Fuller misses second game in a row, Baxter shines

ST. LOUIS - Baltimore Ravens veteran cornerback Corey Fuller missed his second consecutive football game because of nagging groin and hamstring problems. Once again, Gary Baxter shifted over from free safety to start at cornerback Sunday night against the St. Louis Rams at Edward Jones Dome. Although Fuller, 32, emphasized all week that he was feeling better and expected to play, he was still deactivated before kickoff.

A week ago, Ravens coach Brian Billick indicated that Fuller has to be at his full capacity to play ahead of Baxter at cornerback. "Corey is an asset for us at corner, but he has to be healthy and fresh, especially with a player at that point in his career," Billick said. "If Corey can be back this week healthy and fresh, he will play. If he is at 60, 70 or 80 percent and can go only 30, 40 snaps, we have to think more long-term and may have to stay in that configuration. "Gary is doing well for us on both ends. That is a lot on Gary, but we will always have the best four secondary guys on the field. Right now, that would include Corey Fuller when he is healthy." 

A ninth-year professional, Fuller was injured in the fourth quarter of the Ravens' win over the Denver Broncos. Last winter, the Ravens cited Fuller's character and toughness as reasons they decided to sign the former Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings starter. While Fuller has undeniably provided leadership in the locker room, he has occasionally been exploited in coverage on the football field. Through his seven starts, he has 22 tackles, six pass deflections and no interceptions. Baxter, 24, entered the game ranking third on the team with 59 tackles along with two interceptions and eight pass deflections. Both of his interceptions have come at cornerback, too. "In the second half of the season, you would think that the versatility that Gary Baxter is giving us in the secondary will be even more important," Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I think we know what Corey can and can't do." 

DIFFERING ACCOUNTS: It was four years ago when the Ravens and Rams last met. It marked the dawn of the Billick era in Baltimore, and Kurt Warner's first game as St. Louis' starting quarterback. Before the Ravens' 27-10 loss in his first game as head coach when Warner threw three touchdown passes, Billick said he had a conversation with Dick Vermeil and Mike Martz about the former grocery story clerk and Arena Football League standout. "The memory I have, oddly enough, was Dick Vermeil and Mike Martz telling me that they were hoping this kid Warner could survive a game or two until Paul Justin could take over the offense and, hopefully, could take them to the playoffs," Billick said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters who cover the Rams. "They didn't know what they had in a Kurt Warner, and did a magnificent job with him. I've known Dick Vermeil and Mike Martz for years and years and years, and to look back on that conversation shows you how strange this league can be." 

Warner, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl and emerged as the league MVP before falling out of favor due to recurring injuries and sub-par play. Martz disputes Billick's version. "First of all, we would never have that type of conversation with somebody before a game," Martz said. "Secondly, I don't know where this comment comes from, or who he attributes it to. I certainly didn't make it. And I know that Dick didn't feel that way. "Paul was not bright in here to replace Kurt. He was brought here to back Kurt up." 

HOMECOMING: Baltimore offensive guard Bennie Anderson anticipated a crush of ticket requests prior to his return to St. Louis. He knew he wouldn't be able to accommodate them all, though. "I'm excited about playing in front of the home crowd," Anderson said. "But I cut my cell phone off last week. I'm going to buy a certain amount of tickets. I apologize, but tickets are expensive." Anderson actually was with the Rams for a cup of coffee as a free agent from Tennessee State before the 2000 season. Yet, the former middle school teacher was cut before training camp. By the following summer, he was starting for the then-Super Bowl champion Ravens. "I was there maybe 20 minutes," Anderson said, "and I'm holding a grudge." 

INACTIVES: The Ravens ruled out quarterback Anthony Wright, Fuller, fullback Ovie Mughelli, defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, wide receivers Ron Johnson and Dedric Ward and defensive end Riddick Parker

QUICK HITS: In the first quarter, Boller went 3-for-7 for 13 yards and an interception caused by Travis Taylor's drop for a quarterback rating of 10.7. By halftime, Boller had completed 10 of 21 passes for 112 yards, a touchdown and a 60.0 rating. .. The Ravens held Rams quarterback Marc Bulger to 47 yards and a 27.5 rating in the first half with Marshall Faulk gaining only nine yards on seven carries. ... Baltimore was 2-for-9 through one half on third downs and missed on its first three red-zone opportunities. ... Tight end John Jones strained his quadriceps in the first half. ... Jamal Lewis rushed for 91 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries by halftime. ... Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden caught his second career touchdown pass on a tackle-eligible play with 1:19 remaining in the first half. 

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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