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Knowing their Rolle, Ravens glad to get him back on field

The Baltimore Sun

Since the end of the 2006 season, Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle has wanted to establish a long streak of consecutive games played.

He has been unsuccessful, but Rolle will get another shot Sunday.

After missing the past six games with a neck injury that required surgery, Rolle will be in the lineup when the Ravens travel to Houston to take on the Texans.

Rolle can't wait to return.

"It's been tough watching, especially with Chris going down," Rolle said, referring to cornerback Chris McAlister. "I've tried to be involved every week, even though I haven't been playing. I've been going to the meetings and studying our game plans. Now, it's time to get back out there on the field."

In the past two years, Rolle has played, just not for long. It all began in 2006, when Rolle started all 16 games, but he had his worst season of the previous 10.

Rolle repeatedly got beat on long balls. He was usually a step slow and sluggish. No one could explain what was happening then, but Rolle found out a year later when he was diagnosed with epilepsy. He missed 10 games in 2007 partly because of his battle with the disease and partly because of a shoulder injury.

Rolle started the first two games this season, but he has missed the past six with a shoulder injury suffered late in the Cleveland game.

"This has been frustrating, really," Rolle said. "In 2006, I was sick. That's when all the epilepsy stuff started coming, but I didn't realize what it was. I had it in my mind to have a strong year in 2007, and that's when I learned I had epilepsy, and I got really down. But this year, I have been positive with a new coach and a new environment."

During those brief times he has been on the field in the past two years, Rolle has played well. He's not going to knock many receivers off the line of scrimmage, not weighing 170 pounds.

But when healthy, Rolle can run with just about any receiver. He has good closing speed and outstanding quickness. He can play outside in the regular defense or move inside to the nickel back position.

One Raven eager for his return is Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed. Without McAlister and Rolle in the lineup, Reed has to cover a lot of ground as the team's center fielder in the secondary.

"With Samari, you have a guy where I don't have to make as many checks because he knows the defense, and you know he is going to be in the right position," Reed said. "You know he is going to do his job. It's exciting to have him back.

"We have to be patient and go slow to make sure everything is OK with him. Hopefully, everything is, because I know how serious a neck injury is."

Rolle's return comes at the right time. The second half of the Ravens' schedule is much tougher than the first, and the Ravens will run into quality quarterbacks such as Eli Manning and Donovan McNabb as well as receivers such as the Terrell Owens and Houston's Andre Johnson.

Rolle gives the Ravens some versatility. He can play on one side of the field or cover any receiver all over it.

"We now have back one of our better cover guys," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He has experience and has been a big-play player for us for a long time."

Rolle's experience is priceless, and an extra set of eyes helps Reed.

"You try to teach the young guys not to get down on themselves," Rolle said. "Some games are going to be like the Colts game, and some games aren't. You just try to make more plays than you give up."

Overall, Rolle said, the secondary has played well, especially considering the injuries. He said that's because the Ravens have more depth than they had a year ago.

And now, after six straight games, they finally have their starting cornerback on the field again.

"Samari is as quick as a cat," Reed said. "He has lasted in this league by being smart and taking care of himself on and off the field. He is a technician, the kind of guy who puts himself in position to make plays."

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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