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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens’ offensive line gained a reprieve from the heavy scrutiny they’ve been under since the organization decided to keep the starters intact following last year’s disappointing campaign.
Although there were some troubling moments in the preseason, the blockers did a solid job of protecting quarterback Steve McNair and clearing pathways for the running backs in the Ravens’ 27-0 win Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
McNair was only sacked once and that was his own fault when he fumbled while attempting to throw.
“It was very, very good,” Billick said. “That is a talented rush group, particularly off the edge. You have to account for Simeon Rice. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.”
Plus, Baltimore gained 103 rushing yards against the top-ranked defense in the league from last season as Jamal Lewis ran for 78 yards and a touchdown.
“As modest as it sounds, 103 yards rushing, but since they only gave up four or five last year, we are going to feel good about that,” Billick said. “We set a temperament that we really wanted to set and I think that was a big part of what happened.”
Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, a nine-time All-Pro who missed training camp for personal reasons, exhibited obvious signs of rust and fatigue. However, he held the usually disruptive Rice without a sack.
“Jonathan was very critical of himself,” Billick said. “He realizes he is probably not quite there. He’s probably at that third preseason game in terms of what it should feel like right now. I think he will tell you he still has a little ways to go to get into the feel of the season.”
POSITIVE REVIEW: Rookie safety Dawan Landry wasn’t victimized by veteran wide receivers and tight ends, appearing comfortable and under control in his NFL debut.
He was credited with five tackles and a pass deflection. About his only miscue was an uncertain reaction that contributed to wide receiver Michael Clayton’s 27-yard reception.
“He is playing with a great deal of fluidity, I don’t see the hesitation,” Billick said.
“There was only one instance, the one big play that they had to Clayton.
“Dawan still had that, ‘Am I really supposed to do that?’ Again, he is playing above and beyond for a first game in the NFL. It was very impressive."
PROGRESS: Rookie defensive tackle Haloti Ngata apparently registered a tackle following the coaches’ film review, although he wasn’t credited with one after the game. No, they aren’t counting how he ran out of bounds in exhaustion after his 60-yard interception return instead of heading into the end zone.
“It felt like I was running to Hawaii,” said Ngata, who moved at a rapid clip for the first 20 to 30 yards considering his girth. “Just me being a big guy, I run out of gas pretty fast.”
Overall, the Ravens were impressed with the 6-foot-4, 340-pound first-round draft pick.
“You see the athleticism, the maturity,” Billick said. “He had a couple of opportunities to stuff a guy right at the line of scrimmage after taking on the block beautifully, but that natural instinct of stuff and shed is still a thought process right now. It gets better with every game.”
CHEMISTRY: The chemistry of the locker room has been an ongoing issue in recent years, but Billick said this year’s edition is demonstrating improved teamwork.
He offered an example of how linebacker Adalius Thomas volunteered to take running back Musa Smith’s place on the kickoff team following a lengthy opening drive. Later, Smith substituted for Thomas on kick coverage after an extended defensive stand.
“That was really encouraging,” Billick said. “That kind of interaction, taking care of one another is what you are talking about when you talk about team chemistry. ‘I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine.’”
QUICK HITS: Billick opined that the game erased concerns about middle linebacker Ray Lewis’ capabilities after missing 10 games last season and underwent hamstring surgery. Lewis was credited with 10 tackles and a sack. “Even to the point up to where he got hurt, he was playing outstanding football,” Billick said. “Yeah, there had to be some apprehension and I think he laid that to rest, even for himself, any hesitation, if there was any at all, that he is ready to go.” … Linebacker Dan Cody was expected to operate as the situational pass rusher on third downs, but was a somewhat surprising deactivation Sunday. “That’s the coaches’ call,” Cody said. “You can’t complain about it or be upset. You just have to keep working hard and show them that you deserve to be out there.” … When asked what winning the first game meant in terms of gauging the team’s outlook, Billick replied: “If you win, you hope a lot. If you lose, nothing at all.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.