Ravens' Dawan Landry emerging as leader

Hard-hitting safety has won respect for his strong play, veteran presence

August 05, 2010|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

Toward the end of Thursday's morning practice, several young autograph seekers at Ravens training camp tried to get Dawan Landry's attention by calling him "Mr.Landry."

The strong safety is beginning to get accorded a similar level of respect by his teammates.

Landry's ferocious tackles have revalidated his nickname, "Whop" -- the sound his pads make when he barrels into a ball carrier -- and earned a couple of teammates a brief stay on the sideline.

Last Friday morning, Landry split Willis McGahee's bottom lip, and the running back missed the rest of the session before returning in the afternoon. On Tuesday, Landry contributed to Derrick Mason's sprained right knee, and while the injury is considered minor, the wide receiver has yet to practice.

The hits caused a few Ravens fans to stop breathing momentarily, but Landry is unapologetic about his play.

"Not at all," he said when asked whether he intended to adjust his style. "I'm going to fly around. I've got to play Ravens-style football. I've got to practice 110 percent so that I play like that in games."

Landry is fully backed by his position coach.

"Do you know what we say in our room? We say interceptions and fumbles and turnovers and all of that stuff are awesome and we want them all, but there's nothing like a big hit," secondary coach Chuck Pagano said. "So along with Dawan, every one of those guys in that defensive room loves to hit and wants to make the big hit."

Landry, 6 feet and 210 pounds, is a chiseled specimen whose huge biceps encouraged former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott to call him "Puffy." Running back Ray Rice, who works out with Landry, said of his friend, "Pound for pound, he might be one of the strongest guys on the team." "He's definitely a fierce hitter," Rice said. "I haven't really been struck by him, but I have to block him, and he's not really that much fun to block."

On one of the NFL's stingiest defenses, Landry is a voracious tackler, compiling no fewer than 82 in a season. That does not include 2008, when he played in just two games and missed the remainder of the season after suffering a spinal cord concussion Sept. 21.

Landry, however, is nearly as proficient against the pass. After following a league rookie-best five interceptions in 2006 with zero in 2007, he had four last season, tying cornerback Domonique Foxworth for the team lead.

On Thursday, Landry was playing the deep center of the field but raced forward as he saw quarterback Joe Flacco take aim at wide receiver Anquan Boldin, running a crossing route. The football was tipped by cornerback Chris Carr and fell into Landry's waiting hands.

Landry credits his improvement in pass coverage to his longevity in the NFL, which is about to include his fifth year as a starter.

"Just being around, it's nothing new to you," he said. "The players might be different, but the routes might be the same. You see a scheme, get it caught in your mind, and if they do it again, you jump on them from there."

With six-time Pro Bowl free safety Ed Reed on the team's physically-unable-to-perform list after offseason hip surgery, Landry has become the de facto mentor of the defensive backfield. Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura are entering their third seasons, and Ken Hamlin was signed in June, which leaves Landry as the veteran.

Zbikowski said he relied on Landry when he filled in for Reed in four starts last season.

"He always knows what he's doing," Zbikowski said. "I can always check back with him. He's one of those dudes who, when things are getting crazy, he's always got the call and he's the one to settle you down. Playing next to him makes life a lot easier."

Landry downplayed his status, saying: "There isn't a drop-off when you say that Ed isn't out there. Zibby knows this defense inside and out, too. Haruki, too. Ken is new to the system, but he's a veteran Pro Bowl guy. We're just veterans back there right now."

Landry is often overlooked on a Ravens defense that includes 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis, Reed, three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

Count Pagano as one who appreciates Landry's contributions.

"He's really special to this team and to this defense," Pagano said. "He's not a real vocal guy. All he does is show up with a hard hat and a lunch pail and works. Not one time since I've been here -- and probably long before that -- has anybody asked him to go hard. He just gives tremendous effort down after down. I don't care what the drill is, what the day is, if it's a game or practice, if it's the offseason or regular season, he's 1,000 miles per hour."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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