2 players break out in broken season

On the Ravens

December 17, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

Usually at this time of year, the Ravens are about to load up on postseason hardware and then schedule a flight for a handful of players to go to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.

That won't happen this year, but there are two Ravens who should get team Most Valuable Player and Unsung Hero awards - outside linebacker Adalius Thomas and inside linebacker Bart Scott, respectively. In a season in which so many things have gone wrong, everything has gone just about right for these two.

For years, Thomas lived in the shadow of fellow linebackers Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs, but this season he has emerged as the most complete among them, and possibly the best athlete on the team. Thomas is third on the team in tackles with 82, tied for second in interceptions (two), and third in knocking down passes with nine.

The only two players ahead of him in the last category are cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, and that in itself tells a story. Thomas is one of the few players on defense who truly understands the scheme, and one of the few linebackers who can actually drop into coverage.

He can play defensive end. He can play outside linebacker. He has played safety. He plays all the time. Thomas still occasionally plays the gunner on the punt team, where he always draws double coverage. There are no other 270-pound gunners in the NFL.

Scott, in his fourth season, stepped in to play opposite Tommy Polley once Lewis went down with a hamstring injury in the fifth game. Scott is second on the team in tackles with 88, has four sacks and one fumble recovery. Even as a starter on defense, Scott stayed on special teams. After the game against the Houston Texans, coach Brian Billick said Scott took 99 snaps. That's unbelievable.

Neither Thomas nor Scott has complained all season despite both playing with an assortment of injuries. Both of Scott's hamstrings are wrapped and taped each week.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre has lost a little off his game, and he has no supporting cast, but there's only a short list of players around the league worth the price of admission, and Favre is one of them along with Peyton Manning, LaDainian Tomlinson, Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, Chad Johnson and Shaun Alexander.

Favre has always had the unbelievable arm strength. It's going to be fun watching him chuck the ball around M&T Bank Stadium.

If you think he threw from anywhere on the field before, wait until you see him now. He's firing while rolling right, left, from his knees and on top of his head. He can still pick a secondary apart. The last time the Ravens competed against Favre, he ripped them up for 338 passing yards and a 31-23 victory on Oct. 14, 2001.

Favre was in a groove that day, just like baseball's Randy Johnson or basketball's Kobe Bryant when they're on. In that game at Lambeau Field, Favre completed 27 of 34 passes for three touchdowns as the Packers went with a spread offense featuring three and four receivers.

That type of production may not be on display Monday night, but there will be some excitement created by Favre, who might be making his farewell appearance on Monday Night Football.

First-year defensive coordinator Rex Ryan has done a nice job, and the Ravens have the No. 6-ranked defense in the league, 14th against the rush and seventh against the pass. As usual, the front seven has been strong and the secondary is solid.

But word around the league is that the Ravens' defense wouldn't be as strong if it were tested more often. Teams know that if they score once or twice, they don't have to take a lot of chances against the Ravens because offensively the Ravens can't score. Opposing teams are being more conservative. The Bengals weren't, and they scored 42 points. Denver had receivers wide-open last week, but Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, being Jake Plummer, overthrew them on what should have been easy touchdowns.

It will be interesting to see what the Ravens do with third-year quarterback Kyle Boller at the end of the season.

For nearly two seasons, his teammates have whispered among each other that Boller was not the answer, and after last week's performance against the Broncos, more and more players were showing their unhappiness with Boller publicly.

Billick is already having his own public relations problems in Baltimore this season, and if he announces Boller is the starting quarterback going into the 2006 season, there would be more negative reaction from fans and season-ticket holders (there were 15,000 no-shows for the Houston game Dec. 4).

Here's a suggestion: The Ravens' special teams have played fairly well for most of the season but could improve if the Ravens didn't keep so many old-timers and part-time players like Dale Carter and Deion Sanders on the roster. They contribute, but part-time players should at least have an impact on special teams.

Neither one of these guys can play a lot on special teams or regular defense for fear of being overused and getting hurt. Sanders, though, deserves a lot of props. According to team sources, he has had a major influence in the locker room trying to keep this team together, and has been trying to work with some of the team's star players about reshaping their attitudes.

Maybe there is a lack of space, but the Ravens should give some of the old Colts more of a tribute at M&T Bank Stadium in the Ring of Honor. It would be nice if the Colts had individual nameplates instead of just having their names clumped around John Unitas'.

It's like being one of the Pips with Gladys Knight. Raymond Berry, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, Gino Marchetti, John Mackey, Jim Parker and Ted Hendricks all had distinguished careers and are in the Hall of Fame. If they can get an individual bust and space in Canton, Ohio, then why not in Baltimore, where they played?

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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