Learning to lead

The Baltimore Sun

There was a moment last week when Ravens safety Dawan Landry slammed into running back Cory Ross during a rushing drill, eliciting a cry of "Yeah, Landry!" from someone standing on the sideline.

It's unclear who was behind the praise, but Landry can be certain the source was not defensive backs coach Mark Carrier.

"I still treat him like a rookie and keep him low," Carrier said with a chuckle. "I don't beat him up, but I give him the least amount of praise. I've told him, 'You're stuck with me, and I'm going to ride you until they tell me not to.' "

Though another player might chafe at such disrespect, Landry takes the critique in stride, laughing heartily when told of Carrier's comments.

"It's been like that since Day One. He never gives me credit for anything," he said. "Maybe two days ago, I made a good play on an interception, and he said, 'This is the first time I'm putting "Great play" on your grading sheet.' That was my first time in three years. I was like, 'Damn, Coach.' "

Before four-time Pro Bowl selection Ed Reed (shoulder) was activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list Saturday, Landry - at age 25 - had filled Reed's role as the elder statesman of the safeties.

Jim Leonhard is two months older and has one more year of NFL experience than Landry, but this is Leonhard's first time in defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's complex system. Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura were prized acquisitions in April's draft, but they are rookies.

"He's unbelievably knowledgeable about the game," Nakamura said of Landry. "He's helped all three of us a ton. He just seems to know every answer to every question."

Landry said he is still growing accustomed to his role as the sage of the secondary.

"Yeah, it kind of feels weird because I'm a young guy, but compared to the rookies, I am pretty much the oldest one out there," Landry said. "Those guys come to me asking questions and stuff like that. I've been there, so I know what they're going through right now. It just feels good to help those guys out."

A fifth-round pick in 2006, Landry carved out a successful rookie campaign with 69 tackles, three sacks and a NFL rookie-best five interceptions. Last season, Landry registered a career-high 82 tackles but collected just one sack and zero interceptions.

"It's just the ups and downs of the season in the league," he said. "You can't lean on what you did in the past. You've got to keep building each and every year. You never know what the stats are. I don't try to look into the stats or anything. I just try to go out there and give it my all."

Landry spent the offseason honing his pass-coverage skills (he's still smarting from the 39-yard touchdown pass Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson caught in last year's season opener), but Carrier said the biggest improvement has been Landry's confidence.

Carrier said Landry has grown more comfortable with being more vocal, a requirement of his position.

"These players expect you - during the course of the game - to make calls according to what you see," Carrier said. "If you know it, don't be afraid. Being a safety, that position tells you that you have to dictate. Even though you might feel uncomfortable because the guys on the outside [the cornerbacks] might be older than you, if you know what the call is and it's what it's supposed to be, you have to be strong in your convictions to know that we're going to do it this way and this is how we'll play. The guys will respect that, and I think he's understanding that."

That doesn't mean Landry engages in the kind of verbal sparring some of his teammates enjoy. When wide receiver Derrick Mason caught a pass and started racing downfield during practice last week, he gently taunted Landry by saying, "Come on, come on." Without saying a word, Landry matched Mason stride for stride and forced him out of bounds before he could get to the end zone.

Landry credits a good portion of his development to having the same position coach, defensive coordinator and teammates since his rookie year. That familiarity has allowed him to expand his range, he said.

"Being in the system for three years, it feels like I've almost mastered it," Landry said. "But I'm still learning each and every day. It just feels good."


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