Sapp ready to help fill special teams void


With Thomas out, rookie eager to impress, tackle

Pro Football

December 13, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Since the first few practices of training camp, coaches have been impressed with sixth-round pick Gerome Sapp.

Sapp has made his mark the way someone of his draft status has to --- on special teams - and is set to become a leader of that unit with the season-ending loss of Adalius Thomas (fractured elbow) starting tomorrow against Oakland.

The rookie safety is third on the Ravens with 13 special teams tackles and a fumble recovery.

"I didn't want to be any dead weight," Sapp said. "Right now I think I am producing, but I can always do more. That's my goal every week, to do more. But I'm reaching my initial goal to start the season.

"They trust me more. They're moving me from position to position, and putting me in these different positions will allow me to make more plays to help the team."

Sapp and Musa Smith will be the gunners (the players split out wide and expected to be the first ones down the field) on the punt coverage team. It was a position Thomas held for much of the season.

"Obviously AD was a big part of special teams," Sapp said. "He was a big part of our team. Now guys are going to have to step up and do a better job."

Sapp, undoubtedly, will be asked to do just that. Only Bart Scott (17) and Thomas (23) have more tackles on special teams.

"He is one of those guys that suddenly is always there for you," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "His confidence is growing, and he is understanding what we need to do. He will be a solid force back there now and in the future."

Baxter draws Rice

Jerry Rice led the NFL in receiving yards (1,570) and touchdowns (15) in 1986, just his second season, while Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter was in the second grade.

Rice went on to become one of the NFL's most prolific receivers, while Baxter grew up playing the video game version of Rice on Nintendo. Now Baxter will line up against Rice, and he promises not to be in awe.

"It is Jerry Rice but I'm not going to get too fascinated going up against him," Baxter said. "I did grow up watching him but right now I have a job to do. I think it is going to be fun going against him because he is Jerry Rice. The respect is there, but at the same time, it's an opportunity to go beat up against those guys."

Injury report

The Ravens reported no changes to their injury situation.

Linebacker Ray Lewis (shoulder) is questionable, but the team expects him and all players on the injury report to be available. Return specialist Lamont Brightful (knee), with the most serious injury, will be a game-time decision. If Brightful is unable to play, Chester Taylor will return kickoffs and Ed Reed will field punts.

Fan frenzy

The atmosphere at Network Associates Coliseum should be different than the last time the Ravens were there, but the Ravens still expect a lively crowd.

The Ravens beat Oakland, 16-3, in the 2001 AFC championship game. The Raiders have lost eight of their past nine.

"They are probably drinking a lot more, too," Billick said of the infamous Raiders fans. "Those that can remember that it was us that knocked them out have got me a little concerned, too."

Title game recalled

Oakland receiver Tim Brown, who was held to 48 yards on five catches in the title game, hopes his team has a long memory.

"Certainly I am one of the guys left here that remember what they did to us here [three] years ago," Brown said. "If there is an opportunity to put a kink in their armor, it will be a better offseason for us."

The Raiders did not sell out the game by the league-mandated deadline, so it will be blacked out in their area for the sixth time this year.

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