Weaver makes a quiet, yet vital impact

Before the quiet rookie ever arrived in Baltimore, his solitude at practice sessions was temporarily required by the Notre Dame coaching staff. Banished to the sidelines, Anthony Weaver wasn't exactly being punished. The future Ravens rookie defensive end was just considered so dominant and disruptive over his final two seasons that he wasn't allowed to work out much against the Fighting Irish offense.

"Tony had an unbelievable passion and drive, and he always gave this unbelievable effort," said Notre Dame center Jeff Faine, an Outland Trophy and All-American candidate. "He was definitely a force to be reckoned with. Our tackles had so much trouble blocking him in practice that the coaches would make Tony sit out. We couldn't run our plays with him in there."

Now, Weaver has built a different reputation based on competence and professionalism that often draws comparisons to veteran Rob Burnett, the former Ravens' defensive lineman.

 The Ravens' second-round pick is far from flashy, but he's being called an ideal player for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's 3-4 alignment. Capable of playing both inside and outside, Weaver has consistently strung out sweeps and collapsed pockets.

He's had several near-misses of quarterback sacks, amounting to more swipes at air or brushes of jerseys than he can count on his massive fingertips.

"My style as a football player is to go all-out," Weaver said. "Eventually, I'll catch up to some of those quarterbacks that got away."

Entering today's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Weaver has started 11 games at left defensive end and has collected 50 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two pass deflections and a forced fumble. Weaver sheepishly acknowledges the practice treatment at Notre Dame, saying he was just doing his job as team captain.

"He's playing as good as any rookie I've seen," Nolan said. "He surprised me. My expectations were not nearly as high as they've become. The things that stand out with Anthony are that he's very smart and he's extremely tough."

Compliments are nothing Weaver is going to write home about to South Bend, Ind., or his hometown of Saratoga Spring, N.Y. Teammates said he's much too humble for that.

Yet, mentions of Weaver and Burnett in the same sentence aren't mere coincidence. They're echoed throughout the Ravens' training complex from head coach Brian Billick's office to general manager Ozzie Newsome.

Billick said he wouldn't be surprised if Weaver isn't remembered one day for the similar type of solid career track that Burnett has enjoyed.

"I know a lot about Rob and to be compared to someone who played on one of the greatest defenses of all-time is a tremendous accomplishment," Weaver said.

At Notre Dame, Weaver finished his career with 160 tackles, 95 solos, 17 sacks, 42 tackles for losses, six forced fumbles and three interceptions. Last season, Weaver was named the Irish's Most Valuable Player with 59 tackles, seven sacks, 21 tackles for losses and an interception.

The Ravens acquired Weaver with the 52nd overall selection after swapping the 56th pick with the Washington Redskins in addition to a third-round choice and a fifth-rounder to move up four spots.

"Anytime you lose a guy who starts in the NFL as a rookie you've lost a darn good football player," first-year Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham said. "We would love to have him back. It says a lot that we can still produce athletes of that caliber."

Weaver missed most of training camp with a high ankle sprain, but recovered well enough to start the season opener against the Carolina Panthers with six tackles and a pass deflection.

"Weaver's a fast learner, and he plays with a lot of intensity and passion," Ravens defensive end Adalius Thomas said. "He kind of sneaks around here and you don't know he's there. He was so quiet the first couple of weeks."

Weaver's best performances to date are probably his half-sack of elusive Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and five tackles and three quarterback pressures against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Against the Tennessee Titans last week, Weaver had four tackle and two quarterback pressures.

 "Things are getting better each week," Weaver said. "I'm playing with a wider base and beating blocks."

Weaver has relatively been in the background, not drawing as much attention as first-round pick Ed Reed, the starting strong safety.

"That's fine with me," Weaver said. "All I want to do is lay back in the cut and play football."

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