Ravens make preseason grade Team's focus shifts to today's final cuts, opener vs. Raiders

August 25, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

With their first preseason behind them, the Ravens could not feel much more satisfied with their progress as the real season approaches.

The Ravens won three of four games, coming within a last-second field goal of a perfect August. The offense moved the ball consistently, averaging 26.5 points. The defense started strong and stayed that way, producing its best effort at Buffalo in Friday night's 37-14 victory.

In eight preseason quarters, the Ravens' first-team defense allowed only two touchdowns. Overall, the defense forced nine turnovers in four games.

The kicking game looks solid with All-Pro caliber talent such as kicker Matt Stover and punter Greg Montgomery. The return game looks exceptional, thanks to Earnest Hunter, Ray Ethridge and rookie sensation Jermaine Lewis.

With Baltimore's first NFL season in 13 years set to begin next Sunday at Memorial Stadium against the Oakland Raiders, the Ravens are eager to find out exactly how good they are.

Coach Ted Marchibroda rewarded his players by giving them the rest of the weekend off after the Buffalo rout. But tomorrow, a businesslike tension promises to mark the team's practice, as show time draws near.

"I feel we have a lot of veterans who are well-prepared to deal with all of the emotion this week," Marchibroda said. "They realize the opener is always a tough football game, regardless of who you play, because everybody is ready for the opener. I've always thought the opener is the toughest one to select a favorite in."

Today will not be a favorite of a handful of players from teams across the NFL. By 4 p.m., teams must make their final roster cuts to reach the mandatory 53 players. Five Ravens must go. Players exposed to waivers can be claimed by any team. Five rookies can be signed to the practice squad.

A Ravens official said the team is strongly considering parting with second-year defensive end Tau Pupua via injury settlement. Pupua has not played or practiced since breaking a bone in his foot early in training camp. Because of his injury, he cannot be released outright, but the Ravens can buy him out of his contract. He then would become a free agent.

Given that scenario, the Ravens would be left to make four cuts. Offensive linemen Spencer Folau and Lonnie Palelei are likely to be released, and the Ravens want Folau, a free-agent rookie from Idaho, to clear waivers so they can sign him to their practice squad.

The same goes for whichever two rookies are cut among running back Derrick Cullors, defensive tackle David Barnard, cornerback Dante Dowers and wide receiver James Roe. Barnard and Dowers appear to be the strongest candidates for release. Cullors opened some eyes during the last two preseason games, and there is a strong belief within the organization that Roe would be claimed, possibly by the Cincinnati Bengals, if he is exposed to waivers.

Keeping Roe would leave the Ravens with seven receivers, an unusually high number. But the presence of Lewis and the resurgence of Ethridge -- he finished the preseason with 12 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown, and also returned a punt for a score -- has crowded that position.

"These guys [who will be waived] aren't just competing here. They're competing with every other guy who is going to be released in the NFL," said Marchibroda, who still is looking for a tight end who is a deep threat and possibly a starting right cornerback. "We'll be watching the waiver wire very closely this week."

Marchibroda also will be watching his running back situation closely. His back-by-committee could see a change, since Leroy Hoard rushed for only 90 yards on a team-high 41 carries in the preseason. Marchibroda is considering starting Earnest Byner against the Raiders in Hoard's place.

"Leroy is a hard, powerful runner who hits the hole well, although he occasionally dances," Marchibroda said. "He also missed practice time after he hurt his knee against the Giants [in the second game]. We have to get him on track.

"We still don't have that one guy who can play the whole game. But both of those guys are veterans who will get the job done. They are both going to play no matter what, along with Earnest Hunter. There isn't one guy who is going to go through the season and be the man."

Marchibroda said he was most pleased with the improvement of the linebacker positions during the preseason. He cited the steady rise of veteran Jerrol Williams -- who came out of the Bills game with a slight neck injury -- and the outstanding games by Mike Croel (two sacks) and defensive tackle Dan Footman against Buffalo.

He also liked the progress the second-team defense showed Friday night, particularly rookie linebacker Dexter Daniels (three tackles, one forced fumble, one interception), defensive end Rick Lyle and defensive tackle Mike Frederick.

The defensive line depth figures to improve with the arrival of veteran James Jones. He is expected to sign a two-year contract today and begin practicing with the team tomorrow.

NOTES: Montgomery shook off a poor performance against Green Bay by averaging 41.4 yards on five punts against the Bills. . . . Third-string quarterback Scott Otis' first game action came Friday night during the last half of the fourth quarter. . . . Wide receiver Michael Jackson finished the preseason with 14 catches for 238 yards and three touchdowns, all team-highs.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

Next for Ravens

Regular-season opener

Opponent: Oakland Raiders

When Sept. 1, 1 p.m.

Site: Memorial Stadium

@4 TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

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