Wide-eyed Kemoeatu focuses on big chance

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

With Gregg injured, nose tackle gets start Sunday against Steelers

Pro Football

September 17, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

To gauge Maake Kemoeatu's excitement in going from an undrafted rookie to starter, one only had to watch him after his first interview in front of a crowd of reporters.

The 6-foot-5, 340-pound nose tackle bumped chests with fellow lineman Tony Weaver and said, "Can you believe that [just happened]?"

It's a question that has been asked of Kemoeatu over this past year. Several coaches and players indicated he has made the biggest improvement of any player, comparing his strength and balance to former Raven Tony Siragusa.

"The difference between now and his rookie year is 360 degrees," Weaver said. "He is so much better that it's unbelievable. This is a big game for him. He'll have something to prove and show teams he can be a starter."

In replacing Kelly Gregg (who is expected to be sidelined two weeks after undergoing minor knee surgery), Kemoeatu will get his most extensive playing time as a pro since joining the Ravens as an undrafted rookie out of Utah in 2002. What he lacks in Gregg's agility, Kemoeatu makes up for in girth.

He should be tested Sunday against a Pittsburgh Steelers team looking to get back to its run-first philosophy.

"This is a shock for me to run with the starters, but I'm up for the challenge," said a wide-eyed Kemoeatu, who was born in Tonga and went to high school in Hawaii. "They have two strong running backs. They have a good offensive line. So, what better time to play in a big game than this one right here?"

Kemoeatu is often a target of teammates' jokes for having the largest head on the team. There was even a skit in at a recent rookie show in training camp in which players used the lid of a grill for Kemoeatu's helmet.

Asked if the new starting role could make his head larger, Weaver said, "That is physically impossible."

Billick fires back

A day after Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter questioned whether Brian Billick was a "smart coach," Billick made sure no one could challenge his quick wit.

"These are passionate times and everybody has got their opinions," Billick said. "One thing he doesn't have to worry about is ever playing for this stupid coach."

T. Taylor update

Travis Taylor's groin injury has him sitting on pins and needles.

"I'm trying to come back early, maybe two to three weeks," the starting receiver said, "but they [the training staff] are telling me three to four weeks."

Actually, the pins are in Taylor's ears these days. Upon the suggestion of trainer Bill Tessendorf, he is undergoing acupuncture treatment for his pulled groin, which places a couple of pins on pressure points on the top of his left ear.

Taylor, who did not practice, was officially downgraded to doubtful. Because he has aggravated the injury twice already, the Ravens want him to fully recover before playing him again.

End zone

The Ravens have re-signed special teams standout Harold Morrow and waived safety Gerome Sapp. .. Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden was able to participate in every team drill for the first time this week, further solidifying his chances of returning to the starting lineup. He also did not wear a brace on his sprained left knee as he did Wednesday but still had it heavily wrapped. ... Backup defensive end Jarret Johnson (elbow) was added to the injury report as probable but did not miss any practice time. ... Steelers backup quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is probable after injuring his knee in Wednesday's practice.

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