Stills also gets his kicks playing on defense

The Baltimore Sun

Gary Stills has carved a reputation in his first eight years in the NFL as one of its most ferocious special teams players. In his first season in Baltimore last year, Stills set a franchise record with 44 tackles, second most in league history.

Many seem to forget that Stills, who made the Pro Bowl in 2003 for specials teams, can also play linebacker and defensive end.

"Fortunately for me, I've never programmed myself to just be a special teams player. I like to play defense," Stills said after practice yesterday at McDaniel College in Westminster. "I always wanted to evolve into that premier defensive player. I didn't have that chance to do so."

Stills will be counted on again to be the leader of the Ravens' special teams this season, but he is getting some time at linebacker these days with rookie Antwan Barnes sidelined for the second time during training camp with an ankle injury.

Even before Barnes got hurt in practice this week, Stills was used on defense in the second half of Monday's 29-3 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at M&T; Bank Stadium.

"I'm always looking for a spot on the defense, but at my age right now, I'm pretty sure I'm not the future of any defense," said Stills, 33. "If I can be a reserve player whenever they need me, I will greatly appreciate it."

If Barnes can't play in tomorrow's preseason game against the New York Giants, also at home, Stills might get more time at linebacker in obvious passing - and pass-rushing - situations.

Stills had a fumble recovery and a tackle in Baltimore's preseason opener.

"It lets you know and also lets the coaching staff know that they have more than just a special teams player, to have them get the confidence that whenever you need a reserve guy to come in and be that 12th man at linebacker or defensive end, I'm the guy to do it," Stills said.

Making the grade

Rookie quarterback Troy Smith completed just three of 11 passes for 34 yards, and one of his early attempts was nearly picked off against Philadelphia.

Smith, who won the Heisman Trophy last season at Ohio State before being picked in the fifth round by the Ravens, also scrambled for a 13-yard gain.

So what grade would Smith give himself?

"Probably about a C or C-minus," Smith said yesterday. "There were probably some things I could have done better, some things I did OK, but I could always improve."

Smith was happy that the Ravens didn't have any turnovers, but he also knows he could have made better throws. He will get another chance against the Giants, and might have to outperform second-year quarterback Drew Olson to generate much debate about the No. 3 job.

"I can't say it's going to be easier because it's a new obstacle, a new challenge. It's just something to be looking forward to," Smith said about the Giants game.

Sapp stepping up

Defensive back Gerome Sapp is looking to make more of a contribution to the Ravens' secondary this season. Sapp, who played in 15 games last year, will be the first player defensive coordinator Rex Ryan calls upon in the dime packages (six defensive backs).

"Rex, being the defensive mastermind that he is, his whole thing is to utilize the best talent that we have and to get it all on the field at one time. He's coming up with different packages to put me, as well as obviously Ed Reed and Dawan Landry, on the field at the same time," Sapp said.

Against the Eagles, he got a sack.

End zone

Wide receiver Derrick Mason sat out yesterday's practice with a shoulder injury, according to Ravens coach Brian Billick. ... The Ravens will hold their final training camp practice today from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. before resuming practice in Owings Mills on Tuesday. Practices in Owings Mills are closed to the public.

Sun reporter Brandon Hopp contributed to this article.

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