Mind clear, Testaverde is on mark Ravens quarterback gets fresh start here

April 29, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde takes the quick, three-step drop and throws a hard, high ball to Michael Jackson on a slant pattern between two defenders. It's a perfect pass.

One down later, Testaverde is back again, throwing a long ball to rookie wide receiver Curtis Brown on the post pattern. Bingo. Another nice ball.

"Vinny is throwing great," said Ravens wide receiver Andre Rison. "The first thing you notice about him is his confidence. It is 100 percent. His mind is totally clear compared to last season. He is no longer in limbo."

Testaverde may not have mastered the Ravens' new offense yet, but he is confident and excited about the 1996 season.

He is in a new city with a new head coach, an assistant who once played the same position and an offense that possibly can give a quarterback a lot of freedom.

"The new environment, the new atmosphere makes you feel younger," said Testaverde, 32, the 1986 Heisman Trophy winner. "I feel with Ted Marchibroda as the head coach and Don Strock as the quarterback coach, we've got a pretty good chemistry."

Testaverde has been on a crash course during the Ravens' 14-day minicamp. On Day 3 yesterday, he got more of a taste of the shotgun and no-huddle offense.

According to Strock, the Ravens will take pieces out of the Buffalo Bills', Indianapolis Colts', Miami Dolphins' and Cleveland Browns' playbooks to build the offense.

"So far, Vinny is doing great," said Strock. "He is a veteran and still has as much talent as anyone playing today. He still has a good throwing motion and picks things up pretty easily."

Thus far, the Ravens have changed little with Testaverde's throwing mechanics. Testaverde has changed his grip on the ball a little, and the Ravens have worked to improve his foot speed on play-action passes to his left.

"Anytime you switch offenses, there is always an adjustment because it's new," Testaverde said. "But they haven't told me anything like I'm holding the ball too low, or overstriding or understriding when I'm throwing.

"Maybe that happens in the summer camp, but right now we're learning more about the scheme than mechanics," said Testaverde. "And if we get to the point where I need to improve, I won't have a problem with that. I get along with anybody. Well, almost anybody."

Testaverde had a strained relationship with Browns coach Bill Belichick last season. During September, Testaverde was AFC Offensive Player of the Month.

After three straight losses in October, Testaverde was benched in favor of rookie Eric Zeier, which was an unpopular move among veteran players.

Even after Zeier struggled for three games, Belichick did not return Testaverde to the starting lineup until the second half of game No. 11. By then, the move to Baltimore had been announced and the lame-duck Browns lost four of five to finish 5-11.

Testaverde, though, had a career year, completing 241 of 392 passes for 2,883 yards and 17 touchdowns.

"I think the guy has been in some tough situations," Marchibroda said. "I don't know if it has always been Vinny's fault. I don't know if he has always had a proper supporting cast."

Testaverde has had only one bona fide quarterback coach since he has been in the league. Turk Schonert was his coach during Testaverde's sixth and final year at Tampa Bay, and even though Steve Crosby was the quarterback coach with the Browns a season ago, he also doubled as the offensive coordinator.

Now Testaverde has Strock full-time, and Marchibroda, who has tutored such quarterbacks as Jim Kelly, Sonny Jurgensen, Bert Jones, Roman Gabriel and Jim Harbaugh.

During the team periods in minicamp, it's Marchibroda who has taken Testaverde aside, giving him pointers in that soft, yet direct tone.

Both Strock and Marchibroda are former NFL quarterbacks.

"Talking to Eric Zeier, they tell me talking to Ted really makes a difference, and it's encouraging to have someone who played the position coach you," Jackson said. "That way, when you tell them something, they really know exactly how you feel."

The big question is, can Testaverde adapt to the no-huddle offense? It was a no-thrill, conservative and no-audibilizing offense in Cleveland. The approach in Baltimore is wide-open.

"Every quarterback wants the chance to run the no-huddle. You're the one who looks over the defense and says this is what we're going to run," Strock said. "We have a lot of confidence in Vinny."

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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