Ravens' Kemoeatu steps in at nose guard

OWINGS MILLS - When massive nose guard Maake Kemoeatu signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent out of Utah two years ago, he never expected to start on a highly-regarded defense. <br><br> Heading into the home opener Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 6-foot-5, 340-pounder will replace Kelly Gregg while he recuperates for two weeks from arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

"Coming into the league, you always wish you were a starter," said Kemoeatu, who registered three tackles in a 20-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns. "But when you have Kelly Gregg in front of you, an unbelievable player, there's no way I could beat him out. It's a great opportunity for me."

Kemoeatu's primary assignment is to plug gaps up front and keep blockers like Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca off of inside linebackers Ray Lewis and Ed Hartwell.

"I would say I've really improved," Kemoeatu said. "Rex Ryan has been the perfect coach for me. Veterans like Anthony Weaver and Marques Douglas really helped me out, and Kelly Gregg has given me a few pointers."

REBUTTAL: One day after Steelers linebacker Joey Porter questioned the wisdom of Baltimore playing its starters throughout a 13-10 overtime win last season despite having clinched the AFC North title before kickoff, Ravens coach Brian Billick responded sharply.

"These are passionate times and everyone has their opinions," Billick said. "One thing he won't have to worry about is ever playing for this stupid coach."

When Billick was asked if he would revise former Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart's 'Slash' role, he said: "You never know. This old stupid coach does a whole lot of stupid things."

TRAINING ROOM: All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden practiced fully without incident, but remains questionable on the injury report.

"He moves around just fine," Billick said. "He will be fine Sunday. Jonathan has been around this for some time and he knows his body pretty well."

Wide receiver Travis Taylor (groin) was downgraded from questionable to doubtful and hopes to be back in a few weeks, with trainer Bill Tessendorf projecting a recovery period of three to four weeks.

"I'm going to rest my legs until I'm 100 percent," Taylor said.

Defensive end Jarret Johnson (elbow) was added to the injury report as probable.

The Steelers downgraded cornerback Chad Scott (groin) from probable to questionable and listed rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (bruised knee) as probable.

ROSTER MOVES: The Ravens re-signed fullback Harold Morrow, a special-teams ace, for the second time in a week. "Hopefully, I'm back for good," Morrow said.

Surprisingly, second-year safety Gerome Sapp was waived despite the presence of older players on the roster who were also inactive last week such as Corey Fuller. Sapp isn't eligible for the practice squad after playing in 15 games last season.

ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK?: Rookie wide receivers Devard Darling and Clarence Moore will get their most extensive playing time yet against the Steelers. Neither player has caught a pass in an NFL regular-season game.

"You are past the learning curve, baby," Billick said. "Against Pittsburgh, you will grow up quick and if you don't, you may die."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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