Ravens player profile

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sporting his purple T-shirt, black baseball cap and an assortment of other Baltimore Ravens gear that he could be mistaken for an imposing, rabid fan, Tom Zbikowski is a walking slogan in the locker room.

He's the embodiment of the AFC North leaders' trademark phrase: "Play Like a Raven."

Zbikowski has done a commendable job standing in for Ed Reed, the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year who's sidelined for at least this final game on the physically unable to perform list following an offseason hip surgery. Reed's return is imminent. He's eligible to be activated next week when he's expected to resume practicing.

So, Sunday's pivotal AFC showdown against the New England Patriots might represent Zbikowski's final start unless the Ravens opt to move conservatively with Reed and hold him out against the hapless Bills and have him return after the bye week Nov. 7 against the Miami Dolphins. Either way, the clock is ticking on Zbikowski's tenure as the Ravens' starting free safety. That's not his primary focus, though. The former heavyweight boxer and Notre Dame star is concentrating on squaring off with Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady today at Gillette Stadium and chasing around the likes of Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. "My last start?" Zbikowski said. "It's depressing to think that way. I would rather just think about playing and this upcoming game. This is a huge game." In five starts this season, Zbikowski hasn't made a ton of impactful plays. However, he has provided stability and toughness in the secondary. The hard-nosed native of Park Ridge, Ill., plays with fire and intensity and a zeal for contact. Zbikowski has recorded 14 tackles, including nine solos. The former third-round draft pick hopes he has established himself as a starting candidate for now and the future.

Last season, Zbikowski intercepted two passes and deflected four passes in four starts when Reed first injured his hip.

"You make the most of it, out of every opportunity," Zbikowski said. "Hopefully, I've proved that I'm a capable starter in this league and for this team. That's all you can do, you know?" Zbikowski was never looking to be Wally Pipp as Reed's replacement.

He just wanted a shot. And he easily beat out veteran Ken Hamlin during training camp to earn the starting job as the stand-in for Reed, a six-time Pro Bowl selection who has intercepted 46 career passes.

Although he's had mixed success as a punt returner with a few too many lateral moves for coach John Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg's decidedly north-south tastes, Zbikowski has 16 punt returns for a 6.3 average with a long return of 20 yards.

"I think it's just me getting comfortable again and running north south and getting upfield," Zbikowski said. "We got to keep chipping away. It's one of those things where if you're pressing you're not going to get it. Eventually, one will break."

Once Reed reclaims his old job on defense, Zbikowski should have more time to concentrate on punt returns going forward and also have a complementary role in defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's schemes.

"The way coach Matty uses players, I'll definitely be able to contribute," Zbikowski said. "I'll be able to get out there, maybe help out on defense and punt returns. We'll see how all that goes. Whatever the team needs, I'm going to do my best."

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