Gardner pays back Bills for release Homecoming sweet for Ravens fullback

August 24, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Fullback Carwell Gardner made his statement the first time he touched the ball last night, on the first play from scrimmage of the Ravens' 37-14 rout of the Buffalo Bills.

It was a simple dive play, behind strong blocks by center Steve Everitt and right guard Wally Williams. Gardner took a handoff from quarterback Vinny Testaverde and powered his way up the middle for 16 yards.

From that point, the Ravens' offense sensed good things would happen, and Gardner sensed his homecoming would be sweet.

The Ravens built a 20-0 halftime lead with their first team, partly due to the way Gardner broke down the Bills' defense. He rushed five times for 36 yards, averaging 7.2 per carry. He threw a few choice blocks. He even made the tackle on an interception return by Buffalo.

The preseason ended with a bang for Gardner. He reaffirmed his role as the Ravens' top fullback -- at 6 feet 2, 240 pounds, he is their only true fullback -- and he did it at the expense of the Bills, a team that gave up on him after he spent his first six seasons there, averaging a mere 30 carries a season.

"When I was a fullback in Buffalo, they didn't need a fullback in their one-back offense," Gardner said. "Here, in a two-back offense, they've given me an opportunity to play, and I have to step up. I've still got to get some plays down, but it's coming to me."

The Ravens signed Gardner on the second day of training camp for veterans, and he immediately set about complementing a backfield of Leroy Hoard, Earnest Byner and Earnest Hunter with his physical presence and multiple skills. Through four preseason games, he rushed 10 times for 69 yards and caught seven passes for 55 yards.

"We didn't have a fullback before. Now, we have a fullback," said coach Ted Marchibroda, who coached Gardner when he was the offensive coordinator with the Bills in 1990 and 1991. "What he has brought to us is toughness. What we saw tonight is what we've seen the whole preseason."

Before last night's game, Gardner learned that he would carry the ball on the first play. That 16-yard burst roused the rest of his offensive teammates.

"When that happens, it makes the offense feel like we can dominate," wide receiver Michael Jackson said. "When you open up by going right up the gut of a team, it sets the stage for your whole offense. Plus, you've got to remember that he was running with a purpose out there."

Gardner still has a few friends on the Bills, and he said he prepared for the game with the natural motivation that comes with playing against the team that has let you go. But he added that he went out of his way not to talk too much trash while the Ravens were manhandling Buffalo in every phase of the game.

"It was either do something or get laughed at out there," Gardner said. "I wanted to keep my mouth shut on the field because this is a four-quarter game. Now, I'm going out to the parking lot to give it to them."

Pub Date: 8/24/96

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