Not playing like a rookie

The Baltimore Sun

Four starts into what some might call a solid rookie season, Marshal Yanda is still searching for the perfect performance.

"I'd say I still have a long, long way to go to be the player I want to be," the right offensive tackle said yesterday. "I've got a lot of learning to do. There's still stuff out there that I'm not 100 percent completely down with. I've just got to keep on improving, and it's going to be a long road. I need to get better every day. That's pretty much my goal."

It's the kind of statement that the Ravens have come to expect from the modest Yanda, who a year ago could barely contemplate making an NFL roster.

And yet Yanda, a third-round pick in April's draft, is about to make his fifth consecutive start Sunday when the St. Louis Rams visit M&T; Bank Stadium.

Yanda will face perhaps his toughest challenge when he lines up against the Rams' left defensive end, Leonard Little, who is the franchise's all-time leader in sacks with 74. Yanda is well versed in his opponent's talents.

"He's really, really fast," Yanda said. "So I have to work harder than heck in terms of keeping my shoulders back. This is really a game where if I start leaning and going back into my old habits, it'll get ugly."

If he needs a refresher course in how quickly things can change, all Yanda has to do is review his battle with Cleveland Browns linebacker Kamerion Wimbley two weeks ago.

After keeping Wimbley at bay for three quarters, Yanda strayed from his fundamentals and allowed Wimbley to post three of his game-high four quarterback hurries in the final period.

"I wasn't thinking, 'Hey, set your foot out, shoulders back and punch,'" Yanda recalled. "I was just thinking, 'Hey, I've got to block this guy.' I panicked. So that was a huge learning experience for me."

For the most part, however, the Ravens coaches have been pleased with Yanda's play.

"You'd expect more problems with a rookie right tackle than we've had," coach Brian Billick said. "You just keep getting through the games and realizing, 'Gee, the kid played well the whole game.'"

Injury report

Wide receiver Derrick Mason (gastroenteritis) and linebacker Gary Stills (knee) were upgraded and fully participated in practice yesterday.

Center Mike Flynn (sprained medial collateral ligament), offensive tackle Adam Terry (left ankle) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (sprained toe) did not practice, while tight end Todd Heap (strained hamstring), cornerback Samari Rolle (illness) and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (hyperextended toe) were limited.

For the Rams, return specialist Dante Hall (sprained ankle) has been ruled out, and wide receiver Isaac Bruce (hamstring) did not practice.

Questionable rule

Billick would like to take a closer look at a league crackdown on players who spike the football.

Twice in the past three games, Ravens players have been flagged for what officials ruled was a deliberate spike of the ball after the conclusion of a play. Wide receiver Demetrius Williams was cited in Week 3, and Mason got a similar treatment in Sunday's 9-7 win against the San Francisco 49ers.

"There's been an emphasis on those calls," Billick acknowledged. "The league made a real point of it the last two weeks, and you saw it. A little frustrating. The competition committee has to look at it, I think, and decide is that what we really want called."

Near miss

After blocking six punts at Florida International, Antwan Barnes nearly got his first as a Raven on Sunday.

The linebacker squirted through a gap between a 49ers tackle and guard and got his left index finger on a punt by Andy Lee. On Wednesday, Barnes chastised himself for allowing the punt to go through his hands.

"I wish I had gotten that," he said. "You just want to get out and make your contributions. My contribution was trying to block that punt."

End zone

If Rolle is healthy enough to play Sunday, he might find himself getting reacquainted with former teammate and Rams wide receiver Drew Bennett. "A lot of people think that he's just a tall, skinny, white-looking guy that's not athletic," said Rolle, who played with Bennett for four seasons with the Tennessee Titans. "But Drew played volleyball, and he was always a great athlete at Tennessee." ... Rookie Yamon Figurs said his sprained left shoulder is completely healed and that he should be ready to handle all of the kick and punt returns against St. Louis. "I just had to go through a little injury that I had," he said. "I got the gauze off, and I'm good now. It's a relief."

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