Sanders thriving in sackmaster role

WESTMINSTER -- Deion Sanders' pass-rushing skills are rapidly becoming as irrepressible as his colorful personality and wardrobe. The veteran nickel back followed up his two-sack outing in a scrimmage against the Washington Redskins by sacking and stripping the football away from elusive Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in the Ravens' 16-3 loss Saturday night.

Plus, Sanders, 38, recovered the football to shut down a 78-yard drive in the team's preseason opener.

"I'm not shy about my game," said Sanders, a first-round draft pick of the Falcons in 1989 out of Florida State. "I know what my game consists of. That's why I'm here. That's why your microphone is in front of me. I make plays. Whatever they ask of me, I do it."

When asked if Sanders' $1.5 million, incentive-laden contract provides any extra money for sacks, Ravens coach Brian Billick replied: "He wishes he had it in his contract now."

RUNNING GAME: Chester Taylor keeps churning his legs and racking up yards.

Starting in place of Jamal Lewis, Taylor rushed for a game-high 55 yards on eight carries.

The Ravens' $3 million insurance policy paid major dividends, as he did last season when he gained a career-high 714 yards. Lewis is expected to increase his workload this week and might see action Saturday against the Philadelphia Eagles, but the running game isn't foundering in his absence.

"The offensive line did a great job of coming off the football and giving me creases to hit the hole," Taylor said. "I'm still mad that we didn't get the win even if it was preseason, but it felt good to get downhill and attack them with the run. That's a good, quick defense with a lot of athletes, so we were definitely doing something out there."

The Ravens finished with 116 rushing yards on 27 carries, a 4.3 average. Also, Tellis Redmon rushed for 39 yards on 10 carries against a crowded line of scrimmage.

"I'm really happy with the way we ran the ball because they stacked it up pretty good," offensive coordinator Jim Fassel said.

CLAYTON DEBUT: First-round draft pick Mark Clayton left the Georgia Dome with one reception for six yards, chalking up his first NFL game as a productive learning experience.

"It was everything that I expected as far as the speed of the game," said Clayton, who returned punts and worked as the No. 3 receiver. "I'll look at the film and take it back to the field and apply what happened. I feel like I'm catching up fast and getting back on schedule."

RETURN GAME: Patrick Johnson returned kickoffs for 16 and 22 yards in a solid showing in his bid to try to unseat return specialist B.J. Sams.

Sams was held out after missing workouts with a nagging hamstring problem.

Meanwhile, Johnson nearly broke the 22-yard return for significant yardage before running into a scrum of tacklers instead of breaking outside.

"It's starting to come back to me, I just have to get into a rhythm of doing it again," Johnson said. "I need to do a better job of keeping my eyes up once I get past the first couple guys.

"It's kind of weird that last year at this time I was in this same position: starting at kick returner for the Bengals in the first preseason game. However you can make the team is what it's all about."

Besides using Johnson on kick returns, the Ravens tried Clayton, Redmon and Randy Hymes on punt returns with each producing no yards and securing a fair catch apiece.

ROUGH SLEDDING: Billick was highly disappointed at how ugly the second and third stringers looked against the Falcons.

Baltimore was outscored 13-0 in the fourth quarter after playing to a 3-3 tie through three quarters.

Rookie quarterback Derek Anderson fumbled a center exchange to set up one Atlanta score. He also threw an interception in the red zone in the final minutes.

Backup quarterback Anthony Wright finished 4-of-15 for 50 yards and a 41.0 quarterback rating, but was the lone Baltimore passer not to throw an interception.

"I hate to see, in particular, the second and third group guys in the fourth quarter and in the second half not play better," Billick said. "It was a lot of little mistakes that shouldn't happen whether they're new to the NFL or not. So, those are some things we'll address on Monday."

DAY OFF: Billick canceled Monday's practice, and the players will watch film this morning and then lift weights in the afternoon.

"The difficulties had nothing to do with the physicality of camp," Billick said. "We've just got some things that need to be cleaned up communication-wise. Our time is better served that way."

QUICK HITS: Starting in place of safety Ed Reed, Chad Williams registered five tackles. ... Linebacker Bart Scott had three tackles, a sack and a pass deflection. … Rookie linebacker Mike Smith, the team's seventh-round pick, had five tackles and a sack, and cornerback Zach Norton had four tackles. ... Rookie punter Jesse Ohliger, who's competing with Rhys Lloyd to be the kickoff specialist, averaged 37.8 yards on four punts as starter Dave Zastudil averaged 37 yards on three punts.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times and

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