OWINGS MILLS — It has been another hard season for Baltimore Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle, and he has the scars to prove it.
One year after overcoming a courageous bout with epilepsy only to suffer a subsequent season-ending shoulder injury, Rolle has missed the past six games with a neck injury that required surgery to repair the damage.
Now, Rolle is confident that he’s finally healthy and poised to end his cycle of injuries. The timing of his return is excellent since the Ravens (5-3) are preparing to face off with the Houston Texans (3-5) and blue-chip wide receiver Andre Johnson on Sunday at Reliant Stadium.
"It’s just been frustrating," Rolle said Wednesday. "A lot of people don’t know that in 2006 I was sick. I had epilepsy, but I didn’t realize what it was at the time. In my mind, I was so determined.
"When I got the epilepsy thing, I was kind of down. This year, my attitude is positive. It’s a new coach, a new environment. It is what it is."
With Rolle on the mend, it injects an injury-riddled secondary with a reliable cover cornerback who was named to the Pro Bowl once when he was with the Tennessee Titans.
With Chris McAlister sidelined indefinitely with a chronic right knee injury, Rolle’s return practically became a necessity.
"It’s always good to have all your good players back," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Samari Rolle is a tremendous corner. It adds one more link into our chain, so we’re excited to have him back. He’s going to make us better."
Rolle nearly returned for last week’s 37-27 victory over the Cleveland Browns, but didn’t feel completely comfortable with testing out his neck in a full-contact situation. Listed as limited on the injury report, Rolle was much more active in the Ravens’ first practice of the week.
Of course, the 32-year-old won’t truly know how his neck will hold up until he takes and absorbs a hard hit. He’s expected to wear a protective neck collar.
"Yeah, definitely, but I’ll be out there," Rolle said. "It will come, definitely."
This isn’t Rolle’s first brush with a serious injury.
When he was with the Titans, he suffered a scary spinal cord concussion as a rookie. Yet, he returned four games later.
"Samari is a great guy, I think he’s a great player," Johnson said in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "He’s had some injuries. He’s been banged-up, but, other than that, I think he’s a great cornerback."
The Ravens rank fourth in the league in passing defense, allowing 182.1 yards per contest with 10 touchdown passes surrendered.
Despite Rolle and McAlister only starting a combined seven games this season, the Ravens have held up decently with replacements Fabian Washington and Frank Walker.
"I think that’s a testament to the depth that we have in our room now," Rolle said. "Last year, we didn’t have that type of depth."
Another adjustment Rolle has made this year is playing for a new coach. He acknowledged there are some parallels between Harbaugh and Titans coach Jeff Fisher.
When asked if it was difficult to get acclimated to Harbaugh’s hard-nosed style, Rolle replied: "Actually, it hasn’t been. In minicamp, it was. But now you see why he’s done everything he’s done and it’s making sense. Intensity, that’s the biggest similarity to coach Fisher."
Rolle will need to display a similar fire when guarding Johnson, who is three inches taller and nearly 50 pounds heavier at 6-foot-3, 223 pounds. Physically dominant outside, Johnson leads the NFL with 834 receiving yards and ranks second overall with 60 receptions.
Johnson, 26, is also six years younger than Rolle.
"Best receiver in the league right now, hands down," Rolle said. "No weaknesses: strong, tough, physical, good hands, good routes and they get him the ball. He’s a great player, and he doesn’t talk trash. My mom knows his mom. He’s a good kid."