Versatile Trapp starts to make major impact

Defensive back sparks Ravens' secondary and special teams

October 31, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Ravens coach Brian Billick has this thing about not declaring starters. Billick insists that because a person isn't in on the first snap of the game, he should not be viewed as having a lesser role.

Ravens defensive back James Trapp exemplifies that philosophy.

"How do you not consider a guy who probably took 35, maybe 40 snaps of defense, and another twenty-something on special teams, a starter?" Billick asked. "I know in a conventional sense that people don't buy that. But to me, that's a starter. I think of James as much as a starter, since he is on our nickel and dime packages and special teams, as I do Duane Starks, Chris McAlister, Rod Woodson or Corey Harris."

Based on Trapp's numbers and impact, who could argue? Trapp is seventh on the Ravens with 28 tackles, more than both starting cornerbacks. He has an interception and recorded his only sack of the season in Sunday's 18-17 Ravens win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, a game in which Billick said Trapp was the best player in the secondary.

Trapp's second-quarter sack of Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell was the first recorded by a member of the Ravens' secondary this season. A healthy amount of three- and four-receiver sets used by teams allows Trapp to be on the field for more than three-quarters of all defensive snaps.

This is on top of playing on nearly every special teams unit.

"It is a growing fashion in the league right now, with the third cornerback being on the field as much as the starters," said Trapp, whose six tackles against the Jaguars tied him with Starks and Ray Lewis for the team lead. "I just have to prepare myself to be out there playing every week.

"I wish I had that [playing time] incentive in my contract. But I don't have that incentive, so I can play as many plays as they allow me to. I'm just thankful to be out there. It helps me be into the game more."

Trapp, at 6 feet, 190 pounds, is a cross between McAlister's physical presence and Starks' speed. The Ravens move him around, at times over the slot receiver, which allows him to blitz, and at other times over the outside guy, which could pit him against opposing team's best receiver.

"Most nickel backs are hybrids - an all-around package," said Trapp, 31. "You're not the total package. You're just able to go in and do things on the inside and do things on the outside. I'm just thankful to be able to know that and be able to do it. [Defensive coordinator] Marvin [Lewis] puts me in nice positions."

Trapp is in his third season with the Ravens and has more responsibility now than in his previous two. He was used primarily on special teams his first year here. Last year, Trapp split the nickel back role with Robert Bailey, who signed with the Detroit Lions in the off-season.

Bailey's departure left that position to Trapp, who solidified his status with a solid training camp that has spilled over into the regular season. The Ravens now can bring second-round pick Gary Baxter along slowly. Some thought Baxter could challenge Trapp for the spot, but the rookie suffered a knee injury in training camp and has been inactive every game this season.

"James has done a good job," Marvin Lewis said. "Each and every week, the small things that come up within the games, he's able to adjust to it and handle it.

"The [nickel back] is kind of a quarterback underneath. He has to step it up mentally. James always has done a great job ever since we signed him. The thing that is so pleasing to me is how he's added to the guys mentally. How he's helped the guys study. He talks football and understands football. For Robert to leave, we knew James would be able to step into that role and give that physical presence since he had already split that time with Robert last year."

And for good measure, Trapp also leads the Ravens with eight special teams tackles, adding a much needed veteran presence to a young unit.

All the work sets well with Trapp, who played six seasons with the Raiders before coming to the Ravens. He has spent only one year as a starter (1997), and even though he is playing as well as any cornerback on the Ravens, he does not feel he has to start.

"I'm content with winning," Trapp said. "Whatever role they want me to play, it doesn't matter as long as we win. I lost my ego a long time ago."

NOTES: The Dallas Cowboys signed end Dwayne Missouri from the Ravens' practice squad to their active roster. Missouri was one of the stars in Hard Knocks, the HBO documentary on the Ravens' training camp. End Corey Callens, a rookie free agent, worked out for the team yesterday. Missouri is the second player the Ravens have lost from their practice squad this season. Offensive tackle Damion Cook signed with Chicago. ... End Michael McCrary leads the AFC in sacks with seven.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers

Site: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line: Steelers by 2

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