Cornerstones of secondary

ON THE RAVENS

Ryan eager for their return to struggling unit

Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle

August 21, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan is crossing his fingers. With a little luck, he might get starting cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister on the field for the first time Saturday night against the St. Louis Rams.

Both have missed big chunks of training camp because of injuries, and this would be an ideal opportunity for them to get some playing time.

Most teams prefer to play their starters three quarters in the third preseason game and then play them very little in the fourth and final game before the season opener.

Ryan just wants to get his starters on the field once before the Ravens host the Cincinnati Bengals in the regular-season opener Sept. 7.

"I think you need to play in the preseason, especially the cornerbacks," Ryan said. "There is nothing like going out there and covering guys in game situations. Hopefully, Chris and Samari will get some reps."

This has been the first time that Rolle, McAlister and safety Ed Reed have practiced for an entire week together without an interruption, Ryan said.

It comes at a good time, because there was some concern about the poor performance of the secondary Saturday in the Ravens' 23-15 loss to Minnesota. The Vikings passed for 206 yards, 106 in the first quarter.

There was some miscommunication, but at times, the Ravens' reserve corners just got beat. Ryan will feel better with Rolle and McAlister in the lineup.

He would feel even better if they can play against the Rams.

"I certainly hope they play," Ryan said. "We won't have everybody because we won't have Ed, but we might have some of the other regulars. They have been working hard, so we'll wait and see what [trainer Bill Tessendorf] decides. The good news is that they have been working."

McAlister and Rolle know they have something to prove. Every time they have been mentioned in preseason publications, the words "veteran" or "old" appear before their names.

Last season, McAlister, 31, missed eight games because of a knee injury. Rolle, 32, missed 10 games because of symptoms related to epilepsy and a shoulder injury.

But Ryan has liked what he has seen from them this week.

"Having them back doesn't change what we do or what we have done so far," Ryan said. "It's preseason. Obviously, you don't run everything. But they do need to work. So far, Samari has been flying around all over the place, and Chris looks good, too."

Ryan wants them to work out all the communication problems in the preseason. The Ravens have had trouble working with the new radio that has been installed in the helmet of a selected defensive player this season.

Last week, inside linebacker Ray Lewis had the receiver in his helmet, and a malfunction led to touchdown pass in the first quarter.

Against the Rams, the Ravens might move the radio to a helmet worn by a safety because that player should be involved in fewer collisions than Lewis, which decreases the chance of a malfunction.

"We had done a great job of communicating up until that point, even on the practice field," Ryan said. "On that touchdown, we had two plays called. Half the guys were playing cover-1, and the other half were playing two-man. On that touchdown, Fabian Washington thought we had a trap on, so he came off looking for the trap, and there was no one on top.

"Hopefully, we can get this mike problem worked out," Ryan said. "We've had trouble with it, even in practice. You can make a mistake in preseason and live with it. In the regular season, because the skill level is so good, you can't have that kind of mistake on the back end."

Rolle, Reed and McAlister have worked well together. They know each other's tendencies on the field and are good friends off it. All three have been Pro Bowl performers.

It's just a matter of getting Rolle and McAlister back on the field at the same time. It might happen Saturday night.

"We can talk about our defense all you want, but we're talking about some big-time guys we've been missing," Ryan said. "We have to get them out there and ready to roll. When they are out there, our energy picks up and the other guys can see how they handle certain situations."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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