Ayanbadejo is getting ready for a rebound

March 30, 2010|By Mike Preston

Most NFL players in the same situation as Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo would retire.

Ayanbadejo, 33, is trying to rebound from a quadriceps tear in his left leg, which is tougher than attempting a comeback from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the knee.

But Ayanbadejo isn't like most NFL players.

"I have my own classification," Ayanbadejo said. "Even though I've played pro football for 11 years, I've only been in the NFL for eight, and those other years were in the [Canadian Football League]. My body isn't worn down like most players my age. I'm a lot fresher."

That's what the Ravens are counting on. As of Monday, Ayanbadejo was on schedule to participate the first day of training camp. If he returns and plays the way he did in the early part of last season, then the Ravens get their special teams ace back, and also a speedy linebacker who can lock down on tight ends and running backs in pass coverage.

In 2009, Ayanbadejo was having his best season playing part time in passing situations (22 tackles) and full time on special teams (six tackles). He was making his first start since October 2006 in Game 4 against the New England Patriots, but then his season ended early in the fourth quarter.

A routine tackle on Sammy Morris near the sideline became a catastrophe. Ayanbadejo initially described it as being hit in the knee with a ball-peen hammer.

"At first, I didn't know what happened because I couldn't move my leg," he said. "Then the pain subsided, and it just felt a little numb. I thought I'd be playing next week.

"I knew I was in trouble when I went to the doctor. He felt above the knee and said there was nothing there and that I had suffered a tear. The injury is unusual in football players, unlike ACL tears, which we had three of last year. This kind of injury usually happens to people who usually slip and fall in the snow or fall down stairs."

But if there is one player who could come back, it would be Ayanbadejo. There is virtually no fat on his body. Even his muscles have muscles because he is a total fitness freak.

When he wakes up in the morning, the first thing he does is take nutritional supplements for his brain and muscle recovery. Then it's a protein shake and off to train.

You know the rest of the drill. He eats a lot of chicken, salads (no dressing), blueberries, strawberries and other organic foods that make him look like his skin is on too tight.

According to Ayanbadejo, he is about 60 percent recovered with nearly 3 1/2 months left before training camp.

"I'm at the point where the hard part is over," he said. "It's all about strength and conditioning. When I do certain exercises now, there is still some pain, but that will go away as I strengthen it."

"What I don't want to do is rush it," he said. "I don't want to put pressure on myself to participate in May and June mini-camps and then not be ready for training camp."

The Ravens need Ayanbadejo healthy because he fills a hole they were unable to fill with the departure of inside linebacker Bart Scott after the 2008 season. Scott was a versatile performer who could blitz, play the run or cover a receiver downfield.

Last season, the Ravens used Ayanbadejo, Tavares Gooden, Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain to play the different Scott roles, with Ayanbadejo being used when the opposition used three or more receivers.

Ayanbadejo can play the same role in 2010 or fill in for veteran inside linebacker Ray Lewis, who became a liability in pass coverage last season.

"I felt good last year," Ayanbadejo said. "I was at the point where I was taking 20 snaps a game on special teams and 20 snaps a game on defense. I knew it was going to be hard to sustain playing at that level, but the New England game was the first game where I caught my wind playing in all phases of the game."

Ayanbadejo came to Baltimore after three seasons with the Chicago Bears and two with the Miami Dolphins. He has earned three Pro Bowl trips and has twice been named as alternate on special teams. In Baltimore, Ayanbadejo wanted to show that he was more than just a special teams performer.

It's unlikely he would have started the remaining 12 games of last season at inside linebacker because Ayanbadejo weighs only 220 pounds. His body couldn't take the pounding of an every-down player, but he had impressed the coaching staff.

"I was at the point where I had excellent communication with Ray," Ayanbadejo said. "I was seeing everything, and I was in a groove. The game was in slow motion, and that's exactly where you want to be, not where everything seems so fast."

"I have to get back to that level. I have two years left on my contract, and I don't want to get to the point where I start to get dominated on the field. My goal is to get back to where I was last season."

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