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Rolle's return would be timely for Ravens

The Baltimore Sun

Samari Rolle is expected to play in the Ravens' game against the Houston Texans on Sunday. What he can't predict is how his surgically repaired neck will hold up.

Despite being limited in practice yesterday, Rolle said he hopes to play in Houston for the first time in seven weeks. But the 11th-year cornerback is understandably cautious about testing his neck and being susceptible to suffering even further damage.

"Yes and no," Rolle said when asked whether he was looking forward to his first physical contact since suffering a bulging disc in his neck in the team's 28-10 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 21. "Yes and no. But definitely just to be back there, I'll be looking forward to it."

Rolle's likely return - widely welcomed by his teammates and coaches - coincides with a matchup against Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, considered one of the best in the NFL.

Sunday's contest is the first of what could be a challenging stretch for the Ravens' secondary.

After dealing with Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, the unit will meet wide receiver Plaxico Burress, quarterback Eli Manning and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Nov. 16. A week later, quarterback Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles' third-ranked passing attack visit M&T; Bank Stadium.

"It's going to be a big help getting Samari back," cornerback Fabian Washington said. "We could definitely use that veteran leadership. I can't wait to see him out there Sunday."

The first task involves trying to contain Johnson, who ranks first in the NFL in receiving yards with 834 and second in receptions with 60.

Possessing prototypical size at 6 feet 3 and 223 pounds, Johnson has used his frame to become a huge target, converting 73.3 percent of his catches (44 of 60) into first downs.

Johnson is not just a possession receiver. The 2002 Big East Conference champion in the indoor 60-meter and outdoor 100 races, Johnson has registered 10 catches of 20 yards or more and averaged 13.9 yards per reception.

Phrases such as "beast," "man-child" and "total package" were used in reference to Johnson.

"He's at the peak of his game," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "He's a man playing with boys. A good defense has to show up on Sunday or he's going to show why they call him the man-child."

Johnson shrugged off the accolades, saying he does not consider himself the best receiver - yet.

"I've always said that I would never consider myself the best until I put up numbers," he said during a conference call yesterday. "I haven't put up a 1,500-yard season or anything like that. That's what all the elite receivers do. I haven't done that yet."

Houston coach Gary Kubiak said Johnson reminds him of a wide receiver Kubiak watched when he was the quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers in 1994.

"As a worker, he reminds me of Jerry Rice," Kubiak said. "I was in San Francisco with Jerry, and I watched how he went about his business every day and how he practiced. That's the way Andre works."

Opposing defenses have implemented a variety of schemes to limit Johnson's opportunities, including jamming him at the line of scrimmage and sliding a linebacker to take away the inside routes.

Johnson, who said he frequently hears defensive players point out his pre-snap position on the field, said the Minnesota Vikings tested his patience Sunday by covering him with two players.

"It affects your game," he said. "It definitely frustrates you, but you just have to keep playing and let the game come to you."

A Ravens secondary without cornerback Chris McAlister (right knee) and a rusty Rolle, who has not played in the past six games, would seem to be a convenient target for the NFL's fifth-ranked passing offense.

But coach John Harbaugh said getting Rolle back should immediately enhance the pass defense, which is ranked fourth.

"It's always good to have all of your good players back," he said. "Samari Rolle's a tremendous corner. ... He's going to make us better."



Sunday, 1 p.m.

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Line: Ravens by 1

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