Sanders brings new wrinkle as a sack threat

Learning new position, Raven now pressuring QB in part-time role

August 16, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

When Deion Sanders re-signed with the Ravens two months ago, the loquacious nickel back talked about settling "unfinished business."

Sanders spoke about his desire to win another Super Bowl and end his stellar career with a memorable season.

Funny, he never mentioned anything about re-inventing himself as a pass rusher.

After two weeks of training camp, the biggest surprise is how Sanders has changed from a cornerback that quarterbacks used to throw away from to a defender that quarterbacks have to run from.

Blitzing from the outside, Sanders registered two sacks in the scrimmage against the Washington Redskins and another one in Saturday's preseason opener in Atlanta.

"I'm not shy about my game," Sanders said. "I know what my game consists of. That's why you have the microphone in front of me because I can make plays. But I don't know what that entails. Whatever they ask me to do, I'll do."

The Ravens are asking Sanders to take over a position he has never regularly played in his previous 13 seasons in the NFL.

Sanders built his reputation as one of the best cover corners in league history by lining up one-on-one with an outside receiver, with his sole job being to take out the likes of Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice week after week.

But when the Ravens didn't re-sign Gary Baxter, they asked Sanders to be the defender who had covered the slot (the middle receiver) when offenses went to three-receiver formations.

By playing more in the center of the action, Sanders had to learn the entire Ravens' system, not just his receiver assignment. He also had to learn about blitzing off the edge.

"Playing his position, you need a guy who is a complete player," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "He's handled it fantastic. He's approached it almost like a rookie."

Sanders proved he could still be "Prime Time" despite his part-time role.

On his third and final play of the preseason opener, he was the unblocked defender in an all-out blitz. At 38, Sanders chased down 25-year-old quarterback Michael Vick, caused a fumble and recovered it at the Ravens' 18-yard line.

"One thing we've always known about Deion Sanders is that he's an athlete," Vick said. "Even though he's up in age now, he's still got a little bit of that left in him. I'm pretty sure he'll enjoy this season."

Never known as a hitter, Sanders has one sack in 172 career games. But he said there was a reason for that.

"Early in my career, it made no sense to blitz your best defender," Sanders said. "Now, we have four corners that can really cover so you can take chances and can send me in there."

Asked if teams will have to block Sanders from now on, Ryan said, "I think they're expecting it now. They got to realize that we expect Deion to do it all."

The Ravens' nickel-back situation - going with Sanders and fellow veteran Dale Carter - is a strength as well as a risk.

Sanders still ices his surgically repaired toe after games as a precautionary measure, and Carter continues to have a limp after injuring his leg a week ago.

Carter, 35, could return as early as next week.

The Ravens are banking that they can get the 15 to 20 plays needed from the nickel back position between the two former Pro Bowl cornerbacks.

"We think the depth and quality of cornerback allows us to get through 16 games with solid, if not, elite nickel and dime packages," coach Brian Billick said. "That's our plan and that's our hope."

NOTES: Billick said the Ravens "possibly" could activate tight end Todd Heap (ankle and shoulder) off the physically-unable-to-perform list next week. "We want to make sure he's 100 percent," Billick said. ... The Ravens have sent in the questionable pass-interference call on Chris McAlister from the preseason opener to the league office for review. Although McAlister was not facing the ball, the Ravens contend he deflected the pass and never touched the receiver. "It was a bogus call by the ref," McAlister said. "I am still bitter at the refs." ... In regard to linebacker Peter Boulware, who is expected to work out for the team this week, Billick said, "There's nothing to add to what you already have." ... Ryan praised Jarret Johnson's work at outside linebacker after just four days of preparation. ... The Ravens return to practice today at 1:30 p.m. at McDaniel College after having a series of meetings yesterday. "We needed to get in the classroom and work on some of the mental aspects of the game," Billick said. "We had too many missed assignments in Atlanta."

Next for Ravens

Preseason matchup: Philadelphia Eagles (0-1) at Ravens (0-1)

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/1300 AM, 102.7 FM

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