Ravens hope rotation makes Bucs spin

Changing defensive line aims to stay fresh, confuse

September 13, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Published reports had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line confused and easily overmatched in a season-opening, 26-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Look for the Ravens' defensive line to try to compound such problems through numbers in Sunday's home opener. As in their 10-7 loss to Carolina on Sunday, the Ravens will again feature a six-man defensive line rotation that rises to seven when Peter Boulware shifts from linebacker to end in obvious passing situations.

To the pleasure of those involved, the rotation among Tony Weaver, Kelly Gregg, Maake Kemoeatu, Adalius Thomas, Marques Douglas and Michael McCrary was pretty evenly distributed. To the displeasure of Ravens supporters, the Panthers still rushed for 145 yards.

"We have to stick to our responsibilities," Weaver said. "If we go out there and execute the plan the coaches have given us, then there is no way they can run the ball."

Weaver should have a hefty say-so in whether Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman has success. The linemen may rotate, but the coaches defined roles for each of them. Weaver and Kemoeatu were used primarily as run-stoppers against the Panthers; Douglas and McCrary were used as pass rushers, while Gregg and Thomas were in for both situations.

"We are approaching it like we have six starters," defensive line coach Rex Ryan said. "And all of them bring different things to the table. What you try to do is take advantage of the strengths of certain players and you try and put them on the field in those situations. We want to keep those guys as fresh as we can to play to what we've become accustomed to the last four years and that's great effort out of the defensive line and a relentless approach."

Although the defensive line failed to establish any control against an average Panthers line, the rotation might have an easier go of it against the Bucs.

Tampa Bay still is not certain about the right side of its line. Starting guard Cosey Coleman, who missed the first game and the entire preseason with an injured knee, practiced this week and likely will replace Todd Washington.

Former first-round pick Kenyatta Walker, on the inactive list for the opener because of his poor preseason, might start in place of Cornell Green. Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson was sacked three times by the Saints and pressured on nearly all of his 52 passes.

"We can put pressure on them. We can put pressure on anybody," McCrary said. "I think we have that ability. We just have to play more sound, more disciplined and we've got to make tackles."

McCrary found himself in the unfamiliar role of watching the game's opening play. McCrary had started every opener the past four seasons, but with the team's switch to a 3-4 defense and McCrary not having played much during the preseason, his role as a pass rushing specialist may last a while.

Weaver, Kemoeatu and Gregg started the game.

"If this were five years ago, obviously Michael wouldn't be coming off the field," Ryan said. "But right now, we want him healthy for the entire season."

Rotation fever could also spread to the linebackers. Cornell Brown is expected to see more snaps in the base defense, splitting time with starter Shannon Taylor.

"I feel as though I can play as many plays as they need," Brown said.

The Ravens' overall defensive scheme could present problems, too. The previous time Johnson faced a 3-4 defense, Pittsburgh sacked him 10 times last year.

This Bucs line, though, features four new starters who are trying to function as a unit. The linemen have the added responsibility of studying at least two guys for every Ravens defensive line position.

"They have different guys to study, whereas it's easy for us to target - like Roman Oben is the left offensive tackle," Ryan said. "So we get a chance to target him and all their people with our guys studying the tapes. They are going to have to study a Michael McCrary, an Adalius Thomas, a Marques Douglas. They have to study every one of those guys so that might give us a tactical advantage."

The Ravens also will look for a physical advantage come the fourth quarter.

"The main reason for it is to try and keep them fresh, keep a fresh guy coming off the ball," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "A guy that takes 30, 35 snaps is going to be fresher than a guy that has to take 65 snaps. And when your first three is not substantially any different from your second three, you don't mind the rotation."

NOTES: Receiver Travis Taylor (shoulder) is questionable for Sunday. ... The Ravens are asking fans to get to the stadium at least 25 minutes before the 1 p.m. kickoff Sunday for a pre-game ceremony remembering John Unitas.

Next for Ravens

Opponent:Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Site:Ravens Stadium

When:Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line:Bucs by 3 1/2

SUNDAY'S RAVENS PRE-GAME TRIBUTE TO JOHN UNITAS

12:40 p.m.

Baltimore Marching Ravens take the field and form the No. 19.

12:42 p.m.

Video tribute to Unitas.

12:45 p.m.

Baltimore Colts Fight Song by the Marching Ravens.

12:48 p.m.

Unveiling of the No. 19 to the left of the Ravens bench, where Unitas stood at games; Lenny Moore will uncover the No. 19. A pair of Unitas' high-top shoes will be placed next to the number.

12:50p.m.

A moment of silence.

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