Morris in running for job with Ravens Former Steelers RB eligible to play Oct. 13

TE Mitchell interviews

September 19, 1996|By GARY LAMBRECHT | GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN STAFF

The Ravens stepped up their search for offensive help yesterday, when they worked out free-agent running backs Bam Morris and Ricky Ervins and interviewed free-agent tight end Johnny Mitchell.

Morris and Ervins worked out for coach Ted Marchibroda, vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome and team owner Art Modell in the morning. Mitchell spent the afternoon visiting with team officials, including Marchibroda and Newsome.

Mitchell and tight end Eric Green, who visited the Ravens on Tuesday, could work out here next week.

"They both had good workouts," Newsome said of Morris and Ervins. "They both looked like football players out there."

Morris has not played any football lately. He has been out of the game since the Pittsburgh Steelers cut him before training camp, after he pleaded guilty to a marijuana possession charge on June 26. That followed his arrest three months earlier outside of Rockwall, Texas, where police reportedly found six pounds of marijuana in his car.

Morris had been told by the NFL that he would have to serve a four-game suspension upon signing with a new team. Morris appealed that ruling, and the league informed the Ravens yesterday that Morris could play his first game on Oct. 13, pending medical clearance.

After being selected in the third round of the 1994 draft by Pittsburgh, Morris, 6 feet, 245 pounds, enjoyed two productive seasons with the Steelers. He rushed for 1,395 yards, averaged 4.0 yards per carry, scored 16 touchdowns and played a key role in Pittsburgh's drive to the Super Bowl last year.

"I spent some time with him [Morris], and I'm not going to pre-judge him," said Modell, whose team lost defensive tackle Larry Webster to a one-year substance abuse suspension last month. "I'm a great believer in giving a guy a second chance. I take great pride in my record of rehabilitating people in this organization."

Ervins, 5-7, 195, has spent five years in the NFL, and played with San Francisco sparingly in 1995 after four seasons in Washington. Ervins has rushed for 2,114 yards and eight touchdowns, and caught 117 passes for 870 yards in his career.

Marchibroda prefers Morris, and said Ervins would be a "stopgap" solution to the Ravens' running game problems. The Ravens are averaging 3.4 yards per carry behind 34-year-old Earnest Byner and the recently benched Leroy Hoard -- who a source said is in danger of being cut, should the team sign a new back.

Quarterback Vinny Testaverde leads the team in rushing touchdowns with two.

"If Bam was here, he would be the featured back," Marchibroda said. "He looked good today."

Newsome said he felt the same way about Mitchell, after spending some time with him at the Ravens' complex. Over four seasons with the New York Jets, Mitchell, 6-3, 240, caught 158 passes for 2,086 yards and 16 touchdowns. New York, which drafted him in the first round in 1992, released Mitchell earlier this year because of salary-cap concerns and the emergence of Kyle Brady.

"He's a talent. He has the total package," Newsome said of Mitchell.

Marchibroda said Mitchell was a fine pass catcher, but said he prefers the all-around ability that the 280-pound Green provides in the receiving and blocking games. Green spent five mostly outstanding seasons in Pittsburgh before playing in Miami last year.

"I've always liked Green a lot," Marchibroda said. "If he's anything like he was in Pittsburgh, he'll be a big help. He was the best in the business at one time with them, certainly as good as anybody."

To sign a running back and/or a tight end, the Ravens would have to address salary cap concerns. In addition to Hoard, third-year tight end Harold Bishop might be released to clear some money, and Newsome said he is looking at restructuring some contracts to make salary cap room, as well.

One restructuring target could be veteran safety Stevon Moore, who has a salary cap number of $1.77 million.

NOTES: With linebackers Mike Croel and Mike Caldwell ailing with knee injuries, the Ravens are eager to re-sign sixth-round draft pick Dexter Daniels to their practice squad. The Ravens have allowed nine touchdowns, 5.3 yards per play and 4.3 yards per rush. They also have surrendered 59 of their opponents' 74 points in the first half.

Pub Date: 9/19/96

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