OWINGS MILLS — The traditional disappearing act of defensive players once they leave the Baltimore Ravens’ roster has practically become part of NFL legend.
Whether it was Ed Hartwell, Gary Baxter, Sam Adams, Tony Weaver, Duane Starks or Jamie Sharper, rarely do former Ravens ever experience the same success once they leave Baltimore as free agents.
Is New England Patriots versatile linebacker Adalius Thomas proving to be an exception to the rule? So far, the answer is yes.
"I don’t really care about the myth," Thomas said during a terse, difficult conference call with Baltimore reporters. "That has nothing to do with football. If I miss Baltimore or not, that has nothing to do with football."
Since leaving Baltimore three years ago when he signed a five-year, $35 million contract that included $20 million in guaranteed money, Thomas has recorded 11 1/2 sacks, 117 tackles, returned an interception for a touchdown and forced two fumbles.
While he hasn’t approached the impact he made in Baltimore, particularly during his last season here in 2006 when he registered a career-high 106 tackles and 11 sacks, Thomas remains a viable, productive player.
“It’s always fun seeing A.D. on the field,” safety Ed Reed said. “I always wish he was on my team. We don’t have that multi-talented guy moving around our defense like we used to.”
Thomas has been relatively quiet this season with nine tackles, one sack and one pass deflection.
Over the past two seasons, Thomas has started 24 games and played in 25 with the Patriots going 22-3 when he’s on the field.
"He was my mentor when I got here, he and Bart Scott," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I do miss him, but he’s one of them now. It’s all business, but he’s still a great friend. He’s had some success up there, and we’ve had some success down here."
Only Mike Vrabel has more sacks than Thomas’ total for New England over the past few seasons. Last year, Thomas notched five sacks despite missing the final seven games of the season.
During Thomas’ first year in New England, he finished third on the team with 82 tackles and tied for second on the team with 6 1/2 sacks while starting eight games at inside linebacker and seven games at outside linebacker.
"He’s been a very versatile performer for us," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "He can run. He can cover. He can rush. He can play the run. I know he’s a smart guy and he’s a big, physical player with good speed, and they’re hard to find. He’s contributed in a lot of different ways."
However, Thomas was bullied by former Ravens All-Pro left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden during a Dec. 3, 2007 Patriots win in Baltimore. He was continually knocked off the line of scrimmage.
The former Pro Bowl linebacker and special-teams ace evidently prefers to let his play speak for him these day after being one of the more personable players during his tenure here.
"You can look and see that for yourself," Thomas said when asked about how he’s being utilized in New England. "Whatever it is, whatever the best matchup is for us or wherever we need depth in our defense, that’s what we do.
"You get more and more comfortable as you play in the same scheme and under the same coaches. I think that the most important thing is for me to get better individually and worry about the things that I have to do with my technique and coverage and everything else."
INJURY UPDATE: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis (concussion) was upgraded to full participation in practice after being limited Wednesday.
And defensive end Trevor Pryce (illness) returned to practice after being held out Wednesday.
Backup quarterback Troy Smith (illness) missed his second day of practice this week.
Defensive tackle Justin Bannan (knee) as well as linebackers Jarret Johnson (left shoulder) and Tavares Gooden (concussion, shoulder) were limited.
"It’s fine," said Bannan, who’s wearing a brace on his knee.
And Johnson said his shoulder is improving after playing with one arm practically against the Cleveland Browns.
"You’ve got to fight through it," Johnson said. "It’s part of the game."
The Ravens added linebacker Antwan Barnes (shoulder) to the injury report, but he participated fully.
Tight end Todd Heap (back) and wide receiver Kelley Washington (groin) were upgraded to full participation.
For the Patriots, nose guard Vince Wilfork (ankle) didn’t practice for the second day this week as well as linebacker Jerod Mayo (knee), who’s out indefinitely with a sprained medial collateral ligament.
Offensive tackle Nick Kaczur (ankle) was upgraded to limited work.
Wide receivers Randy Moss (back) and Wes Welker (knee) were limited again along with cornerback Shawn Springs (knee).
Quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder) participated fully.
AN OLD RIVAL: The Ravens haven’t forgotten about Patriots veteran running back Fred Taylor, even if he doesn’t get much acclaim around the league.
Taylor has rushed for 176 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries, grinding out tough yards. He gained 105 yards against the Atlanta Falcons in the Patriots’ 26-10 win last week.
"He’s one of the best running backs who gets the least amount of respect every year," Johnson said. "Even though he’s got some years on him, he’s still a very dangerous running back."
Lewis definitely remembers all of the clashes with Taylor during the old AFC Central days.
Taylor usually got the best of the Ravens, gaining 510 yards and averaging 4.4 yards per carry in six games against Baltimore. He has also caught 32 passes for 287 yards and one touchdown against the Ravens.
Back in 1998 against Baltimore, Taylor rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown and caught nine passes for 85 yards.
In 2002, he gained 151 yards and scored a touchdown on 25 carries in a win over the Ravens while catching eight passes for 46 yards.
"Good rivalry, it’s been a great rivalry for years," Lewis said. "It’s been a privilege to play against Fred, but not always a pleasure. Fred has always been one of those backs that you’ve really got to keep a hold on.
"If you don’t, he can really hurt you in the running game. He has the ability. He’s big enough to run between the tackles, and he’s fast enough to run away from most defenses."
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who used to coach at the University of Florida, Taylor’s alma mater, praised the 12th-year pro.
"Of course he’s a Gator and I’m a little bit prejudiced, of course," Mattison said. "He’s a great back."
QUICK HITS: Belichick denied that he traded for Ravens linebacker Prescott Burgess to gain inside information about Baltimore. The Patriots wound up cutting Burgess earlier this week and then signed him to the practice squad. "That’s not really the main reason why he’s here," Belichick said. "We traded for Prescott because we wanted some depth at linebacker, and we’ve watched him play this year in the preseason and in the first couple of regular-season games and knew about him and had an interest in him when he came out of college at Michigan. When we consummated the trade and he was available, we brought him onto our team to try to give him an opportunity to work into our system and help our team. I think he’s worked hard and done a good job. I think he’s got a future here, and I’m glad we’re working with him." … Belichick spent several minutes praising the Johns Hopkins lacrosse program during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. … Ravens director of player development O.J. Brigance, who’s battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, celebrated his 40th birthday earlier this week. "Anytime you walk with somebody through life and you go to war with people, if you’ve ever been around O.J. long enough, you’d know that he’s one of the chosen ones," Lewis said. "He’s a very special spirit." … Running back Willis McGahee has scored six touchdowns to lead the NFL, emerging as a vital force in the red zone. "When I first came into this league, the red zone was the hardest thing for me," he said. "It was like bullets flying everywhere. You’ve just got to protect yourself. Now, I’ve learned that you’ve got to go in there with the same attitude, the same mentality that you just want to get in that end zone." … The Ravens are 0-4 against New England all-time.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.