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Notes: Depth is Key in Secondary's Success


The last time the Ravens and Indianapolis Colts met, Peyton Manning torched a banged-up defense for four touchdowns en route to a 44-20 shellacking.

Baltimore was without starting cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, while the Colts' vaunted aerial attack made quick work that Dec. 9 night at M&T Bank Stadium.

Manning and Co. jumped out to a 37-7 lead by halftime and never looked back.

So why now is defensive coordinator Rex Ryan confident heading into Sunday's contest with Rolle (neck/shoulder) and safety Dawan Landry (neck) ruled out, and top backup Fabian Washington's shoulder keeping him out of Wednesday and Thursday's practices?

Heading into another showdown with the AFC's second-best passing offense, depth is Ryan's easy answer.

The Ravens have played solidly with Jim Leonhard in for Landry and Washington or Frank Walker subbing for Rolle – solid enough to maintain their billing as the league's top pass defense.

"Going into the season, we definitely thought the strength of our team was going to be the depth of our secondary," Ryan said. "Right now, we're having to use it, unfortunately. Without question, last year, I think, was a little tough. We had guys starting that aren't even playing in the league now, so we feel good about the guys that are out there now."

Leonhard has 15 tackles since becoming an every-down player after entering the game when Landry was carted off the field in the second quarter of Baltimore's Week 2 game against Cleveland. At only 5-foot-8, 186 pounds, the offseason free-agent acquisition has impressed teammates with his tough attitude and willingness to fly all over the field.

"Jim is probably one of the best athletes that we have overall, on our team, but a lot of people don't know him," said linebacker Ray Lewis. "He just loves playing football, and that's what you can appreciate. When [Dawan] Landry went down and he stepped in, it's like we never missed a beat."

Walker was brought in mainly for his special teams talents, but he made important plays when Washington went down in the third quarter of last week's loss to the Tennessee Titans.

The former Green Bay Packer posted three tackles and a career-high four passes defensed, as Titans quarterback Kerry Collins tried to exploit him.

Baltimore even had a one-tackle contribution from little-used cornerback Evan Oglesby.

"Regardless of where we're at and what the stats say, we're still a secondary that gets better week-in and week-out," said cornerback Chris McAlister, who leads the team with three interceptions. "Even with guys going down, we had a chance last week to see that.

"Without Samari, without Fabian – Frank Walker came in and stepped up big. Evan Oglesby came in and got the job done. The guys that play a backup role a majority of the time are just as capable as the guys that start."

The safety position is also shored up with rookie draft picks Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura.

Walker attributes much of that to the Ravens' willingness to prepare each player as if he will see action from scrimmage.

"The thing about our coaches is that they make sure we all get enough reps in practice," Walker said. "When we have to go out there in a game, we don't feel like we're just being thrust out there. I'm sure we'll still split that up the same."

Ryan withheld speculation on whether Washington would suit up Sunday, considering the former Oakland Raiders first-round draft pick unexpectedly started against Tennessee after being hampered by a neck injury leading up to the game.

"I'm not real sure," Ryan said of Washington's status. "Last time when I wasn't really sure, he came out and he started, so hopefully that'll be the case again this week."

Whoever is out there, the Ravens will face a tough task slowing down an offense that averages 245.5 yards through the air. In addition, Manning, who had surgery to remove a bursa sac in his knee this preseason, is just hitting his stride with Pro Bowl targets like Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.

Yet, Baltimore's defense is never worried about what the other team is going to do. The Ravens always focus on themselves.

"They've got an excellent football team, and whatever their mindset is – good, bad or indifferent – we're going to have to play on Sunday," Ryan said. "It's a great challenge to us, and we know our guys. We think our guys are going to be up to it."

As for last year?

"We stunk up the joint, and they did a great job last year," the coordinator continued. "That was one game where they probably could've made that score what they wanted it to be. But we've got a different group out there, and we're going to play a heck of a lot better than last year."

Bannan In for 2008

Now that nose guard Kelly Gregg is on Injured Reserve for the season after having microfracture surgery on his knee this week, defensive tackle Justin Bannan permanently assumes the starting role for 2008.

Bannan, who is good friends with Gregg, said he is grateful to have attained the first-string, but the feeling is still bittersweet.

"It feels good, because when I was first brought in here, it was to be a starter," he stated. "But you never want it to be because your friend gets injured or needs surgery. The main thing is coming out and helping the guys around me, making sure they know I can get the job done.

Bannan has thus far. He is fifth on the team with 21 tackles, and has one sack and one interception.


The Ravens are looking to halt a five-game losing skid against the Colts…Five different Ravens have recorded an interception for Baltimore this season. The Ravens have seven total picks…Lewis missed Thursday's practice with a knee injury. He was joined by right tackle Adam Terry (knee), left tackle Jared Gaither (knee) and Washington (shoulder). **

View the full Ravens-Colts Thursday Injury Report. **

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