Ravens look back with regret, and forward to healing Fun, games, lots of rest occupy players' minds as they say goodbyes

December 23, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Defensive end Anthony Pleasant is looking forward to letting his sore ankle heal. Ray Ethridge is eager to hit the Cayman Islands and experience a Caribbean cruise. Offensive tackle Orlando Brown will take his annual trip to Hawaii. Rookie linebacker Ray Lewis will reflect on a rough season, soothe his banged-up body with some rest, then begin preparing for another grinding season.

An air of disappointment hung over the Ravens' locker room in the wake of yesterday's 24-21 loss to the Houston Oilers, as the team's inaugural season finished with a thud at 4-12. As the players looked back on a season of blown leads, failed comebacks, poor defense and too many losses, they talked with a sense of relief about finally being able to leave the ordeal behind.

"Ever since we got knocked out of the playoffs, I've been looking forward to getting it over with and coming back to start up a new season," veteran special teams standout Bennie Thompson said. just been hanging in there, doing the best we could. It's tough, but we've still got a job to do."

Doing that job over the long, five-month haul -- starting with training camp in mid-July -- is always a huge adjustment for rookies, and first-round picks Jonathan Ogden and Lewis have been no exceptions.

Ogden talked about fatigue setting in more than a month ago. Judging by the glowing reviews of coach Ted Marchibroda, who called him "the full package" yesterday, Ogden passed his rookie test handily.

Ogden, who turned in another solid job yesterday by opening holes consistently for running back Bam Morris and protecting Vinny Testaverde with another sack-free performance, breathed a tired sigh as a bead of sweat rolled down his face.

"I'm kind of glad it's over, because it's been a really long season for me," said Ogden. "I'm going to rest, get strong, get myself ready to play next season."

Lewis ended his rookie season with a flourish. After missing last week's game in Carolina with a hip pointer, he returned to lead all players with 10 tackles yesterday. He finished with a team-high 139 tackles.

Lewis showed his mettle by coming back quickly from a badly sprained ankle and a back injury. He missed only one game.

"Don't make me reminisce. I'm going to have flashbacks tonight," Lewis said about his injuries. "I'm just happy to be breathing.

"This year has been a great learning experience. The biggest plus on this team is, even though we're a losing team, everybody dTC stayed together and we never stopped fighting."

Players exchanged warm handshakes and holiday wishes throughout the locker room, asking each other about their vacation destinations and off-season plans thereafter.

Pleasant, whose season has been an uphill battle since he severely sprained his ankle on the year's first play against Oakland, was eagerly anticipating a return to his home in Richfield, Ohio, where he plans to begin his off-season quietly.

"You hate to end on a bad note, but now I've got an opportunity to strengthen my ankle again," he said. "And now, I can be a full-time father again."

Ethridge, who started his first pro game in place of injured wide receiver Derrick Alexander, will soon be relaxing on a ship in the Caribbean.

"Christmas would have been a little bit better with a win, but now it's time to go train in warm weather," Ethridge said with a wink.

Players also recognized another sign of the times. In the age of free agency, teams break up in more ways than one after each season, and the Ravens are no exception. Offensive tackle Tony Jones and Pleasant are two Ravens who might be playing in other cities next season.

Asked if this was his last game as a Raven, Jones said: "Probably so. I played today as if it were my last game. I had a lot of fun. I wish I was still out there. It's been a ball. I've enjoyed it. That's going to be the hardest thing for me to do -- readjust [to another team]. But these guys will always be my friends."

Pub Date: 12/23/96

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