Hitting His Stride

Less Than A Year After His Frightening Injury, Landry Playing Fast, Tackling Hard

August 07, 2009|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,edward.lee@baltsun.com

When Dawan Landry and Le'Ron McClain collided to open the Ravens' first full-team practice at training camp, defensive backs coach Mark Carrier didn't break a sweat or worry.

Carrier had already gotten an answer about his strong safety's health months ago.

In May, during the club's series of organized team activities, Landry, who is just 11 months removed from suffering a spinal cord concussion during a game against the Cleveland Browns, was sent on a safety blitz and eventually ran head-on into a blocker who deposited Landry onto his behind.

Carrier didn't see the hit until he and the other coaches watched film of the practice.

"It was a good sign of relief seeing that," Carrier recalled. "He got whopped pretty good, and he bounced up with no ill effects and he never slowed down. So that was kind of a good indicator for us that he was ready to go."

All signs point to Landry, 26, having fully recovered from surgery in February to repair the bruise on his spinal cord suffered when his head and neck bent backward while trying to tackle Browns running back Jamal Lewis on Sept. 21. Landry has been flying around during training camp at McDaniel College in Westminster, launching his 6-foot, 210-pound frame into any ball carrier brave enough to enterhis zone and regaining the nickname "Whop" for the sound his pads make when he crashes into a player. For Landry, it's the only way he knows how to play.

"Hitting is second nature," he said. "You can't come out here and be afraid to throw it in there. I'm just playing my game, and my game is being physical. So I have to be."

A fifth-round selection in 2006 out of Georgia Tech, Landry beat out incumbent Gerome Sapp to start alongside Pro Bowl free safety Ed Reed for his first two seasons. But after Landry's injury, the team turned to Jim Leonhard, who started in 13 of 14 regular-season contests and all three playoff games. Leonhard finished fourth on the team with 85 tackles, collected two interceptions, and averaged 11.6 yards on 20 punt returns.

When Leonhard, an unrestricted free agent, was wooed by the New York Jets, the Ravens did not get involved in a bidding war. They simply waited for Landry to return.

Landry said he is aware some will compare him with Leonhard.

"I just go out there and play my game," he said. "I don't worry about what people expect. I'm just going to go out there and play my game to the best of my ability, help my teammates and the defense get better, and help my team win."

Especially adept at stopping the run, Landry has been a ballhawk in camp, making three interceptions.

His prowess in pass coverage has caught the attention of the coaching staff.

"I can't believe how fast he's playing," coach John Harbaugh said. "Dawan is playing incredibly quick. He's covering a lot of ground out there. It's a credit to how hard he works, and I'm excited to see what kind of a season he has."

Landry recorded a career-high five interceptions in his rookie season, but he is wary of saying whether he can repeat that performance this year.

"That year, everything was just coming in waves," he said. "We had a good D-line, and they got a lot of pressure. So a lot of balls were going wide and things like that, and I was just getting good breaks. This year, I'm just having fun reading and reacting."

Appearing at ease in his fourth season, Landry has re-established a certain chemistry with Reed and even exchanged a few verbal barbs with quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson during training camp. Landry said he knows he has been offered a rare second opportunity to play a game he loves.

"It's a blessing," he said. "Just to be back out here and getting a second chance, I'm just having fun with it."

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