Ravens prepare for both sides of coin regarding nickel back

Sanders' hamstring injury puts Walls into game plan

Pro Football

September 22, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

It figures to be a long week for Ravens coaches.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, in particular, may need to have the coffeepot brewing and the No-Doz nearby as long days get even longer.

Nolan said he and his staff will have to come up with two game plans for passing downs for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals - one that will include Deion Sanders and another if the league's highest-profile nickel (fifth) defensive back is sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Sanders strained his hamstring in the second quarter of the Ravens' win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday and did not return. Ray Walls replaced Sanders for the rest of the game and will be called upon to do so against Cincinnati if Sanders is unavailable.

Although Sanders walked around the locker room well enough Monday, the recovery time for a 37-year-old is undoubtedly longer than that of someone 10 years younger.

If Sanders is out, do not expect to see Walls in the same man-to-man situations the Ravens used in the first half against Pittsburgh.

"We do pride ourselves in doing what our players allow us to do," Nolan said. "It's no different than at the cornerback position. If Deion is not in there, then Ray Walls steps in there and Corey Fuller is the next guy in line. You want to play to that guy's strength. Neither one of them is Deion, but they have something else that is a strength, and we have to utilize that strength."

For Walls, one of his personal strengths has been perseverance. A fifth-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2001 draft, Walls lasted one season with the Colts and just four games with the Cleveland Browns the next year.

Walls played mostly on special teams with the Ravens last season and looked to be on the bubble to make the roster midway through training camp, but now seems on the verge of making his most significant contribution.

He should have his fair share of opportunities. Without Sanders, there might as well be a target on Walls' chest.

"I know I'm going to get tested. If they don't, they'd be crazy," Walls said. "I'm new, so why not test me? But I'm going to make the play."

The Ravens could always opt for more experience by playing Fuller, who was inactive the first two games.

But Fuller is needed more at safety since the team released top backup Gerome Sapp to re-sign special teams ace Harold Morrow last week. Fuller will be active if Sanders is down and could always be used at cornerback in an emergency situation.

"What I have to be careful with Corey is making him flip-flop too much when we are trying to get him comfortable at safety; otherwise he is not going to give us any depth at safety," Nolan said. "With Sapp gone, we're in a situation where we don't want to spread ourselves thin."

The Ravens expect to have a better idea on Sanders' status today. Unfortunately for Fuller, injuries in the secondary may be the only way he is active on game days after starting primarily at cornerback the previous nine years.

"The last thing I wanted was somebody to get hurt, definitely not [Sanders] because I asked him to come out of retirement to play with him," Fuller said.

"My level of frustration is very low. I've been through so much this offseason that I just chalk it as another thing that the devil is trying to attack me with. ... I have been starting for nine years, and to go from starting to not playing is big. But if I act up in a way that is not acceptable, it only hurts the growth of the organization."

Choosing youth over experience, as the Ravens appear to be doing in playing Walls over Fuller, also should help the team in the long run. Though Walls may not be Sanders, coaches do like his ability to cover man-to-man, and he might be the answer at that position once Sanders retires for good.

For now, though, the Ravens will have to adjust with Walls in and Sanders out.

"You have to look at the talents and see what they do best, how they best can utilize them, and you just can't plug the next guy in and say we're going to do the exact same thing," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "So, yeah, the coaches will be up late."

NOTES: The Ravens signed offensive tackle Marques Ogden and defensive end Demetrin Veal to the practice squad and released linebacker Brandon Barnes, defensive tackle David Upchurch and center Lenny Vandermade. Ogden is the younger brother of Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden. ... Chris McAlister's interception return for a touchdown was nominated for the play of the week on NFL.com. Fans can go to that site and vote. ... Marques Douglas and Ed Hartwell joined the Washington Wizards' Etan Thomas and Juan Dixon to address students at Randallstown High School yesterday.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (1-1) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (1-1)

Site: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line: Ravens by 3

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