Team is short on change with two aged nickel backs


THE GAME plan was for the Ravens to get a combined 16 games of the regular season out of veteran nickel backs Deion Sanders and Dale Carter.

The Ravens couldn't even get a series out of Carter in a preseason scrimmage, so the game plan has changed a little.

Camp Cream Puff has become even more of a haven for the aged and the weary.

Carter is expected to miss two weeks because of a deep bruise just below his knee. He suffered the injury during a special teams drill Saturday against the Washington Redskins.

It wouldn't be of much concern, but Carter, 35, hasn't played for a year and a half because of various injuries, including a blood clot in his lungs last season.

That leaves the Ravens with only one experienced player at that position, and that's Sanders, 38 as of yesterday, who missed seven games last season with hamstring and foot injuries.

The rest of the other guys are a bunch of who's whos.

"We just don't have the numbers," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said of his secondary. "We don't have the depth. Most teams have 10 players on the roster who can play, and right now we know of seven, and there is competition for the other spots."

Carter was splitting time with Sanders at nickel back, but second-year player Calvin Carlyle will get most of Carter's practice reps now.

At 5 feet 11 and 186 pounds, Carlyle possesses speed and a physical style of play. Those attributes, along with his ability to play both cornerback and safety, will probably earn him a spot on the roster. Jamaine Winborne, a second-year player out of Virginia, is also in the mix.

But the Ravens will play it even more cautious than they usually do as far as training camp practices.

The Ravens have one of the most talented secondaries in the league, if not the most talented. They have starting Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle. Both are strong and fast enough to play in press coverage, and both have good recovery speed. The Ravens also have last year's defensive Player of the Year and one of the league's top playmakers at safety in Ed Reed.

At one point, Carter was one of the best cornerbacks in the league and Sanders was one of the best cover cornerbacks to ever play the game.

But Carter and Sanders are at the ends of their careers. Entering his eighth season in the league, Rolle has the reputation of being fearless, but also fragile. You can bet he'll see a lot of sweeps coming his way this season.

So, the key word here is rest. Ryan and coach Brian Billick want old, but fresh legs during the regular season.

"With Deion, it's two practices on, one off," Ryan said. "That's being prudent. Right now, he feels great, but we need him to be healthy throughout the season.

"Brian has put it on the individual," Ryan said. "If a guy needs a day off, just ask for it. "We gave Samari off [Monday] and Chris off [yesterday]. These guys know their bodies better than the rest of us. There is no question we have super talent on the back end, actually it's fantastic, but we have to keep healthy and our numbers up."

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