail] to cover Femi? Do you not cover Travis Taylor or Ben Coates?

"You've got to account for people. That's why you can get those backs out ... and into routes. There are some yards to be had there."

So far this season, Banks has gone to his running backs for 17 of 41 completions. Priest Holmes, Ayanbadejo's running mate, has eight catches.

Ayanbadejo might be the biggest surprise of the Ravens' young season. The third-year veteran was primarily a special teams player before starting fullback Chuck Evans tore his left triceps on Aug. 5. Two days later, when the Ravens signed Pro Bowl fullback Sam Gash as a free agent, it still appeared to be Ayanbadejo's role.

And given a shot at the starting job, he refused to let go.

"He gives us an added dimension out of the backfield," said coach Brian Billick. "He's a solid pass protector, a good run blocker. But his athleticism, once he gets his hand on the ball, is quite evident. It's something defenses have to account for."

Ayanbadejo has always been used in the passing game, he says, going back to his high school days in Santa Cruz, Calif., and at Cabrillo Junior College and San Diego State. He caught 59 passes in two years at Cabrillo as a fullback and tight end.

"No matter where I lined up, it seems they always throw me the ball," Ayanbadejo said.

When he got to the NFL as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings - where Billick was offensive coordinator - in 1998, he had to learn a different game, though.

"I had to learn our pass protections and run schemes as a running back, things I hadn't had to do in college," he said. "As I was able to do those things, I could display my receiving skills and play more. It was a progression. I think you have to be able to do all the other things before you're able to do something fun like catch the ball."

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