OWINGS MILLS – With a direct stare, an honest expression and a sincere determination to not deviate from his message, Bernard Pollard emphatically insists that this Sunday will be just another football game.
"It’s not about me," said Pollard while preparing to square off with the Houston Texans, his old team. "This is a football team that’s in our way, a very good football team."
The Baltimore Ravens’ hard-hitting strong safety is almost completely convincing even though his teammates don’t exactly buy into what he’s selling.
They know this game has extra meaning for Pollard, who’s listed atop the Ravens’ updated depth chart with Tom Zbikowski not medically cleared to practice following a concussion.
"I know it’s going to be personal for him, just like we had a personal thing when we played Rex Ryan last week," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "It’s definitely a big game, not only for him and for Vonta Leach as well. We’re going to do everything we can to win it for them."
Signed by the Ravens to a two-year, $2.4 million contract that includes a $500,000 roster bonus on the 10th day of the league year in 2012 and a $300,000 escalator clause next season, Pollard was discarded by the Texans after initially thinking he would be retained.
Pollard recorded a career-high 111 tackles and four forced fumbles a year ago for Texans coach Gary Kubiak, albeit for the NFL’s last-ranked pass defense and 30th overall defense. However, he was ushered out of town after the arrival of new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the installation of a 3-4 defensive scheme.
"When they brought Wade in, he told me he had some things planned for me and he told me I was going to be there," Pollard said. "Gary Kubiak told me I was going to be there. All of a sudden, they tell me I’m not going to be there. They changed their minds. That’s what happens with businesses. They made a business decision."
And the Ravens have made a decision to start getting Pollard more involved on defense.
The 6-foot-1, 228-pounder got his first start since joining the team during a 34-17 win over the New York Jets as both he and Zbikowski lined up on the field since the Ravens were depleted at cornerback due to injuries.
He wound up recording three tackles and one pass deflection and has six tackles for the season, half as many tackles as Zbikowski.
"Starting is something I’ve been doing my whole career," Pollard said. "I’m not proud. I don’t walk around telling people I’m starting. I work my butt off. It’s exciting to come into this defense and help this team out.
"It doesn’t matter if I start, but I would like to start. I’m always going to play hard, No. 31 will play hard for you no matter what, but it’s really not about me. I continue to say that. Now, it’s time for me to get ready."
Nicknamed "The Bonecrusher" during his college days at Purdue, Pollard is a former Kansas City Chiefs second-round draft pick known for his physical, aggressive nature.
Pollard is nearly as big as some linebackers. He’s actually several pounds heavier than former Ravens strong safety Dawan Landry, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this summer.
"When we lost Landry, we had enough safeties," Suggs said. "Zibby and Haruki [Nakamura] play phenomenal, but it’s always good to have a big, angry monster safety. Bernard was our missing piece. He’s a great addition to our team."
And Pollard is intimately familiar with the Texans’ offense that features Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster, just as they know him.
"Every good offensive coordinator dresses up their offense," Pollard said. "Kubiak is a great offensive mind. He’s going to move people around. They’re going to run the ball with the best running back in the NFL from last year. We’ve got to do whatever we can to stop them."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that the coaching staff has discussed the Texans with Pollard and Leach.
"We have talked about that whole team with those guys and schemes and personnel, but I don’t think it is a significant thing," he said. "Guys move around the league all the time. You take from it what you can. Those two guys are going to be emotionally excited to play the game, and I think our guys will be mostly ready to play for them.
"That’s always the case when you go back and play your old team. They have spoken in real positive terms about the Texans: about their personnel, about their scheme, about their coaches and we have always had a lot of respect for them anyway."
After posting 214 tackles and four interceptions during his two seasons in Houston, Pollard said he won’t be thinking about old allegiances.
He’s part of a new locker room now.
"I have no friends on Sundays," Pollard said. "Once that clock starts, I really don’t. That’s not me being hard or malicious, but this is a ballgame for our team that we’ve got to have and we want to win."