Gaither to clash with Colts' Freeney

OWINGS MILLS -- Indianapolis Colts star defensive end Dwight Freeney plays football like a whirling dervish, using his trademark spin move to burst past offensive tackles and crash into the quarterback. It's Freeney's job to harass rookie quarterback Joe Flacco by transforming a football game into a track meet.

It's Baltimore Ravens left offensive tackle Jared Gaither's job to halt or at least slow down the three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"He does everything good, he has a spectacular spin move and he's fast up the field, a speed-power guy," Gaither said. "He does a lot of things good. He just stands out. He makes plays. We're looking forward to shutting him down."

Easier said than accomplished, though, against a swift defensive lineman who has run the 40-yard dash in a blistering 4.48 seconds, bench presses 455 pounds and is regarded as valuable enough that the Colts signed him to an unprecedented six-year, $72 million contract a year ago.

Freeney used to give retired Baltimore All-Pro tackle Jonathan Ogden fits with his ability to penetrate the backfield. He has a franchise-high 63 career sacks and led the NFL with 16 sacks in 2004.

Through four games, Freeney has three sacks and two forced fumbles. The Colts (2-2) are 36-10 when he has a sack and 20-5 when he forces a fumble.

"Play fast because Dwight's going to be playing fast," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh in reciting his advice to Gaither. "When you go against a great player like that at any position, but, especially left tackle, technique is the issue. He's got to concentrate on good, fundamental technique."

At a sculpted 6-foot-1, 268 pounds, Freeney used to regularly shoot gaps against Ogden. He wisely avoided bull-rush tactics against a lineman eight inches taller and nearly 100 pounds heavier than him.

Gaither has an almost identical size advantage at 6-foot-9, 330 pounds, and has similar athleticism to Ogden. It's unclear if he'll be at his full mobility this week since he was limited in practice Wednesday with a mild knee injury.

"He's a big guy, first of all, and he looks very athletic, long arms," Colts coach Tony Dungy said of Gaither in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "So, what you've got is a big man against a smaller guy and speed and quickness against a big, powerful athlete. Not too much different than it was against Jonathan Ogden where you're facing just a big, massive guy. It will be interesting."

In a strategy to counter Freeney's spin move, Ogden was patient and polished enough to time his block until the smaller defender would turn his back toward him.

He would simply mirror Freeney's movement, then strike.

"J.O. used to do a good job of punching him when he started to spin and hit that back side of his shoulder," right offensive tackle Adam Terry said. "A lot of times, J.O. would hold on to the damn thing. A lot of things J.O. would do a lot of people can't do."

Gaither was a high school basketball star at Eleanor Roosevelt in Greenbelt who was good enough to be offered a basketball scholarship by the University of South Carolina before deciding to concentrate on football.

He'll need that quick footwork against Freeney.

"You've just got to stay low, keep your base and just stay focused," Gaither said. "You can't let him lull you to sleep. A speedy rush, a speedy rush, then he spins inside. You've got to stay focused, trust your techniques and trust what the coaches are putting us through the week, trust that it's going to work."

It's unlikely that Gaither will be left to fend for himself all the time against Freeney. He'll probably have chip-blocking assistance from a running back or tight end. Plus, left guard Ben Grubbs could slide out to give Gaither a hand.

"I have to look out for Gaither and watch his back if I'm free and make sure Freeney doesn't get any pressure on the quarterback," Grubbs said. "His spin move is unbelievable. It's going to be a war."

A former University of Maryland player picked in the fifth round of the NFL supplemental draft last year when he was declared academically ineligible to play for the Terrapins, Gaither has started four games this season and has performed adeptly so far, albeit with a few occasional rough spots.

Flacco has only been sacked six times, and five came against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 23-20 overtime loss as Gaither and Terry had issues with Pro Bowl outside linebacker James Harrison as well as LaMarr Woodley.

In a 13-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans, Gaither held Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch without a sack.

"I think Jared has played very well," Harbaugh said. "For Jared Gaither to be a young player and playing at the level he's playing is a great compliment to him and to our coaches. "Jared would be the first to tell you he's got light years to go to be the player he can be. We've got really high hopes and expectations for him."

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