Ravens' Swayne faces test of ages

Top pick C. Brown up against veteran

September 29, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

When Ravens right tackle Harry Swayne started his NFL career in 1987, Cleveland defensive end Courtney Brown was starting the fourth grade.

Swayne is a veteran of 14 years, and Brown is a veteran of about 13 weeks. Swayne has played in three Super Bowls, and Brown has played in four games.

When they line up opposite each other Sunday in this generation clash, will Swayne be giving a history lesson or will Brown be teaching the Ravens' "old dog" some new tricks?

"Experience is nine-tenths of the law in this league," said Swayne, at 35 the oldest Raven. "The more you can put yourself through mentally during the week, [the more you] know what to do instinctively when the play starts to happen. So you got about 2 1/4 seconds. That's the big difference between a rookie and a vet. In this league, if you get a second or a step on a guy, you get beat."

If pass protecting is a key for the Ravens' offensive line against the Browns' revamped front four, then Swayne containing Brown is a priority.

Brown, the top pick in the draft, is the signature player on Cleveland's high-pressure defense, but Swayne has been through this drill. Swayne has taken on such Pro Bowl pass rushers as Derrick Thomas, Leslie O'Neal and Michael Sinclair.

"You're talking about sheer raw talent on Courtney's part, but you're talking about a guy who's been a part of two Super Bowl champions," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I think he's seen a couple good ends. So Harry's going to have that experience, and that will help him. But he's facing a tremendous athlete. That's always something you got to account for."

Actually, Brown's inexperience may work in his favor.

Swayne keeps what he calls "his diary," a collection of notebooks with thoughts, moves and habits of the defensive ends he's faced. Except there's no entry for Brown.

That's why Swayne has dissected a lot of film this week.

Unlike most rookies, Brown hasn't played out of control and shows flash with a 360-degree spin move, as well as the ability to knock down passes with his 86-inch wingspan.

Through four games this season, Brown has had his share of up-and-down moments. The ups include 17 tackles, three sacks, and a team-leading 10 quarterback pressures. The former Penn State standout is the first defensive end drafted No. 1 overall since Bruce Smith in 1985.

"He's got textbook defensive-end size and plenty of quickness," Swayne said. "Sometimes you don't give guys with quickness points on strength. But he holds the point of attack pretty well. He's got good technique."

Said Browns coach Chris Palmer: "We obviously have very high expectations for Courtney, and he is everything we hoped he would be at this point. His combination of size, speed and strength is rare. His productivity will certainly increase as he gains experience."

Although agility is also a strength for Swayne, he may not be at full speed Sunday. Nursing a sprained right ankle, Swayne has had limited practices but insists he'll play. Backup tackle Spencer Folau has prepared more on the right side this week just in case.

It's been a painful pattern for Swayne, who missed 10 games last season and two preseason games this year because of three injuries. His 1999 season ended in his last visit to Cleveland, where he fractured his right foot.

"It's just a run of bad luck," Swayne said.

Still, Swayne hasn't thought of retiring, just improving.

He has talked with offensive line coach Jim Colletto about bending his knees more in the running game and being less sloppy with setting his hands high on pass protection. Such attention to detail helped him win Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos in 1997 and 1998.

"I've been really pleased with how I've played," Swayne said. "It's head and shoulders above last year."

Now, Swayne is looking to win this Sunday's test of time and keep Brown in check. But battling youth has turned into a daily chore with the Ravens.

Besides Swayne, the offensive line has no starter older than 26, leaving Swayne a popular target. The linemen take their jabs, asking Swayne what it was like to play in wing-T formations or how it felt taking a head slap from Deacon Jones, a star defensive end in the late '60s and early '70s.

But Swayne provides more than just a punch line.

"It helps to have a guy that's been around a long time," Colletto said. "He can be a settling influence. He's kind of a father figure, so to speak.

"I've got a bunch a young puppies in there and one old dog."

Swayne vs. Brown

How Sunday's matchup between Ravens offensive tackle Harry Swayne and Cleveland Browns defensive end Courtney Brown shapes up:

Swayne Brown

Age 35 22

Experience 14 1

Games 164 4

Starts 103 4

Playoffs 13 0

Height 6-5 6-4

Weight 300 266

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Cleveland Browns

Site: Cleveland Browns Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Ravens by 8 1/2

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