Antonio Langham remembers the look in Donny Brady's eyes.
Two months ago, after a disastrous outing at right cornerback in a loss at San Diego, Brady had been benched by the Ravens. With that stroke, the third-year player who had made the team as a long-shot free agent in 1996 and outworked his competition to become a starter, gave way to the newly acquired Eugene Daniel.
Thus began the dreaded transition for any player. From starter to backup. In Brady's case, from cornerback to extra defensive back, from regular defense to the dime package.
"Donny was real down at first. You could see it in his eyes," recalled Langham, a fourth-year cornerback. "It's tough on anybody who gets demoted. It's real tough at first for anyone to accept that. But you can't stop fighting, and Donny has never stopped. He has too much pride."
The Ravens may have relieved Brady of his job, but they certainly haven't broken his spirit.
For example, check out Brady's work on special teams. Besides becoming a dependable part of the kickoff coverage unit, Brady has worked diligently at fine-tuning his assignment as a "gunner" in punt coverage -- one of the uglier, more unheralded jobs in football. Brady lines up wide and fights through a double-team as he runs downfield, trying to reach the opposing punt-return man first.
Check out the results. With four games left in the season, Brady has recorded 12 special teams stops. That leaves him only four tackles shy of team leader Bennie Thompson.
Tomorrow's game against Jacksonville promises to be a busy one for Brady. Besides his special teams assignments, Brady will he helping the Ravens shore up their banged-up secondary by playing more defense than he has played in the last two months. With Daniel (hamstring) out of action, Brady will be covering either Jimmy Smith or Keenan McCardell on the outside whenever the Jaguars turn to their often-used three-receiver set.
"I want to show people that I can still make some plays, that they can still count on me," Brady said. "The tables turned on me this season, and I've been hoping to get another chance. I don't like to consider myself a backup."
Brady knows a little about setbacks. After a fine collegiate career Wisconsin, he failed in his first NFL tryout with the Cleveland Browns in 1995, then signed with Saskatchewan of the Canadian Football League, where he played for about three weeks before getting released in the fall of that year. He landed again in Cleveland, as a special teams contributor for the season's final two games.
Brady, 24, followed the Browns to Baltimore, where he made the team as a free agent in 1996, eventually winning the starting cornerback job opposite Langham.
After an inconsistent year, Brady spent countless off-season hours honing his strength and conditioning at the team's Owings Mills facility. But a shaky preseason gave way to a rough September, which caused the Ravens to sign Daniel, a 14-year veteran. And after Brady got burned for two touchdown passes by San Diego's Tony Martin in a 21-17 loss, the Ravens made the change.
"It definitely was tough to take," Brady said of his demotion. "I worked hard for [the job], and I wanted to keep it. I just dealt with it. I look at it as another learning experience, another step in my career. I'm still young, still learning."
"Maybe [Brady] was pressed into playing a little bit before he should have been, but Donny just keeps going and keeps working hard in practice, which is how he first earned the chance to be a starter," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said.
"He's been out-working a lot of people on special teams, which tells you something about his character. Now, he's getting a chance to showcase himself a little more this weekend. He's been starving for the chance. Hopefully, he'll make good on his opportunity."
NOTES: Jaguars LB Kevin Hardy pulled a hamstring at Wednesday's practice, and is listed as questionable for tomorrow's game. Ravens WR Michael Jackson (back) did limited work at yesterday's workout, while fellow receiver Jermaine Lewis (ankle) had one of his better practices in recent weeks. Jacksonville QB Mark Brunell is rated third in the AFC. In 10 games, Brunell has thrown for 2,153 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has thrown only five interceptions in 294 attempts. Ravens LB Peter Boulware is tied for second in the AFC with 8 1/2 sacks. Teammate DE Michael McCrary is tied for third with eight sacks.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars
Site: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.
When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Jaguars by 8
Series: Jaguars lead 3-0
Pub Date: 11/29/97