Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is known more for his special teams prowess than his skills from scrimmage.
But after the Ravens' preseason opener against the New England Patriots, Ayanbadejo made a case for seeing more time with Baltimore's defense.
The 6-foot-1, 228-pounder was all over the Gillette Stadium turf, leading all players with eight tackles, including one sack and adding three quarterback pressures.
As for special teams? He had one tackle there, too.
The Ravens signed Ayanbadejo as a free agent in March after he spent three years in Chicago and two seasons with Miami, following stints in the Canadian Football League and NFL Europe.
While Ayanbadejo knows what he can bring to the Ravens' coverage units - he was a two-time Pro Bowl special teamer for the Bears - his outing against the Patriots boosted his belief that he could contribute to Baltimore's defense.
"It was encouraging for me," said Ayanbadejo of his showing. "I felt like they could throw me in there whatever the circumstance and I could perform. I didn't have a lot on my mind. I just wanted to play as hard as I could. If I made mistakes, I didn't care. It was all about going full-speed."
However, Ayanbadejo knows he is far from becoming a regular in an All-Star linebacking corps. The former All-Pac 10 performer at UCLA simply wants to show the Ravens' coaching staff that it can count on him in other ways than hunting down a kick returner.
"To build on the Patriots game, the next time I'm thrown in there, I can't make mistakes," he explained. I have to do the right thing 100 percent of the time.
"I think our coaches have a little bit of confidence in me, but I have to do a good job of building on that. They're slowly giving the opportunity to do more and more as time goes."
With linebackers Dan Cody, Prescott Burgess and Tavares Gooden all recently out due to injuries, Ayanbadejo has only seen more opportunities.
And the more the six-year veteran gets to play, the more he can prove himself to his new teammates.
"I don't know if people have recognized it throughout his career, but he's really a good football player," said head coach John Harbaugh. "That showed up on defense in the game, which is really neat to see because our players are able to see what kind of a football player the guy is on special teams and on defense.
"I think now, they've kind of welcomed him as a Raven."
Ayanbadejo made one of the biggest plays of the game in New England, saving the Ravens' 16-15 lead when he blitzed quarterback Kevin O'Connell on a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.
Rushing untouched from the right side, Ayanbadejo deflected an O'Connell pass directed to Ray Ventrone in the end zone.
"I just knew I was supposed to rush the quarterback and didn't have to do anything else," Ayanbadejo said. "I sold out because I knew he had to get rid of it fast. As soon as he put his arm up, I just jumped and was fortunate enough to get a hand on it."
Ayanbadejo laughed when asked about how simple it is to shine on defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's creative unit.
"I have to give credit to coach Ryan on that one [two-point conversion attempt], because it could have been anyone to make that play," he continued. "Luckily for me, I got to be the hero."
Here are some notes and observations from Sunday's afternoon practice:
- Linebacker Gary Stills, wideout Darnerian McCants and tight end Aaron Walker did not practice in the second session after participating Sunday morning. The reasons for their absence were undisclosed.
- When asked about his direction for the final week of training camp, Harbaugh said it was simple.
"The main point of emphasis was the fact that so much improvement is made between the first week and the second week of training camp, between the first game and second game," stated the coach. "That's our emphasis for this week. So obviously, today is the second day of this week.
"This is our opportunity to really make our team a lot better. Our guys responded to that and had a really good practice."
- Cornerback Samari Rolle (32) and linebacker Nick Greisen (29) both celebrated their birthdays today, prompting a strained version of "Happy Birthday" in the final huddle, along with a commemorative birthday cake.
- The Ravens had fun during kickoff coverage drills late in practice. On one play, Harbaugh sprinted after running back Ray Rice, but was hung up by linebacker Antwan Barnes and safety Haruki Nakamura. Fans rewarded his effort with a rousing applause after Rice scooted through the would-be tacklers.
Later, quarterbacks Joe Flacco, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith got in on the action, with their red jerseys clashing next to the fluorescent yellow skull caps on their helmets.
AM Notes: Cousins Gets Physical
Rookie Oniel Cousins has definitely made an impression in Ravens training camp, both for his development as a professional football player and his fiery temper.
During Sunday's morning practice, Cousins saw time with the starting offense at right tackle, a promotion that attests to the Ravens' confidence in the third-round draft pick out of UTEP.
Cousins also tangled with linebacker Antwan Barnes after aggressively finishing a block.
As both players' helmets lay on the turf, it was the latest in a string of skirmishes involving the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Cousins this summer.
But Cousins insists there is no ill will between him and his defensive combatants. A raw prospect with only three years of experience playing on the offensive line, Cousins makes up for his technique deficiencies with competitive fire.
"I just like to play physical and I like to finish," Cousins said. "That's why I'm trying to get better, and that's what I'm trying to bring to this offensive line.
"I'm going to do my best wherever they put me to help this team win."
Head coach John Harbaugh thinks Cousins' work ethic is critical for building the prospect into a solid lineman.
"One thing about Oniel Cousins, he'll compete," Harbaugh said. "He's got a lot to learn, a lot of technique things – posture, assignment, target, footwork, all those things – but he competes.
"When a guy competes like that who's got a lot of athletic ability, he's got a chance to be good."
At least part of that athleticism comes from a varied sports background. Born in Jamaica, the Fullerton, Calif., native played soccer for much of his life, taking up football as a sophomore in high school.
"I think it could help with my footwork and the speed of the game," stated Cousins.
A knee injury sidelined Cousins briefly last week, but the 22-year-old rebounded to suit up for the Ravens' preseason opener in New England. Now, his recent play could make Sunday's first-string cameo a recurring role next Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings.
Cousins admits he is eager for the challenge.
"It's up to [the coaches], but having their confidence is great," he said.
"I'm a little dinged up, but you just have to fight through the pain and keep on going."
Here are some more notes and observations from Sunday's morning practice:
- Other Ravens got testy with each other in addition to Cousins and Barnes. Linebacker Nick Greisen and tackle Mike Kracalik locked up, with linebacker Jarret Johnson jumping into the building fray.
After Cousins' fight, the offense was quick to get back to scrimmage and snap the football.
"We had a little skirmish out there, and the offense got right back on the line and ran a play," said Harbaugh. "That's the priority. The priority is the football part of it. It's not like you're going to say to guys, 'Don't fight.' They understand that there's not really a lot of value in it.
"Tempers are going to flare. Guys are competing. Our guys got right back on the line, and practice didn't suffer for it. Guys went back to work."
- The Ravens had a big scare when left tackle Chad Slaughter, signed July 31 when Jared Gaither and Adam Terry both suffered ankle injuries, fell in a heap during a full-team drill.
He remained on the turf for a few minutes before lightly rising and limping off to the sideline. Slaughter gingerly tested out his right leg before trotting back out and resuming practice.
Baltimore was also without cornerbacks Chris McAlister (knee) and Fabian Washington (undisclosed); wideout Demetrius Williams (leg); running backs Willis McGahee (knee) and PJ Daniels (undisclosed); linebackers Tavares Gooden (leg), linebacker Dan Cody (foot), linebacker Prescott Burgess (wrist) and linebacker Robert McCune (undisclosed); tight ends Todd Heap (calf) and Daniel Wilcox (foot); and defensive tackles Kelly Talavou (shoulder), Kelly Gregg (knee) and Haloti Ngata (knee).
Meanwhile, Ngata continued to work with a blocking sled and looked strong and mobile after spraining his MCL. Safety Ed Reed still donned the bright red, non-contact jersey in the starting secondary.
- It was an interesting day for Ravens kickers. Punter Sam Koch actually booted two field goals - from 20 and 35 yards - with Matt Stover as the holder. Stover then took over and connected from 40 and 50 yards before hitting the crossbar from 55. Then, rookie free agent Piotr Czech hit the right upright on a 35-yard attempt, was wide left from 49 and fell short on 51- and 53-yard tries.
- Baltimore's defense was relentless on the blitz Sunday morning. Cornerbacks, linebackers and safeties all got into the mix, and the offense did all it could to pick up the sundry rushers.
The Ravens' quarterbacks were under heavy duress, with Troy Smith getting the bulk of the abuse. He was "sacked" approximately four times, while Joe Flacco and Kyle Boller were also touched multiple times.
Flacco, who has been urged to release the ball quicker instead of standing in the pocket as a target, received praise from quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson when he fired a pass out of bounds.
"Good job, Joe! You don't have all day," Jackson shouted.