Notebook: Ravens' secondary depth improved

OWINGS MILLS -- It was so lopsided a year ago against the Indianapolis Colts that the Baltimore Ravens probably wanted to avert their eyes from the scoreboard. On the wrong side of a 44-20 rout on Dec. 9, 2007 at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens' injury-riddled secondary was exploited by Peyton Manning for four touchdown passes

He only had to throw 17 passes, completing 13 of them as he picked apart the defense.

With starting cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle out due to injuries, the Ravens were forced to start Corey Ivy and Derrick Martin and fell behind 37-7 by halftime.

Manning took advantage of the situation, particularly when reserves David Pittman and Ronnie Prude were forced into action. Neither player is on the roster anymore.

"We stunk up the joint last year, and they did a great job," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "That was one game where they probably could have made that score what they wanted it to be. But we've got a different group out there, and we're going to play a heck of a lot better than last year."

Now, the Ravens appear to be much sounder in the secondary.

McAlister is back and leads the Ravens with three interceptions. Although Rolle is out following neck surgery and his backup, Fabian Washington, has an injured right shoulder and strong safety Dawan Landry is sidelined with a spinal cord concussion, the Ravens have superior depth compared to last year.

The additions of safety Jim Leonhard and cornerback Frank Walker have helped the Ravens' top-ranked defense, which also has the league's No. 1 pass defense. They're allowing just 128.5 passing yards per game.

"Going into the season, we definitely thought the strength of our team was going to be the depth of our secondary," Ryan said. "Right now, we're having to use it unfortunately. Without question last year, I think, was a little tough. We had guys starting that aren't even playing in the league now, so we feel good about the guys that are out there now."

Undersized at 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, Leonhard has recorded 15 tackles and one sack since taking over for Landry.

"Scrappy, just a great personality, very impressive," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I saw him in preseason and I was like, 'Who is that guy? Did we draft him?' I didn't even know who he was before I got here. He's good, and I think he's going to be special.

"If I had seen him out somewhere in public at a mall, I definitely wouldn't think that guy plays football. But when he puts those pads on, he sure enough is a football player."

Walker had three tackles and four pass deflections against the Tennessee Titans when quarterback Kerry Collins targeted him often.

"My job is to stay ready," said Walker, a former Green Bay Packers nickel back who was picked on during the preseason games. "The coaches get us prepared for everything that's going to happen, so there are no surprises."

Added McAlister: "Regardless of where we're at and what the stats say, we're still a secondary that gets better week in and week out Even with guys going down, we had a chance last week to see that."

Nonetheless, the Colts have the league's second-ranked passing game and average 245.5 yards per game as Manning chooses between throwing to wide receivers Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Anthony Gonzalez and tight end Dallas Clark.

"They've got an excellent football team," Ryan said. "It's a great challenge to us. We think our guys are going to be up to it."

NO FINE FOR SUGGS: Suggs will not be fined for criticizing the officiating following a 13-10 loss to the Titans, according to an NFL spokesman.

Suggs was frustrated about being flagged for a controversial roughing-the-passer penalty that led to the Titans' game-winning scoring drive, saying the referees had too much power to affect games.

"I didn't think I would be fined, but you never know," Suggs said. "That's good to hear."

INJURY REPORT: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis (knee) and offensive tackle Jared Gaither (knee) were downgraded to not practicing after being limited the previous day.

Both are expected to play, though.

Although he's feeling better, Washington isn't expected to play after dislocating his shoulder against Tennessee. He has been unable to practice all week and Walker is preparing to start.

"I'm not real sure," Ryan said when asked about Washington's status. "Last time when I wasn't real sure, he came out and started, so hopefully that will be the case again this week."

Right offensive tackle Adam Terry (lateral meniscus, right knee) didn't practice for the second consecutive day and is a potential game-time decision Sunday. His right leg was in a compression sleeve to reduce swelling Wednesday.

"Boy, he looks a lot better than he did," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We'll see how much work he gets done. It will probably go right up to the game."

Linebackers Antwan Barnes (knee) and Tavares Gooden (hip) were limited again, as was safety Tom Zbikowski (shoulder).

Running back Willis McGahee (knee) was upgraded to full participation, but is still wearing a red jersey that means he's off-limits to contact.

"He's healthy," Cameron said. "He was healthy last week. He's not 100 percent, but probably there aren't too many backs at this stage who are. I think he'll have a heck of a ballgame."

TRYOUTS: The Ravens tried out three defensive players Thursday at their training complex with no immediate roster move, including: safety Curome Cox (University of Maryland), linebacker Brandon Jamison (West Georgia) and defensive back Darren Stone (Maine).

QUICK HITS: Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward was fined $5,000 by the NFL for unnecessary roughness for a hit on Ivy two weeks ago. There was no penalty on the play. … For the Colts, star defensive end Dwight Freeney (hamstring) didn't practice for the second consecutive day. ... Gonzalez (concussion), cornerback Marlin Jackson (ankle) and defensive end Robert Mathis (non-injury related) were upgraded to full participation in practice. ... The Ravens have lost five consecutive games to Indianapolis.


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