Hartwell stands up in time of need

Ravens linebacker ready to be held accountable in absence of R. Lewis

October 23, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

With Ray Lewis out the past two games because of a shoulder injury and taking a temporary hiatus from discussing such problems, Ed Hartwell not only has assumed Lewis' duties on the field, but also as defensive spokesman.

Usually, the questions deal with how the Ravens have been able to function relatively well without Lewis and how Hartwell has survived minus his Pro Bowl partner.

Hartwell, a composed second-year player out of Western Illinois, answers with the same ease as he has made the transition from backup in 2001 to starter.

"With him not being in there, I have to ... make more plays and be more accountable, not only for myself, but for this defense," Hartwell said. "Being in the middle of the defense, you have to be a leader out there. ... What it did was increase the level of the defense. A lot of people had to step up."

Lewis might return to practice today and to the field for Sunday's showdown for the AFC North lead against the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3), but the younger players on defense have indeed stepped up in his absence, and Hartwell is the ringleader.

The Ravens are 1-1 and have allowed just two touchdowns without Lewis.

Hartwell led the team in tackles in the two games (23 total) while displaying a Lewis-like nose for disrupting plays. On a third-and-two from the Ravens' 44 in the first quarter of Sunday's 17-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hartwell tracked down Fred Taylor on a flare pass from Mark Brunell and forced the normally physical running back out of bounds a yard shy of the first down.

On the Jaguars' next offensive play, Hartwell planted Taylor, 232 pounds, on the ground in a one-on-one battle that netted 1 yard.

"He's not playing like a guy that it's his first time starting in the NFL," outside linebacker Peter Boulware said. "He's got a veteran presence. Some guys are wide-eyed and get rattled. He's focused, doesn't get rattled out there and is playing with confidence."

Taylor won his fair share of battles against the Ravens (151 rushing yards), but few came in Hartwell's direction.

The Jaguars found success running outside the tackles, something Brunell hinted his team might do after watching film of the Ravens and Hartwell.

"That extra responsibility dropped on to you, the way it has been with Ed, you learn from it," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "And Ed has done that. He's stepped up to the challenge, and it has given him confidence to know that he can survive in there on his own, so to speak. Having [inside linebacker] Bernardo Harris there certainly helps, because Bernardo has the veteran presence.

"In a twisted kind of way, it [Lewis' absence] has been a positive for us, because it has forced that development to accelerate."

Hartwell has been on the fast track since the Ravens selected him in the fourth round of last year's draft.

He was active in every game as a rookie, made a solid contribution on special teams and would have been called upon to play last season had Lewis gone down.

With the departure of linebacker Jamie Sharper to the expansion Houston Texans and the switch to a four-linebacker formation, Hartwell said he knew this would be his year.

"That's something I was striving for anyway, to try and increase my level of play," Hartwell said. "But with [Sharper] going, it had to be more immediate.

"It's something that I've always asked for. A lot of people say don't ask for anything if you're not ready for it. I prepared last year. I was under the best trio in Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper and Ray Lewis. I trained under those guys, learned a lot of things, so this year, I was prepared."

There is no question Lewis has influenced Hartwell's play. Physically, the two are shaped similarly.

"He's ... done all the things the coaches have asked him to do," Boulware said. "He's not just doing his job, he's making plays out there. To be a good defense, you need that out of a guy like Eddie."

Added Hartwell, whose relaxed demeanor and solid play have suddenly made him one of the most sought-out Ravens: "If we step up like this with Ray coming back, that could be scary."

NOTES: Defensive end Michael McCrary (knee) is the Ravens' most serious injury. McCrary probably will miss practice this week, and trainer Bill Tessendorf likened McCrary's current state to where he was the week leading up to Indianapolis, a game he missed. ... Edwin Mulitalo and Todd Heap will play host to the third Gridiron Halloween Party on Monday at Jillian's in Arundel Mills Mall. Proceeds will benefit Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake, Inc. Tickets are $150 for individuals, $250 per couple. For more information, call 410-837-1800, extension 141.

Next for Ravens

Opponent:Pittsburgh Steelers

Site:Ravens Stadium

When:Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line:Steelers by 2

SunSpot:For more coverage, visit sunspot.net/ravens

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