When Pack needs a sack, one name comes to mind

Gbaja-Biamila on roll with nine in 4 games

October 13, 2001|By Christopher Dabe | Christopher Dabe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Pronouncing his name is enough of a challenge.

But it hasn't nearly matched the challenge opposing quarterbacks have faced in trying to avoid Green Bay defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.

The second-year player from San Diego State, whose name is pronounced Kah-BEER BAH-jah BEE-ah-MIL-lah, leads the NFL in sacks with nine through four games.

Not bad for a player who was on the practice squad at the start of last season and hasn't started a game or been in on half the team's defensive snaps this season.

"We had no idea he'd rise to the level he has," said second-year Packers coach Mike Sherman. "One year makes a difference for a football player, and part of it is the adjustment of coming from college to the NFL."

With three sacks in Green Bay's 14-10 loss in Tampa last week, Gbaja-Biamila tied Mark Gastineau and Kevin Greene for most sacks in the first four games of a season.

Gastineau did it in 1984 with the New York Jets and Greene in 1998 with the Carolina Panthers.

If Gbaja-Biamila gets 1 1/2 sacks tomorrow against the Ravens, he will have the most after five games, passing Greene, who had 10 in 1998.

But according to Gbaja-Biamila, he doesn't play for the sacks or the national recognition, which he began to receive after he was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September.

Instead, he reserves all his praise for his religion and teammates. He said he converted from Islam to Christianity on Sept. 26, 2000, after a conversation with a man whose name he doesn't remember, but who was friends with Gill Byrd, a former director of player programs for the Packers and a devout Christian.

"If I'm getting attention, I just want to make sure the attention stays on God, because he's the one who put me in this situation," Gbaja-Biamila said. "I feel I'm responsible to give credit to him and my teammates for putting me where I am now."

The reason for his success, Gbaja-Biamila said, is because he's been in the right place at the right time.

"I just thank my teammates,"Gbaja-Biamila said. "The only reason I was player of the month is because the team was doing well. I promise you, if we were 0-3, no matter how many sacks I got, I wouldn't be player of the month. Obviously, being on a winning team, I'm getting a lot of help from my teammates."

Gbaja-Biamila was selected in the fifth round of the 2000 draft by the Packers after he finished as San Diego State's all-time sack leader with 33. He spent the first six weeks of the season on the practice squad before he played in seven games and got 1 1/2 sacks.

Toward the end of the season, the Packers had an idea that Gbaja-Biamila could develop into a quality pass rusher.

He spent extra time working with defensive line coach Jethro Franklin during off-season mini-camps and training camp as he attempted to add some bulk to what was considered an undersized frame.

But even now, at 6 feet 4 and 253 pounds, Gbaja-Biamila will not intimidate many with his size.

"I think Kabeer could get worn down," Sherman said. "He's not the biggest man in the world. If he gets in for 35-40 plays, I don't know he would be quite as effective. That's the amazing thing, what he's accomplished with the minimal amount he's played in every game."

Gbaja-Biamila got off to a good start this season with three sacks and a forced fumble in a 28-6 victory over Detroit in the opener.

He followed with a sack against Washington and two more at Carolina, with both games being victories.

This week, Gbaja-Biamila looks forward to playing the defending Super Bowl-champion Ravens. He said he sees the Ravens' offense as one that's better than many credit it as being.

"We can't make any mistakes," Gbaja-Biamila said.

He said he isn't concerned about facing an offensive line that has allowed only three sacks this season.

"Our challenge is to win," Gbaja-Biamila said. "We just want to have enough wins to have a bid for the Super Bowl. Sacks don't win games. What wins games is putting pressure on the quarterback and making him throw the ball and causing interceptions. Sacking the quarterback and making him fumble and then recovering it, that wins games, also."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Green Bay Packers

Site: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 1

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