Kemoeatu is staying low, aiming high

Ravens tackle finds success stopping run when he keeps his body close to ground

August 09, 2005|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Moments before the snap, when he puts his hands down in the dirt, slides one leg slightly behind the other and assumes the most basic football stance, Ravens defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu knows he has it relatively easy.

That is, at least from a mental standpoint. While others around him, specifically the center or guard with whom Kemoeatu will soon wrestle and the running back whom he wants to stop cold, may have a thousand things running through their respective minds, Kemoeatu has just one thought.

Actually, it is one mandate - get underneath the offensive lineman's chest area and stay there.

"That's the first thing that comes to my mind, keeping my pads low, especially if it's short yardage," Kemoeatu said. "They throw me in to stop the run, and that's my job description. Part of stopping the run is staying low."

And what happens if he fails to stay low?

"When I get too high, I get driven back," he said. "If I get too high too many times, I'll lose my job."

It is a job that has been a long time coming for the three-year backup turned starter this season. Kemoeatu will be the additional tackle alongside Kelly Gregg in the Ravens' 4-3 defensive scheme, a switch from the past three seasons when the team has had just the lone nose guard as part of its base package.

In Kemoeatu, the Ravens have their biggest defensive lineman, one whose 6-foot-5, 350-pound frame the team hopes will clog up enough space to force runners east and west instead of south.

For Kemoeatu to do that, he will need to win the battle within the first two seconds after the snap of the ball.

"We just want him to play hard and with technique and with a low pad level every snap he's out there," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "To keep the focus. When he plays with a low pad level, he's as good as anybody. But when he gets high, like most big guys, he can be blocked. But as long as his pads are down, he can be hard to handle."

Kemoeatu has started five games in his career and, at times, provided glimpses of the player the Ravens think he can be.

When at his best, Kemoeatu comes close to being as tough to move as former Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who paved out a 12-year career as a run-stuffer after entering the league an undrafted free agent (as did Kemoeatu).

Siragusa got to a point where he was virtually a wall every down, something teammates are demanding of Kemoeatu.

"The biggest thing we need out of Kemo is consistency," defensive end and good friend Tony Weaver said. "For every year I've been here, he's always shown flashes of greatness. He's so big and so powerful, if he can do that on a consistent basis, he'll be a dominant force out there."

The Ravens need him to be just good enough to tie up the center and a guard so the linebackers can run free. Siragusa was a master at that, doing so with an air of nastiness that Kemoeatu may have trouble finding.

Siragusa's tactics within a scrum became legendary but the chances of such antics coming from Kemoeatu are unlikely. Kemoeatu personifies the term "gentle giant," and there was a feeling that carries too much onto the field.

"As far as his temperament, he's plenty tough," Ryan said. "He's a gentleman off the field, which is what we like. Sometimes you think your typical nose guard mentally is more of a guy that fights every other day. I'm sure Kemo is willing but he doesn't have to do that."

Weaver said playing mad simply does not work for some players.

"You love a guy to go out there and get mad and kick somebody's [butt]," Weaver said. "But that's not him. But at the same time, he has a lot of pride. He's not going to let someone beat him and push him around."

If he does, Kemoeatu knows where he will wind up.

"It's like a pit fight," said Kemoeatu, describing his job. "I've only got 3 to 4 yards to work with, and I've got two offensive linemen over 300 pounds. Football is a game of inches, and the more inches I can get going toward the line, the better our defense is going to be."

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