Focused Ayanbadejo vows to be on guard

Ravens fullback knows Titans will target him on blitzing situations

November 10, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Obafemi Ayanbadejo is not a paranoid fullback normally, yet he has a sinking feeling that teams are going to go after him.

Specifically, Ayanbadejo realizes that come Monday night's game at Tennessee, the Titans will account for him when the Ravens are in passing situations - not as a threat but as someone to attack. The reason comes from back to back games in which Ayanbadejo was in position to pick up blitzes but was beaten by the opposing player for sacks.

"I'm sure Tennessee is going to have something where they are going to try and bring their safety, Blaine Bishop, or the other safety, thinking they are going to do something," Ayanbadejo said. "But it is not going to happen."

He does not think it is going to happen because Ayanbadejo spent the next day after Sunday's 13-10 Ravens win at Pittsburgh agonizing over his play and vowing to get back to a higher level.

Ayanbadejo was especially disturbed by an embarrassing sack he gave up to blitzing Steelers linebacker Joey Porter in the first half, one in which Porter reached around him and pulled quarterback Randall Cunningham down with one hand.

The worst part for Ayanbadejo is knowing teams will see that on tape.

"I caught him, he raced around me and grabbed Randall. That should never happen," Ayanbadejo said. "That's a play that is going to be up on every team's tape. Now everybody in the league is going to think that he can just run right through me and get a sack. That is something that has never happened before, but now that it happened one time, it is going to be something people are going to try and do."

Leading off will be the Titans (3-4), who will likely pull out everything defensively in an attempt to salvage their season and get back into the playoff hunt.

Tennessee will face a quarterback in Elvis Grbac who hasn't started and completed a game since playing the Titans more than a month ago.

Since, Grbac has been knocked out of two games and missed two more entirely. He still is not completely over his rib injury, making Ayanbadejo's job of protecting the quarterback in blitz situations even more important.

Ravens coach Brian Billick expressed confidence in Ayanbadejo, whom he has known since the two were in Minnesota in 1998.

"One of the reasons Femi is in there on those situations is because he's very good," Billick said. "It never ceases to amaze me when I read some of the comments or listen to some of the shows. Femi basically had one bad block - now he can't pass protect. The guy's been doing this for three years for us. He's in there because he does such a great job with it."

At 6 feet 2, 235 pounds, Ayanbadejo is the single back in the Ravens' three-receiver set and has the ideal size to knock over smaller defensive backs and contain linebackers.

Injuries and an increase in his own rushes from the line of scrimmage due to starting running back Terry Allen's ankle injury may be taking away some of Ayanbadejo's strength, though he dismisses such a theory as an excuse.

Ayanbadejo has 20 rushes over the past three games after having 12 in the first five, while continuing to work through a knee sprain.

"He's rarely out of position," running backs coach Matt Simon said. Some of his injuries have created some limitations. He is in a recovery stage, and wasn't full speed Sunday. It made him vulnerable. We thought he was in better shape than he was. He was there; he just didn't have the power and punch he normally has.

"Now we have to restore his confidence in what his capabilities are."

A week earlier against Jacksonville in the first quarter, Ayanbadejo failed to engage linebacker Kevin Hardy in a block, resulting in a 7-yard sack of Cunningham. It was the start of a two-game pass protection funk.

"The first thing was in the Jacksonville game on some of my techniques on my cuts," Ayanbadejo said. "I probably should have got a bigger piece and I didn't.

"That is one of the worst feelings in football, when you know you've made a mistake and there are people over there waiting to tell you about it. There really is nothing you can do except when it happens again, take care of it.

"You don't want to be the weak link, the person everyone is worried about. You want to be someone that people count on. It's part of football. Not one person can say that they've never been beat before. You want to keep it to a minimum, but it's part of the game."

Allen is expected to return this week, which should lighten the load on Ayanbadejo, who also plays on some of the special teams. Ayanbadejo, though, said the more he is out there, the more he has a chance to show opposing teams what kind of player he really is.

"I don't like to do things halfway. I like to do things to the best of my ability," Ayanbadejo said. "When I don't, even though there is a positive result in the end, I look at the things I could have done better, and it eats away at my mind. I try and find ways to correct that."

NOTES: Defensive tackle Sam Adams, end Michael McCrary and cornerback James Trapp did not practice yesterday. Adams and McCrary are expected to play Monday, but Trapp's presence may be limited at best. Cornerback Chris McAlister (shoulder) and tackle Erik Williams (hip) were added to the injury report and listed as questionable. Both practiced, and McAlister is expected to play.

Ravens next

Opponent: Tennessee Titans

Site: Adelphia Coliseum, Nashville, Tenn.

When: Monday, 9 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 1 1/2

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