Rolle won't duck his failure to cover

ON THE RAVENS

October 23, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle has been around long enough to know that great receivers such as the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith are going to make their share of catches and big plays. So when Smith had eight receptions for 189 yards against the Ravens on Oct. 15, Rolle wasn't embarrassed.

He was more troubled by the long touchdown pass he gave up to Panthers receiver Drew Carter, and the one he gave up to the San Diego Chargers' Malcom Floyd. He also gave up a long touchdown pass to the Cleveland Browns' Braylon Edwards. But at least Rolle had heard of Edwards. Carter and Floyd were no-names, certainly not in the class of Smith, Randy Moss or Chad Johnson.

And that disturbs Rolle.

"You don't go from holding down receivers like Randy Moss and Joey Galloway to no catches, and then give up big plays to guys you never even heard of - not in this league," Rolle said. "In the NFL, they keep coming at you until you have success in shutting it down."

They'll keep coming at Rolle. Other teams have seen the game film now. They really have no other choice. On the other side is Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister, who is having an outstanding year. No one wants to throw at McAlister. They want to carve up Rolle.

Rolle knows how it works because the situation was reversed last season when Rolle was still one the best pure cover guys in the league and McAlister was having all kinds of problems.

But Rolle isn't about to hide. That's not his style. He always has been calm and confident, the ultimate professional who stays away from the spotlight and impromptu celebration dances. The morning after the Panthers threw at him 11 times for eight completions, 171 yards and two touchdowns, Rolle was in defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's office.

Ryan didn't call the meeting; Rolle did.

"Throughout my career, I have never been through a stretch like this," said Rolle, a nine-year veteran. "This has been humbling. I came in to tell Rex that I was going to play better than I have in the last four games and that I was going to step it up. I didn't want him to lose faith in me, and that I was accountable."

Wow. You often hear the word "accountability" from NFL coaches, but not from players. With Rolle, it's different. He doesn't talk a lot, and seldom complains. A year ago, his first with the Ravens, he played up to expectations as a former Pro Bowl player and didn't miss extensive playing time because of injuries.

Rolle isn't going to dazzle anyone with vicious hits in run support, but last season he draped most wide receivers like a wet blanket. His biggest assets continued to be his recovery speed and never losing sight of the ball, especially as it started a downward path.

But this season, Edwards and Carter simply blew by, leaving him in the final 10 yards because Rolle couldn't keep up. Rolle lost the ball several times to Smith last week, at times not even turning around to make a play. Rolle might be having trouble with the foot he injured against the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 17, or maybe it's just a matter of improving his technique.

Or maybe age has caught up with him.

Rolle spent part of last week with his family in Florida poring over game film and consulting fellow players. One of the calls he made was to former Ravens cornerback-safety Deion Sanders.

"You got to work harder," Rolle said. "This is not rocket science. I've got to get back to the fundamentals, work on my technique. I've got to become more aggressive, play the way I used to play."

The foot injury would be a great excuse, but Rolle wasn't about to use it. He also refused to criticize teammates, especially safety Ed Reed, who was out of position on what proved to be the winning 72-yard touchdown pass to Smith in the fourth quarter. Reed, known for gambling to make a big play, was supposed to provide support in the deep middle of the field. He came up instead of dropping back, leaving a huge opening. Touchdown.

"That's my man, and those are my guys," Rolle said. "Whatever happens out there, they're all my guys and we're in this together. As for the foot injury, that would be easy for me to say that it was the cause of my problems. The fact is that I'm out there and I'm playing. Anybody who is playing right now has something wrong with him, so you can't worry about those things. You play through it. In this game, you have to have a short memory. You just have to play. I'll be back. I'm not going anywhere."

No one ever thought he would.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Go to www.baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral for Mike Preston's Ravens Central blog.

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