Gaither Faces Speedy Test


Jared Gaither will face one of the toughest challenges in his young career Sunday, as the Ravens travel to Indianapolis to battle all-world defensive end Dwight Freeney and the Colts.

Gaither, 22, has admirably filled in for future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden at left tackle, but even Ogden's immense talents would be tested when attempting to block the tornado of a pass-rusher.

Still, the second-year offensive lineman isn't flinching when heading into this Week 6 matchup.

"He's another guy in our way of doing what we want to do as a team," Gaither said confidently. "I'm going to prepare for him the same way I prepare for everybody else and practice and work hard during the week."

That doesn't mean Gaither is undervaluing Freeney's prodigious talents. At 6-foot-1, 268 pounds, Freeney is known for his tremendous speed and a signature spin move that frequently leaves opponents grasping at air.

Head coach John Harbaugh had some advice for Gaither when the 6-foot-8, 330-pounder steps on the speedy turf of Indianapolis' brand-new Lucas Oil Stadium.

"Play fast, because Dwight's going to be playing fast," Harbaugh said. "Really, when you go against a great player like that at any position, but especially left tackle, technique is the issue. [Gaither has] got to concentrate on good, fundamental technique."

And according to right tackle Adam Terry, who was a teammate of Freeney's for one season at Syracuse, the seven-year veteran shouldn't be simply labeled a speed-rusher.

"He's a speed guy and is really agile, but the thing about Freeney that people don't realize is that he's really strong," Terry said. "He's only about 265, but it's a compact frame that has a lot of power.

"It's one of those days where you just have to buckle up and get ready for a full load of work. At the end of it, you hope you turned in a good performance."

A three-time Pro Bowler, Freeney owns a franchise-record 63 sacks since the Colts made him a first-round draft pick in 2003. From 2002-05, the Syracuse product topped 10 sacks each season.

This year, Freeney has already amassed three sacks and two forced fumbles.

"He does everything good. He has a spectacular spin move, and he's fast up the field – a speed-power guy," Gaither noted. "He does a lot of things good. He works very hard, and so does everybody on their defense. He makes plays. We're looking forward to shutting him down."

In the past, the Ravens could feel comfortable with Ogden drawing Freeney on the left side.

The 6-foot-9, 340-pound Ogden eclipsed the defensive end in three meetings, only surrendering two sacks that both came in a 2004 contest. That battle was brought to a national stage in the 2006 AFC divisional playoff round, where Ogden again blanketed Freeney despite missing the two previous games with a painful toe injury.

Now, the Ravens may employ more of the unbalanced line that has seen success this year by moving Terry next to Gaither, or perhaps use a tight end or running back as an extra blocker.

"[Freeney's] a special guy and plays extremely hard," said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "He's a heck of a challenge, and we'll have to be smart about when we leave him one-on-one, when we help him, when we don't.

"He's really elevated his game. He's not just an end rusher anymore. He's defending the run better, and he's got his inside move that's as good as there is."

With the Ravens preparing to take on the Colts, Gaither is developing a strategy for handling his upcoming dance partner.

"You've just got to stay low, keep your base and just stay focused," he said. "You can't let him lull you to sleep [with] a speedy rush, a speedy rush, then he spins inside. So you've just got to stay focused, trust your techniques and trust what coaches are putting us through during the week, trust that it's going to work."

Thus far, the Ravens have had success with their offensive line, considered the NFL's youngest with an average age of 24 years and six months. Gaither, who has six starts under his belt, is the youngest of them all

Baltimore has only allowed six sacks and even blanked two opponents in 2008.

But while Cameron is careful to point out that pass-protection is an effort the entire offense – including the quarterback, running backs and receivers – contributes to, there is no secret where the marquee matchup is located.

"He's definitely one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL," Terry said of Freeney. "It's a tough one, but we have confidence. Jared's playing well and is getting better each game."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content