Ravens embracing 'bad guy' role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Regardless of the outcome of Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints, the Baltimore Ravens are pretty much resigned to who will claim the popularity contest. The Saints have emerged as a proud symbol of New Orleans' resurrection since being ravaged by Hurricane Katrina last year, drawing nationwide support.

With the traditionally downtrodden Saints (5-1) surging atop the NFC South, they've garnered even more buzz and adoration.
"Obviously, they are the sweethearts of the league," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Everybody loves them, and deservedly so. You go in and beat them, you might as well go and beat up Mother Teresa. You know, ‘You scums, what are you doing here?'
"But that is what we're going to try to do, because there's a great deal of energy and emotion there right now."
Returning to a rebuilt Louisiana Superdome that used to house people displaced by Katrina, the Ravens played there in August 2005 two days prior to the hurricane's mass destruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
This represents a homecoming for six Lousiana natives on the Ravens' roster, including: safeties Ed Reed (St. Rose) and Dawan Landry (Ama), return specialist B.J. Sams (Mandeville), former LSU cornerback Ronnie Prude (Shreveport) and former Northwestern St. cornerback David Pittman (Gramercy).
While the Ravens, who donated more than $1.2 million to hurricane relief last year including $165,000 from players, are sympathetic to the residents of New Orleans, they stressed that there has to be a separation between that sentiment and the business of football.
"Katrina is Katrina," said linebacker Adalius Thomas, who attended Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss., which was also affected by the deadly hurricane. "This is about football now. I don't feel sorry for the Saints as far as them being 5-1, no, not necessarily.
"As far as the people and the community around there, you pour your hearts out to people who have lost everything, but this is a game. Katrina is about life. This is something totally different."
If anything, the Ravens, who have played the villain role to the hilt in the past, have embraced how they'll be perceived by the Saints' fleur-de-lis sporting faithful.
"Of course, we'll go in there and be the bad guys," linebacker Bart Scott said. "I don't mind being the bad guy. I kind of like that. It's a great story. I hate to be the bad part of the story, but that's my job."
TRAINING ROOM: Rookie safety Dawan Landry missed portions of team drills Thursday as he recuperates from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee. Listed as questionable, he's regarded as the Ravens' greatest question mark.
However, Landry emphasized that his knee hasn't been swelling up following practices and that he's optimistic that he'll start.
"I'm feeling much better," said Landry, a fifth-round draft pick from Georgia Tech who intercepted his first NFL pass in a 23-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers. "It's up to the coaches, but I think I should be all right." Safety Gerome Sapp (thigh, questionable) would start if Landry can't go.
Cornerback Corey Ivy (kidney tear) remains out, but Billick said he's progressing well.
"I think we're not far off from Corey being able to get back," said Billick, adding that there's no need to contemplate placing him on injured reserve at this point.
Punter Sam Koch was added to the injury report with an illness and is listed as probable.
DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENT: In preparation for playing in a domed stadium, the Ravens have practiced for the past few days at their indoor practice facility.
"To a degree it has as much to do with the lights as anything else," Billick said. "Getting used to the surface again, just the feel of it, the echo of the building, the whole nine yards, we're fortunate to have a structure like this." Of course, the Ravens can't really do anything to simulate the noise factor.
"This will be like nothing they have ever heard," Billick said. "It's as hard a dome to play in as there is."
QUICK HITS: Scott doesn't sound concerned about the threat of multi-purpose rookie running back Reggie Bush, the Heisman Trophy winner from USC drafted second overall. "He's a running back? I thought he was a receiver," he said of Bush, who has caught 38 passes for 285 yards, rushed for 196 yards and returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown. "He's a good talent, and they have some great passes for him. He's a difficult matchup, but I think we have athletes on this team that can match up with him, and will be a good test." … The Saints have ruled out tight end Ernie Conwell (knee), downgraded offensive tackle Zach Stief (finger) to doubtful and defensive tackle Willie Whitehead (elbow) as questionable. Running back Deuce McAllister (hamstring) is probable. … Among the many surprising aspects of the Saints' rapid improvement is rookie wide receiver Marques Colston, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound seventh-round draft pick from Hofstra. Colston has caught 27 passes for 414 yards and four touchdowns. "Very impressive athlete, big, reminds you a little of Clarence Moore with that size, has some very good speed," Billick said. "He's a great story." … Baltimore is 5-2 under Billick following the bye week with four consecutive wins following a bye.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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