Ryan's juggling act plays out in secret

Ravens defensive coordinator mum on life without Lewis, Reed, Weaver



Facing the most taxing week of his professional career, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan is keeping his fire. It goes well with his craftiness.

Ryan, who figures to be without two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ray Lewis, current Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed and his best all-around lineman, Tony Weaver, when the Ravens play at Pittsburgh on Monday night, appears genuinely enthusiastic about trying to win a game with the odds stacked against him, although he is giving no clues how he plans to do so.

Will Bart Scott start in place of Lewis in the middle, or will Tommy Polley shift to the middle with Scott taking his place on the weak side, which is the general presumption? Will Dale Carter see more snaps in place of Reed instead of Chad Williams? Will the defense have to devote a safety to stop the run against a team that does so 60 percent of the time?

Ryan may still be in his first year as an NFL defensive coordinator, but he has mastered the art of not showing his hand.

"Not taking anything away from Pittsburgh, but if they think we're going to lay down and die on them, they got another thing coming," Ryan said.

"This is a great opportunity for us because I know what's being said out there. No Reed, no Ray, no chance. But we'll see if we've got no chance or not. I'll promise you one thing, we're going to slug it out with them. The team that is standing in the end is going to win the game, so we'll see. ... Let them find out on game day who's in there. Maybe it's Jarret Johnson playing linebacker. Let them try and figure out what we're going to do."

If the Ravens stand any chance of containing an offense that has rushed for 135 yards or more in three of its wins this year, they will need a special game from Scott, regardless of where he originally lines up.

Scott is expected to make the first start of his four-year career. Long known for his athleticism and above-average speed, Scott has carved out a role for himself as one of the team's best special teams players. He has either tied for or led the Ravens in special teams tackles twice, and his 62 since the 2002 season are a team high.

Opportunities within the defense, though, have been sparse. Scott has played primarily in goal-line situations or as the team's dime (sixth) defensive back in place of Williams on some occasions.

"What better way, if you are going to get your feet wet and have your first start, then to have it on Monday Night Football," Scott said. "What better way to get respect then to step out and represent yourself and your team in a right way."

Scott filled in for Lewis, who left with eight minutes left in Sunday's Ravens' loss to the Chicago Bears, and played about a dozen plays.

"Well, he got a lot of snaps last week," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Bart is very physical, and you are going to need that against the Steelers. [Willie] Parker ran for what, 200 and some odd yards [actually 131], 40 and some odd carries [actually 18] against Cincinnati? That was impressive. You know that they are going to be physical, and that certainly is Bart's game, which will be a positive."

Polley, meanwhile, is familiar with playing in the middle. Polley split 14 starts in 2003 with the St. Louis Rams between middle and weak-side linebacker, and he has been working as Lewis' backup in practice.

Despite Polley's experience and Scott's desire to prove he is more than a part-time player, the subtractions of the Ravens' best players in their respective defensive units could cripple the league's No. 2 defense. This year, Lewis, Reed and Weaver have accounted for 26 percent of the Ravens' total tackles, even though Reed missed the previous game and Weaver the past two.

And then there is the emotional aspect - who is going to fill the motivator void with no Lewis and Reed?

"It's weird because you take out two of your main leaders, but there are other leaders on this team, too," Ryan said. "Some of them will sit back and let others lead, but now it's time for them to step up. So really, we're excited. I'm excited to see Bart Scott and how he plays. How Tommy Polley takes over the leadership role. How Kelly Gregg steps up his game and gets those guys going."

Note -- The NFL has no plans to fine Billick for saying Terrell Suggs was a "marked man" by the officials, a league spokesman said. The NFL has the right to discipline coaches who openly criticize officials.brent.jones@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

Ravens@Steelers Monday, 9 p.m., chs. 2, 7, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Steelers by 9 1/2

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