It's becoming a standard process now. Second-year player Ray Ethridge never seems in the mix of receivers who are going to make the team and then the preseason starts.
Then Ethridge makes big plays.
Ethridge, a native of Pasadena City, Calif., has no guarantee of making the Ravens again this season, but he impressed head coach Ted Marchibroda with four catches for 35 yards and two kick returns for 89 yards in the Ravens' 21-20 loss to the New York Giants on Saturday night.
Ethridge was in a similar situation last season, but he had 12 receptions for 208 yards and an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown in four preseason games.
"Ray was one of the guys who stepped it up," said Marchibroda.
Ethridge, though, says the pressure is much less than a year ago.
He says his whole perspective of the game has changed after an incident last June when his daughter, Rayven, 6, almost drowned in a pool near his San Clemente home.
"She went to the bottom and was unconscious. She was rescued after mouth-to-mouth and CPR, but that changed my whole perspective on life, even football," said Ethridge. "At one point, I thought about quitting because I didn't want to leave her, I always wanted to be by her side.
"Even while she was in the hospital, I was by her side missing minicamp. It was her who asked me why I was still home, and she told me to get to camp.
"Now my whole life has changed," he said. "I used to take a lot of things for granted, I used to take a lot of chances, but not anymore. I'm trying to be a righteous person.
"I was in a much harder situation at this point last year, but I made it," he said. "I haven't gotten too comfortable, but this time around I'm competing against myself, to become more consistent.
"And if I make this team, I make it. Whatever happens is going to happen. The most important thing is that I have my family and we're closer together now than we've ever been."
Inexperience not uncommon
The Ravens' lack of depth will be their Achilles' heel during the 1997 season. But Ravens vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome said it's a problem throughout the league, a result of the recently imposed salary cap.
"It's all part of cap economics," said Newsome. "When you looked at Dallas the other night, you saw the problems they are having in their secondary. Most of the teams have the same problem in one position or another. Ours is at offensive line and linebacking."
The Ravens could start as many as three rookies on defense this season. Second-year middle linebacker Ray Lewis is the only linebacker on the team to have played in the NFL.
"The only thing I expect from the defense is that they'll be a whole lot better in November and December than in September. And that's when you have to win games," Newsome said.
Slow start for Jackson
Wide receiver Michael Jackson has not had the best training camp thus far, struggling to hold on to the ball in the scrimmage against the Philadelphia Eagles. He also didn't have a significant impact against the Giants in the preseason opener.
Jackson and Derrick Alexander are the Ravens' top two receivers. Last season, the two were one of just four receiving tandems to have more than 1,000 yards apiece.
While Alexander scored one touchdown and had four receptions for 49 yards in the Ravens' loss to the Giants, Jackson went widely unnoticed with one catch for 4 yards.
DTC L But Marchibroda said there is no reason to be concerned yet.
"No, we're not worried about Mike," Marchibroda said. "Over the course of the season, Mike is going to catch his fair share of catches, and so is Derrick. In just one game, you can't pass any judgment."
Vinson's stock rises
Tony Vinson, a "tweener" too big to play tailback and too small for a fullback, had a decent showing in Saturday's game. After playing at Towson University and trying to cut it on different teams and in different leagues -- including the World League last year -- he finally may be settling in close to home.
"I think Vinson's stock came up a little bit," Marchibroda said. "He ran rather well and just made a fine attempt on the special teams when he was in there also."
He had just 2 receiving yards on one reception, but carried twice for 19 yards, including a run of 15 yards that helped set up the Ravens' possible game-winning field goal late in the fourth period.
Marchibroda said that Steve Lee, Kenyon Cotton and Vinson are still the top three fullbacks.
"Nothing changes there," Marchibroda said. Vinson had to leave practice early yesterday after getting crushed by linebacker Shawn Banks on a running play when Vinson was to be the lead blocker.
Jets a good test
Marchibroda said he looks forward to playing against the New York Jets Friday at Giants Stadium. Even though the Jets had the worst record in the league last season, Marchibroda expects a different team with Bill Parcells as their new head coach.