Ravens' tough assignment: blocking 'Big' duo

OWINGS MILLS -- Everything about massive Detroit Lions defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson is super-sized. From their weight-lifting enhanced necks to bulky midsections built through gargantuan appetites, the two interior linemen represent a destructive force. Even their nicknames are centered on their overwhelming size. Rogers is called "Big Baby," and Wilkinson goes by "Big Daddy."

They're a major reason why the Lions (1-2) are extremely difficult to run against -- allowing only 58 rushing yards last week in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- and they've definitely gained the full attention of the Baltimore Ravens (1-2) heading into Sunday's game at Ford Field.

Between Rogers, a 6-foot-4, 340-pound Pro Bowl selection, and Wilkinson, a 6-4, 340-pound former No. 1 overall pick of the draft, the Lions have nearly 700 pounds of beef to throw at teams inside.

"They're in that typical vogue profile of getting those big guys inside and making it tough sledding in the running game," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "They're as big as they come. Wilkinson is playing very, very well. He's kind of reinvented himself a little bit. He's playing with an increased energy and an increased presence."

Both Rogers and Wilkinson had strong games against Tampa Bay in limiting rookie running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams to 13 rushing yards on 11 carries. Williams entered the game as the NFL's leading rusher.

A former second-round pick out of the University of Texas, Rogers already has two sacks.

Wilkinson's impact is best measured by the productivity of linebackers Boss Bailey and Earl Holmes. They lead Detroit's 14th-ranked run defense with 29 and 27 tackles, respectively.

For the Ravens' 29th-ranked running game, gaining yards up the middle will likely be a tough task because of the Detroit defensive tackles' sheer bulk and ability to penetrate the backfield. Both have surprising quickness.

"That's very important for us to control because of the disruption that they can cause an offense," quarterback Anthony Wright said. "The coaches have looked at the film and seen the things that they do well. I'm sure they're drawing up a scheme to counteract that."

That game plan is likely to include a healthy amount of sweeps and off-tackle plays. It's probably not centered around up-the-gut runs like the dive. Not with Wilkinson and Rogers lurking inside.

Last season, Rogers registered a career-high four sacks with 75 tackles and two forced fumbles.

It could be a tough matchup for the offensive line, which blocked much better last week as Baltimore gained 115 yards on 45 carries and didn't allow a sack in a 13-3 win over the New York Jets.

However, center Mike Flynn is outweighed by nearly 40 pounds. Overall, the Ravens' offensive line averages 336 pounds. The offensive line was unavailable for comment because of a self-imposed gag order.

"I know they have a strong running game because they have a big offensive line," Lions coach Steve Mariucci said. "We all know about Jamal Lewis and his production over the years. I think we are pretty darn solid on defense in the front seven.

"We made a concerted effort to stop Cadillac Williams last week. He was getting over 100 yards against everybody. We are making a concerted effort to win the battle in the trenches."

Lewis is off to a slow start after an offseason of legal turmoil and rehabilitating his surgically repaired right ankle. He has 138 rushing yards and one touchdown on 55 carries through three games after beginning last season with 305 yards and three touchdowns.

The Lions are surrendering 100.7 rushing yards per contest, 4.0 per carry, and Baltimore is averaging 68.7 yards and a 2.6 average per carry.

Now, Lewis has to face off with the imposing duo of "Big Baby" and "Big Daddy."

"They have some big guys in there and, of course, we have to structure something so we can get some runs in there," said Lewis, a 2003 Pro Bowl selection who gained only 81 yards on 29 carries against the Jets. "I'm sure we'll scheme and be able to handle them."

NOTES: Rookie linebacker Dan Cody underwent reconstructive knee surgery last week to repair his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. Cody is on injured reserve and isn't expected to return until August of 2006 … The Lions signed former Ravens long snapper Joe Maese, who was cut earlier this year, to replace injured snapper Don Muhlbach. Maese was beaten out by Matt Katula. … Fullback Alan Ricard remains questionable on the injury report with a calf injury and was limited in practice for the second day in a row. "Stiff, but improving," was Billick's assessment. … Tight end Todd Heap returned to practice after being sent home with an illness Wednesday. He's probable with an injured ankle. "He has a little cold going on and it's working its way out," Billick said. … New kickoff specialist Aaron Elling didn't help much last week with the Jets starting at an average field position of their own 30 on four kickoffs. The Ravens rank 31st in the NFL with opponents starting at an average of their own 32.5 with no touchbacks. … Offensive guard Keydrick Vincent delivered a quip about the blockers' silent treatment to reporters: "I only talk in movies."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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