Ravens rookies are scaling `wall'

December 16, 2006|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun reporter

Dawan Landry makes sure to spend some quality time in hot- and cold-water tubs after practice. Haloti Ngata can lean on the counsel of 10-year veteran Trevor Pryce. And Sam Koch keeps the punting to a minimum during the days leading up to a game.

Those are just a few of the tactics Ravens rookies have used this fall to avoid the dreaded "rookie wall" in a season that has already exceeded in duration any they have played on the collegiate level.

And thus far, the first-year players have withstood the physical and mental grind of the season admirably. Landry, who has started every game but two at strong safety, ranks fifth on the Ravens' defense in tackles with 73 and third in interceptions with three.

Ngata is third among the defensive linemen with 40 tackles and first in that group with three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage in 13 starts. Koch has averaged 43.2 yards per punt.

And offensive lineman Chris Chester (three starts at right guard), tight end Quinn Sypniewski (three starts), wide receiver Demetrius Williams (16 catches for 236 yards), cornerback Ronnie Prude (two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown) and kick returner Cory Ross (one start) have contributed to the team's 10-3 record.

The group's performance in recent weeks has alleviated any concerns that coach Brian Billick and his staff might have had about the rookies' ability to last an entire season.

"We talked about the young players, isolating the young players, `Who might hit that rookie wall? Who's pushed their circumstance?'" Billick said days before the team's AFC North meeting with the Cleveland Browns tomorrow. "We were hard-pressed to say, `We really need to focus on this young player because he might struggle with that.' This is a very mature group."

The grueling nature of an NFL season can be a harsh reminder of the differences between the professional and collegiate levels.

In college, a regular season usually has 11 to 12 games with - for those who are fortunate to earn a winning record - a bowl game about a month after the end of the regular season.

But in the NFL, the regular season involves 16 games. Throw in four preseason contests and the few more that can be gained by qualifying for the postseason, and the players could play a maximum of 24 games.

"You're basically playing two college seasons in one year," Koch said. "It's just so long and there are so many games."

Added Williams: "When 13 weeks go by, you're ready to hang it up. But at this level, when 13 games go by, you've still got many more games to go. You've got to make sure that you're mentally and physically prepared. There are different things that you have to do with your body. You can't just come in and go through the motions."

The steps the rookies take to preserve their strength and energy varies from player to player. Landry makes it a point to dip into the hot and cold tubs after practice - a form of therapy he has been adhering to since his days at Georgia Tech.

Koch has been counseled by kicker Matt Stover to follow practice sessions - in which he caps his regimen at 25 punts per day - with strenuous workouts.

Ngata said he avoids going out to dinner after games and hard workouts on his days off, and he has heeded the advice of Pryce, who is mindful of resting the body.

Ngata, who perhaps more than any other rookie endures the most physical punishment because of his position, acknowledged that his body had begun to tire.

"The bye that we had [on Oct. 22] was perfect timing and then the little bye we had after the Thursday night game [on Nov. 30] was, too," he said. "My body was kind of sore and achy, but once we came back from that break, I was kind of re-energized."

But the perfect solution to overcoming the "rookie wall" is success, according to the players. "It's definitely grueling, but if you're winning, that makes it a little bit easier," Chester said. "Winning makes everything feel better."

Then there's the knowledge that few rookies even make an NFL roster.

"This is football, man, and not too many people can say that they're playing after college, so you count these days as blessings," Ross said. "It's great to be here, and the opportunity to keep playing is just a blessing. Might as well have fun while you can."

Notes -- Wide receiver Derrick Mason (thigh) was upgraded to probable from questionable. Linebacker Dan Cody (knee) and running back Musa Smith (neck) won't play tomorrow. Left tackle Jonathan Ogden (knee) was added to the injury report as probable. ... Six Browns starters remain questionable or worse. Left guard Joe Andruzzi (knee) is the only one listed as doubtful.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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