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Hartwell ready to face Ravens

August 13, 2005|By PAUL NEWBERRY

ATLANTA - Ed Hartwell circled this one on his calendar right away. Never mind that it's only the preseason.

Hartwell, Atlanta's new middle linebacker, can't wait to go against his old team when the Falcons host the Baltimore Ravens tonight. Try telling him that it's merely a chance to work out the kinks and get in shape for the games that really matter.

"There's going to be some great emotions," Hartwell said. "I'll be playing in the Georgia Dome for the first time with the Falcons, and I'll be facing my old team. You've got to be juiced up for that. I'm sure I'll have to calm myself down before the first snap."

He spent the last four years in the shadow of Ray Lewis, Baltimore's all-world linebacker. Now, Hartwell has a chance to shine as an outspoken leader of the Falcons' defense, his presence in the middle freeing up players such as four-time Pro Bowler Keith Brooking.

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"We have a lot of leaders on this team who lead in a lot of different ways," Hartwell said. "I'm more vocal. Some guys prefer to show it on the field. You need those different kind of leaders."

The Ravens need running back Jamal Lewis, who's coming off a tumultuous off-season. After surgery on his ailing right ankle, he spent four months in prison and two months in a halfway house for using a cell phone to try to arrange a cocaine deal in 2000.

Lewis reported to training camp only this week and won't play in the Ravens' preseason debut, even though it's in his hometown. The Ravens are taking a cautious approach with their former 2,000-yard rusher, who needs to regain his timing and power.

"I've had great seasons every year since I've been with the Ravens, and that should continue," Lewis said. "I don't think I'll do anything less."

The Ravens have two new coordinators, hiring former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel to spice up the offense and promoting Rex Ryan - the son of ex-NFL coach Buddy Ryan - on defense after Mike Nolan left to become San Francisco's head coach.

With Lewis sitting out, the Ravens are eager to get a look at receiver Mark Clayton, their first-round draft pick from Oklahoma.

"He's impressive," coach Brian Billick said. "He's picked up the offense very well in a short period of time. He'll be tested on Saturday at a different level."

Said Clayton, "It's my first NFL experience, my first NFL atmosphere. Without a doubt, I'm excited. I can't wait to get out there and compete."

The Falcons already have a game under their belts, beating Indianapolis in the Japan Bowl last weekend.

Their first-round pick, receiver Roddy White, gave his pro debut less-than-stellar reviews.

"I didn't do a lot of things real well," he said. "I've got to step it up this week against Baltimore."

Looking to give White a way to contribute while he learns the offense, the Falcons assigned him to kickoff returns in practice this week. The team would prefer to limit Allen Rossum - one of the league's best returners - to punts only.

"Rossy is an outstanding return man, but for his career and his longevity and for us throughout the season, if he could just be our punt returner and play in some of our nickel stuff (in the secondary), I think we would be better off," coach Jim Mora said. "He's not a big guy."

White has the potential to break things open on kickoff returns.

"He's big, he's physical, he's fast and he's pretty fearless," Mora said. "You want to find the ball in his hands some way because he makes plays. It will be fun to watch him back there."

Michael Vick is always fun to watch, though he isn't likely to do much scrambling against the Ravens. Two years ago, the Falcons quarterback broke his leg while playing Baltimore in a preseason game.

"It's ancient history to me," said Vick, who missed 11 regular-season games during his recovery. "It's something that I'm not thinking about and not even worried about. Ever since the day I stepped on the field, I haven't worried about getting hurt, and I won't do it on Saturday."

Hartwell won't play much against his former team, since the defensive starters are likely to get only 10 to 20 plays. He'll go at full speed as long as he can.

"Sometimes it's business," Hartwell said. "Sometimes it's personal."

Put this one in the latter category.

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