Injuries to starters put strain on depth


Special teams affected by domino effect

R. Lewis likely to start tomorrow

November 24, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

For better or worse, the Ravens' offensive line has forged an identity. With Michael McCrary done for the year, now the defensive front must also lean on an unexpected rotation. Less obvious to Ravens fans is the impact injuries have on special teams.

Defensive end Adalius Thomas will get his second straight start tomorrow at Jacksonville, where his special teams role figures to continue to shrink.

When Duane Starks left last week's loss to the Browns with a groin injury, rookie Alvin Porter plugged a hole at cornerback, but doing so created another hole on special teams.

"If Porter and Adalius Thomas are getting more snaps on defense, they certainly can't take the full number of snaps they take on special teams," special teams coach Russ Purnell said.

"When they get a chance to play on defense, it creates an opportunity for someone else to get some play on special teams. Gary Baxter has jumped in the last couple of weeks and done a good job. We should get John Jones back this week from his [leg] injury."

James Trapp has missed the last two games with a groin injury, and it's debatable where his absence has hurt worse - in the nickel package or on special teams.

"Even after missing two weeks, James is still our leading special teams tackler," Purnell said. "Having him back would be a welcome addition, not only because of his superior play, but because of the leadership he brings.

"Everybody has to pitch in and help in this situation. If you know early in the week that a guy is going to be out, you can have others prepared to play.

"But when something happens in the course of a game, that creates a problem. Duane [Starks] has been on kickoff coverage, so Chris [McAlister] jumped in there. Alvin Porter was playing on all our special teams and Duane was mostly his backup. When Trapp was down, we ran short at those types of positions."

R. Lewis expected to start

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis missed his third straight practice, but the team expects him to start tomorrow.

Lewis, who is questionable with a thigh strain, would be replaced by either Brad Jackson or rookie Ed Hartwell if his condition worsens.

"At this point of the season, he could have gone today, but why?" Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

In addition to Lewis, defensive tackle Tony Siragusa also did not practice and was added to the injury list as probable with a sore knee.

Billick, though, indicated that nickel back Trapp could be a game-time decision.

Brookins coming on

Jacksonville is the opponent that means the most to Jason Brookins, the running back who spent part of the 2000 season on the Jaguars' practice squad. Brookins got a chance in Baltimore after a series of injuries, and his first NFL start came in last month's 18-17 win over Jacksonville at PSINet Stadium. Limited to 6 yards on four carries in the first half, Brookins had 76 yards on 15 rushes in the second.

"In the fourth quarter they wore down and I was still fresh," Brookins said. "I'm 240 [pounds]. I don't want to say we wore them down, but they were arm-tackling and I was able to get through that. ... I'm looking forward to playing in Jacksonville. I want to show the fans down there that they slipped on a player."

With Terry Allen out for the second straight week with a broken hand, Brookins will get his third start tomorrow. Brookins has carried 112 times for 454 yards, a 4.1 average.

The last word

Billick was asked if he feels better today than he did a year ago with Trent Dilfer at quarterback.

"With no disrespect meant to Trent Dilfer - he's a solid quarterback - but the answer is yes," Billick said. "I'm much more comfortable with the attributes that Elvis Grbac can bring to this team and what we need for him to do right now."

Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

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