Ravens' Powell eager for second beginning Injury shortened LB's rookie year

April 04, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Craig Powell will always remember his first year of professional football, although he would prefer not to experience a season like it again.

The surgical scars on Powell's right knee tell the downside of the story. A year ago he had completed a fine collegiate career as a linebacker at Ohio State and was the first player drafted by the Cleveland Browns--the team he idolized as a kid growing up in nearby Youngstown.

Three games into his rookie season, Powell got a taste of how fragile a football career can be. While running downfield to cover a kickoff against the Kansas City Chiefs, Powell felt and heard his knee pop, then went down with the first serious injury of his life. Doctors repaired the torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Powell, who has been rehabilitating the knee for the past four months and reported to the Baltimore Ravens' training complex yesterday to take part in the team's off-season weight and conditioning program, is out to repair his career.

The Ravens are projecting him as a starting outside linebacker. Powell, 23, needs to justify those expectations, starting at the two-week minicamp after this year's draft. The minicamp opens on April 26.

Powell looked trim and strong yesterday as he combined weight lifting with agility drills.

"It's been a very interesting year. I'm just glad I'm coming back. Your career can end on one play," said Powell, 6 feet 3, 240 pounds. "I'm dealing with it pretty well, going hard every day, trying to get the knee back to 100 percent, so I can come back and play at my full ability.

"They are busting my butt. Fortunately, I haven't had a setback. That's a blessing. I just hope to keep moving forward."

Powell is used to moving on fast forward. At Ohio State, he earned the nickname "Super Collider," because of his explosive quickness and penchant for running down ball carriers on the Buckeyes' kickoff coverage team. In three seasons at linebacker, he started 33 games, recorded 205 tackles, forced eight fumbles and collected seven sacks.

He decided to enter the NFL draft a year early. He was the 30th player selected overall and signed a multi-year contract that paid him $635,000 as a rookie.

Then, he took that bad step against the Chiefs, and his high hopes were dashed temporarily. After that, he watched the Browns slide to a 5-11 finish.

"That was very tough," Powell said. "First of all, you want to get out there and play. Coming to practice every day and not being able to contribute was very tough. And nobody likes to lose. I'm going to try and change that this year."

fTC Powell should get every opportunity, since the Ravens' linebacking corps is among the team's thinner units. Former starter Gerald Dixon has signed with Cincinnati. Carl Banks has been released and probably will not be re-signed by Baltimore. Ten-year veteran Pepper Johnson remains the anchor inside. Look for the Ravens to draft a linebacker and/or trade for one to bolster the group.

Head trainer Bill Tessendorf likes Powell's chances. Powell has regained full range of motion in the knee, about 70 percent of its strength, and is ready to resume a strenuous running schedule.

"What I saw today looked pretty good," Tessendorf said. "He's got a little [muscle] atrophy yet. The biggest thing to work on is physical skills. We'll have to see how much he can do in minicamp. For training camp [in July], we expect him back at a hundred percent, or very close to it.

"He's going to have some rust in him, because he missed two and a half months of the season. But I think we'll see something very comparable to what he had going into last season. He's had an aggressive rehab. We're anticipating a full recovery."

That would help Powell erase the memories of a promising rookie year gone sour.

"I think the quickness is still there. I think I'll be better," Powell said. "I'm just lucky to be getting back. If I could start, that would be icing on the cake."

Pub Date: 4/04/96

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