Baltimore Ravens running back Chester Taylor passed his first test last week, proving that he could handle the load as the featured back in the Ravens' run-dominated offense. Sunday, he faces a sterner test when he lines up against the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles, behind an offensive line that will be missing one of its key pieces, Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden. Ogden is out with a hamstring injury.
"J.O. is a big part of the offense; he's a real vet, he's made it to a lot of Pro Bowls," Taylor said. "But like we've been doing all year, when somebody goes down, we have backups that can step up and make plays. That's what we need out of [backup tackle] Ethan Brooks. I believe he can get the job done."
That's the same attitude the Ravens (4-2) have taken with the loss of leading rusher Jamal Lewis, who is serving the second half of a two-game NFL suspension for violating the league's drug policy.
Lewis is out, so Taylor, a third-year back from Toledo, is in.
The Ravens began preparing for the possibility of playing without Lewis during minicamp, and Coach Brian Billick repeatedly expressed confidence in Taylor's ability to fill in for Lewis. Taylor had been very effective in a limited role; he played primarily in third-down situations last season, and he finished second on the team with 63 carries and 276 yards. Through the first five games, Taylor averaged more yards per carry (5.9) than Lewis (4.7).
The biggest question was how Taylor would perform in an expanded role. He had never had more than 10 carries in a game in his professional career prior to last Sunday. Taylor had 21 carries for 98 yards in last week's 20-6 win over the Buffalo Bills.
"We talked last week how the concern was, how will he hold up for the entire game with all the carries he will have?" Billick said. "That was one of the things that we didn't know about Chester. Now we've done that, and we know he holds up magnificently. Musa [Smith, another reserve back], as well, in roles that they've been asked to carry.
"We have an increased comfort zone, not that we didn't before, but at least we know for sure that they can hang on to that. Both played very, very well, and although they have different styles of play, they proved that we can stay in the profile we've chosen."
Against Buffalo, the Ravens ran the ball on 33 of 56 offensive plays (59 percent). In the first five games with Lewis, rushing plays accounted for 57 percent of Baltimore's offensive plays.
Taylor (5 feet 11, 213 pounds) isn't as big as Lewis (5-11, 245), and he has yet to break the kind of big run that has become one of Lewis's trademarks. Taylor has only four runs of longer than 20 yards in his career.
"[Taylor] has that good quickness," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson told reporters in Philadelphia this week.
"He has good vision as far as running the football. He's not a big back, although he did break some tackles against Buffalo. He's a nifty back. I can see why they have confidence in him, both him and Smith. They played well against Buffalo, a good defensive front, too."
Lewis has been at the Ravens' training facility this week, working out on his own, and he's offered some encouragement to Taylor. ("He just tells me to keep doing my thing," Taylor said.) Lewis will re-join the team on Monday, and Taylor will return to his role as the backup.
"I just try to take every advantage I can, so when Jamal does come back, I can still get in the game," Taylor said. "I want to take every opportunity I can."
Ravens Note: The Ravens placed wide receiver Devard Darling, a third-round pick out of Washington State, on the injured reserve list with a heel injury, bringing an end to an injury-marred rookie season.
The Ravens signed third-year tight end Darnell Dinkins to the active roster off of the practice squad to fill Darling's roster spot.