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The Ravens are not sure whether five-time Pro Bowler LaDainian Tomlinson will be able to play this Sunday, but the Chargers certainly don’t have a drop-off when Darren Sproles comes in the game.
Tomlinson injured his ankle in Monday night’s win over the Oakland Raiders and has been wearing a protective boot on his right foot all week, according to reports out of San Diego.
The nine-year veteran will likely be a game-time decision, but the Ravens are preparing as if he will play.
“You expect all their guys – until you hear different – you always go into the game expecting them to go and go 100 percent,” said Baltimore defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. “It’s the NFL. He’s a great running back. The thing about it – they’ve got a couple other guys that are pretty good.
“Sproles is an outstanding back himself. He can run it and catch the ball. I think their whole group are good backs.”
Sproles, who is four years younger than Tomlinson, would get the start if Tomlinson cannot go. Sproles logged 23 rushing yards and 43 receiving yards against the Raiders, but perhaps the most telling statistic is that he scored the clinching touchdown with 18 seconds on the clock while Tomlinson watched from the sideline.
“This last Monday night, the bottom line is [on] their last drive Sproles really took control of the game,” said linebacker Ray Lewis. “Our job is to make sure he doesn’t get started.”
Tomlinson has earned just about every possible individual accolade available in the NFL, but some pundits have been calling for Sproles to surpass him on the depth chart.
In 2008, Sproles totaled 330 yards and one touchdown on 61 rushes for a 5.4-yard average. He added 29 receptions for 342 yards and five scores, highlighting his versatility.
Regardless of who starts, the fact that both players are small in stature and slashing-types of players makes some of the preparation lighter for the Ravens’ defense.
“They’re the same two people,” Lewis said. “If you’re playing a totally different back, a bruiser and then a quick slasher [it would be different]. Both of these guys are slashers, both of them are game breakers. They just really want to get the ball in their hands. From there, they run the same type of plays with them. They don’t really change their package at all.”
With Tomlinson in the lineup, Sproles does his worst damage in the return game, where he averaged 34.0 yards on five kickoff returns in Oakland.
Defensive tackle Trevor Pryce, who played Tomlinson twice a year from 2001-05 as a member of the Denver Broncos, respects what both backs can do and has a formula for stopping the duo.
“What you don’t want to do is lose your gap control,” Pryce stated. “If you stay where you are no matter where the ball shows up, and not try to do too much, you have a chance. I’ve played against L.T. many times – even when you think you have a chance, you really don’t. He’s a special back.
“Sproles, I don’t know much about him, but watching him on tape is like watching a Madden game. It’s interesting, if nothing else.”