Slaughter gives Ravens quality depth inside

OWINGS MILLS – T.J. Slaughter gave the Baltimore Ravens a reminder about his hitting ability when he drilled bulky New York Giants running back Ron Dayne last week.

Slaughter shot through the center-guard gap and tackled Dayne for a two-yard loss.

The hard-nosed inside linebacker remains the defending AFC North champions' top option should anything happen to Ray Lewis or Ed Hartwell. He's also capable of filling in at outside linebacker in a pinch.

Slaughter, 27, started last Thursday against the Giants and led Baltimore with seven tackles while Hartwell rested a strained quadriceps.

Yet, the former Jacksonville Jaguars starter will return to his primary special-teams role when the Ravens open the season Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

"I know I'm not starting, but I still look at myself as a starter," Slaughter said. "I haven't wavered on that thought and still look at myself that way completely."

With the Jaguars for his first four seasons before being released last fall after an off-field incident, Slaughter was signed by Baltimore in December off waivers from the Green Bay Packers. Slaughter averaged 83 tackles a season with Jacksonville.

His best season was 2002 despite being suspended for four games by the NFL for testing positive for an illegal substance. He finished that season with 106 tackles and two fumble recoveries.

"I'm going to hit you hard," Slaughter said. "That's my game, pure and simple."

Jacksonville drafted Slaughter in the third round out of Southern Mississippi, the same school that produced outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, the Ravens' Pro Bowl special teams ace, safety Chad Williams and cornerback Ray Walls.

The Ravens' 3-4 scheme engineered by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is similar to what Slaughter did in college, where he was an All-Conference USA selection.

"This defense is real comfortable for me with my speed and the way I hit," Slaughter said. "This is what I'm good at, and I like this scheme. It's wide open.

"I think I'm doing well. I'm still learning the defense a little bit more and I've pretty much got it down pretty good. There's always more stuff you can learn."

Since the Ravens signed him last winter, Slaughter has impressed the coaching staff with his speed, tackling ability and nasty approach to the game.

Playing a reserve role has been an adjustment, though, for Slaughter, whose contract expires after this season.

"I'm looking forward to getting back to being a starter again," Slaughter said. "I'll do whatever they ask me to do, but everybody knows what I want to do."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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