Test No. 2 for Gaither


The last time Jared Gaither faced Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams, both players were starring for their respective college teams.

Gaither passed his first test then, but he knows Sunday will be a more challenging exam.

While a freshman at the University of Maryland, Gaither was a star offensive lineman that began a November contest against NC State at the right tackle position.

After watching Williams consistently torch left tackle Stephon Heyer (currently of the Washington Redskins) during the first half, Gaither switched sides at the break to handle one of the top pass rushers in the nation.

Williams' tally of first-half sacks came to four. Against Gaither, he was stonewalled.

The two rivals will meet again this weekend for Round 2.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge of lining up against him," Gaither said. "He's a good player, but I'm going to face his caliber all year.

"You just have to be determined to out-work him and be aggressive."

Leaving Raleigh, N.C., with a slew of postseason awards, Williams became the top pick in the 2006 draft, a selection derided by many in a year with explosive running back Reggie Bush in the same class.

Williams was regarded as the answer for a defense desperately needing to add teeth to its pass rush, and after finishing third in the league with 14 sacks last year, he is beginning to fulfill his lofty expectations.

Meanwhile, Gaither was snatched up in the fifth round of the 2007 supplemental draft, a former college sophomore that the Ravens wanted to groom as an eventual successor to Jonathan Ogden.

A solid performance in Baltimore's season opener, where the Cincinnati Bengals barely sniffed quarterback Joe Flacco's jersey all game, showed that Gaither could grow into his expectations, as well.

"That's going to be an interesting matchup – two young, upcoming players," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "Mario, obviously, is ahead of Jared in terms of experience and stuff, so it will be a good challenge for Jared."

Williams is continuing his dominance this season. Last week in a losing effort against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Williams posted two sacks, three quarterback pressures and a forced fumble.

He has finished with at least one sack in seven of his previous eight games, even notching three multi-sack showings.

To neutralize Williams, the Ravens may use tactics like keeping a tight end on the line of scrimmage, chip the rusher with a running back, or simply calling short drops for Flacco to release the football quickly.

Of course, there will be ample occasions for the 6-foot-9, 330-pound Gaither and the 6-foot-6, 283-pound Williams to clash one-on-one.

"I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Jared," said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "He's just scratching the surface. He's getting better every day. He's got a lot to learn, but this'll be a tough matchup.

"We're not going to put him over there by himself on a guy like that. We don't philosophically believe in that. But I'm sure there will be times he will be in a one-on-one matchup, and he'll give us the best effort he can."

Entering his first game in a hostile road environment, Flacco knows that the Texans will be out to chase him, and that charge will be led by Williams.

"We realize he's a good player," Flacco said. "Their defense plays hard, and they'll try to get after us.

"But we're going to have things to answer that, and I'm going to stand back there like normal and get the ball out of my hands when it needs to be."

The Texans keep opponents on their toes by lining Williams up at both the left and right sides throughout the game. He flips with fellow defensive end – and former Raven – Anthony Weaver, so the work will also extend to right tackles Adam Terry and Willie Anderson.

"It's almost unfair when you put a guy that size playing defensive end and not inside where you can control him," said Baltimore defensive tackle Trevor Pryce. "Now, he's outside and he can do whatever he wants.

"I'm glad I ain't got to block him; I'm telling you that."

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