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OWINGS MILLS — Bob Sanders is known in NFL circles as â€œThe Eraserâ€ because the Indianapolis Coltsâ€™ hard-hitting safety operates as a gritty catalyst for a defense with a soft reputation.
The former Pro Bowl selection energized the Colts during last weekâ€™s 23-8 wild-card victory over the Kansas City Chiefs as the NFLâ€™s last-ranked run defense shut down star running back Larry Johnson, limiting him to 32 yards on 13 carries.
â€œI just bring a little bit more energy,â€ Sanders told Indianapolis reporters. â€œYou want to get in there and bring a little more excitement to the game and just have some fun. Iâ€™m going to go out and be me. Iâ€™m going to try to play fast, play smart and do what I do.â€
Heading into today’s AFC divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, Sanders is a swaggering presence despite standing only 5-foot-8 as the compact 206-pounder is known as the Coltsâ€™ designated hit man.
Colts coach Tony Dungy said his Cover 2 scheme is designed to funnel plays toward Sanders just as he used to with concussion-causing safety John Lynch when he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Sanders was one of the Ravensâ€™ top draft targets in the second round in 2004, but the Ravens wound up with defensive tackle Dwan Edwards when the Colts nabbed the former Iowa star with the 38th overall pick well ahead of Baltimore’s reach. Sanders drew favorable comparisons this week to Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
â€œThatâ€™s exactly one of the guys he reminds you of, the way he tackles, the physical game he plays,â€ Ravens tight end Todd Heap said. â€œThey bring him down into the box a lot forming those eight-man fronts. Heâ€™s just a presence out there. Heâ€™s one guy that you always have to account for when heâ€™s roaming the middle of the field.â€
Sanders missed most of the season with a knee injury suffered against the Houston Texans on Sept. 17, but his intimidating nature seemed to spark a usually beleaguered Colts defense last week. They played inspired football as he registered two tackles and an interception.
â€œPeople vote for him to go to the Pro Bowl for a very good reason,â€ Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. â€œHe plays hard every play and he hits you hard.
"That brings a presence for receivers to understand that they may not run the same route, and running backs maybe not run the same way in fear of the fact that he will come up and clean you up and finish you off.â€
That description makes Sanders sound just like an eraser on a chalkboard.
OGDEN UPDATE: Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden is slated to start despite his hyperextended left big toe that raised Ravens coach Brian Billickâ€™s concern enough that he was a potential game-time decision.
Ogden informed team officials Friday that he intends to play even if heâ€™s not 100 percent and in severe pain. His chief assignment is blocking speedy Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney.
HERITAGE: The Ravensâ€™ primary focus is just on beating the Colts, not on the painful memories of Mayflower vans sneaking out of town March 29, 1984. They arenâ€™t unaware, though, of their fan baseâ€™s lingering grudge against the Colts and late owner Bob Irsay.
â€œI know all about the Mayflower [vans],â€ linebacker Bart Scott said. â€œLike most modern-day athletes, I get my history knowledge from Sports Classic. I read the whole story and how disheartening it was around here.
â€œYou can tell how much the fans appreciate having a football team around because theyâ€™ve lost one. This was the game that they were calling for because theyâ€™re still bitter, and theyâ€™re still sore in their bellies. For me and the Ravens representing the city of Baltimore, we want to oblige them.â€
NOT IGNORED: The Coltsâ€™ offensive game plan extends far beyond just throwing to Pro Bowl receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.
Tight end Dallas Clark is coming off a nine-catch game against Kansas City, and heâ€™s an imposing target at 6-foot-3, 252 pounds with a capable backup in Ben Utecht. They combined for 67 receptions, 744 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season.
â€œBig-time targets,â€ Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas said. â€œClark stretches the field a little bit more than Utecht. Both of them are very tall. They like to get them out in space on linebackers and safeties.
â€œClark is definitely one of the key targets. We have our hands full as linebackers and safeties, trying to stop him when heâ€™s in the slot.â€
INCREASED SECURITY: The Ravens are encouraging fans to arrive at M&T Bank Stadium earlier than usual because lines may move more slowly with increased security procedures and more thorough pat-downs.
Thatâ€™s a standard NFL practice for the playoffs, and not a precautionary move because of the anger felt toward the Colts, according to league officials.
QUICK HITS: Thomas differentiated himself from his flashier, more outspoken linebacker cohorts. â€œIâ€™m the calm one of the group,â€ he said. â€œBart is all hype, heâ€™s got the hot sauce going. T-Sizzles [Terrell Suggs] has his dance. Ray [Lewis] has to pump his fist and show his muscles.â€. â€¦ Strangely, despite good weather, the Ravens practiced at their indoor facility all week instead of going outside. â€¦ Former Colts running back Tom Matte predicted a Ravens victory. â€œI think they have too much talent and this team is determined,â€ he said. â€œTheyâ€™ve got that look in their eyes.â€ â€¦ Ravens safety Gerome Sapp, a former Baltimore sixth-round draft pick from Notre Dame, has a unique perspective on the Colts after being traded back to the Ravens this summer for a conditional 2007 draft pick: â€œIt seems like every six months, my life comes full circle. I guess Iâ€™m used to irony in my life. Handle it accordingly.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland