Kinchen avoids the cutting edge Survivor: Battling for the Ravens' starting tight end job is familiar territory for a player who maximizes his talent.

August 07, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Every year a team tries to cut Brian Kinchen, whether it's the Miami Dolphins, the Cleveland Browns or the Ravens.

Kinchen, 6 feet 2 and 240 pounds, is not your prototype tight end. He is either too short, not big enough or too slow. Or he can't block or run deep routes . . .

It's always something.

"I've gotten used to it," said Kinchen. "Every year I get the runaround about my status, so I expect it. But if I get a level playing field, I expect to win."

Kinchen is a winner because he is a survivor of eight years in the NFL after being selected in the 12th round by the Dolphins in 1988. He is a perfectionist who has overcome his shortcomings with desire and technique.

How else could he have survived against such odds? Kinchen was the 320th player chosen in the draft.

The odds weren't in his favor entering the present training camp either. The Ravens had shopped around for a new prototype tight end during the off-season, and the closest they came was Johnny Mitchell, whose price tag became too high.

So the Ravens declared the position wide-open, with Kinchen battling Frank Hartley and Harold Bishop. It was no secret that the Ravens wanted Bishop because Bishop cost them a second-round draft pick this season after the Browns acquired him from Tampa Bay last year in a trade.

Still, with the first regular-season game only 2 1/2 weeks away, Kinchen has been best in camp. And when the Ravens played the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night in the preseason opener, guess who was the only tight end who had a reception?

Kinchen. Two for 32 yards.

Afterward, Kinchen still had not earned a glowing endorsement from coach Ted Marchibroda. "He just ran a route, made a play," said Marchibroda, shrugging off Kinchen's efforts.

"When I signed my new three year contract during the off-season, they told me it was my job to lose," Kinchen said. "Now I find out it's wide-open, and I'm competing for my old job. I've had the same tight-end coach for three years."

Kinchen, though, thrives on competition. He also has had a little luck. When the Dolphins drafted him, Kinchen practiced to become a long snapper.

On the first kickoff of the first preseason game, the long snapper was injured, and Kinchen made the Miami roster.

He also made a name for himself on special teams, but as a tight end, forget it. Kinchen had two receptions in his first two years. He also had to compete with Ferrell Edmunds, the former Maryland tight end who was the team's No. 3 draft pick in 1988.

Edmunds was bigger than Kinchen and faster -- but not necessarily better.

"I could outplay Ferrell Edmunds in my sleep," said Kinchen. "I don't even know if he is still in the league.

"When I left Miami, I went to Don Shula and asked him what skills I needed to improve on," said Kinchen. "He said I had all the skills, and I asked him why didn't I play? He said he wasn't getting into Ferrell with me."

Kinchen signed with the Browns in 1991, and most of his career has been as a long snapper. He had 75 receptions the last three seasons with the Browns, but former Browns coach Bill Belichick rarely threw to his tight ends.

Kinchen expects a bigger role with the Ravens and Marchibroda, who wants tight ends to make Kinchen a significant contribution to the offense.

But again Kinchen finds himself in a strange predicament. He is not as devastating a blocker as Hartley (6-2, 268 pounds) and cannot run deep patterns as fast as Bishop.

"Between the three of them, he does things more consistently than the others," said Ravens safety Eric Turner.

Kinchen tries to block. When the Ravens ran a toss around right end yesterday, he had great position until a defensive linemen crushed him, forcing him to do a backward roll.

The last time Kinchen was timed in the 40-yard dash was six years ago. He ran a 4.8. Not exactly Michael Johnson material.

"So what if I'm two inches too short and 25 pounds too light? You can throw all that stuff out the window," said Kinchen. "You have to have applied talent and applied skills. What good is it to run a 4.2 40 if you can't do it in the fourth quarter when you're tired? I'm a perfectionist, and it's always having to prove myself that keeps me sharp."

It's also keeping him No. 1.

"Brian played well the other night," said Ozzie Newsome, a former All-Pro tight end who is now the Ravens' vice president of personnel. "His key asset is his toughness. He is quick off the ball, and has mastered his techniques. Right now, he is the starter."

"I don't have anything else to prove," Kinchen said. "I've already accomplished my goals in life. If I quit tomorrow, then I've already proved my point because I've been in the league for eight years."

Pub Date: 8/07/96

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