As the Ravens' coaching staff began poring over the film yesterday from Saturday night's 24-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium, coach Ted Marchibroda and owner Art Modell began looking toward the future and both were optimistic.
Despite being winless in three preseason games, the Ravens are beginning to shape into the team the coaching staff had planned to put on the field before training camp began in mid-July.
Injuries had forced the Ravens to put several rookies into the starting lineup, but the team is beginning to heal with the opener just two weeks away and the Buffalo Bills on the schedule Friday night in the last preseason game.
"We haven't had some of the people we were counting on ready," Marchibroda said. "But from here on out, they're going to play all the time. We made that decision before camp to hold some people out, but everybody will play Friday. I think we should be ready by the opener."
Modell said: "I remain optimistic and encouraged by the development of some of the younger players who will be with us for a while. Our play has been ragged at times, but it's like that throughout the league in preseason. Preseason is the time to use younger players, to develop them as they learn their trade. We've had some injuries, but we're beginning to pull it together. It's hard to tell at times because sometimes your second string is going against their first string and vice-versa. But I remain optimistic."
The Ravens got a big boost over the weekend when top draft pick Peter Boulware announced that he had reached a six-year, $18.5 million agreement with the team, ending a five-week holdout. Boulware will begin practicing with the team today and should see limited playing time against Buffalo.
"Boulware is the last piece of the puzzle," Marchibroda said. "We're at the point now where we're going to start polishing up. We're beginning to know each other. We've held some guys out for medical reasons, but we're going to practice as a full unit all the way now."
Starting safety Stevon Moore, who recently had arthroscopic surgery on his knee, missed the Eagles game but has been practicing with the first unit. Moore and tight end Eric Green were held out because the Ravens couldn't afford further injury, especially on Philadelphia's artificial surface.
But Marchibroda said he expects all his starters to play against Buffalo except for defensive end Michael McCrary, who also recently had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
The Ravens' first-string offense had problems against the Eagles on Saturday night, twice having big plays nullified by holding penalties, one a 30-yard touchdown pass from Vinny Testaverde to Michael Jackson in the second quarter. The Ravens had only 16 yards rushing in the first half from their regulars.
Eagles coach Ray Rhodes hinted after the game that the Ravens were strong on the outside with their tackles, Orlando Brown and Jonathan Ogden, but the Eagles put on pressure up the middle.
Eagles linebacker Ray Farmer turned the game around by returning a fumble 48 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter to open up a tight game. Eagles linebacker Mike Mamula hit quarterback Eric Zeier from behind for a 15-yard loss and Farmer picked up the fumble and ran the remaining yards for a touchdown with 2: 21 left in the third quarter that put the Eagles ahead 17-13.
Marchibroda wasn't too concerned. He pointed out that the Eagles still had their first-string unit on the field against the Ravens' second string at the time.
"If you can't get pressure with that matchup, then you have problems," Marchibroda said.
The Ravens' other pressing problems were in the secondary as both starting cornerback Donny Brady and nickel back DeRon Jenkins were victimized. The Ravens had similar problems last year at right cornerback, starting three different players.
"Donny is ahead of DeRon," Marchibroda said. "But I'm willing to see what happens with Donny. I'm not going to holler before I feel pain. DeRon [a second-round pick last year] has been a disappointment. He really has."
The Ravens' defensive line, as expected, played well, holding the Eagles to 129 yards of offense in the first half when the first string was on the field. The coaching staff also was impressed with Ray Lewis, who made his return after missing extensive time with a severe neck sprain.
Marchibroda said rookies Kim Herring, a safety, defensive end Chris Ward and outside linebacker Cornell Brown also caught his eye.
On offense, second-year receiver Jermaine Lewis continues to have a great preseason. Lewis, from the University of Maryland, returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and also had three receptions for 20 yards. Brian Kinchen, in a battle with Green for the starting tight-end job, had five receptions for 52 yards, and rookie fullback Kenyon Cotton also performed well with five receptions for 41 yards.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Buffalo Bills
Site: Memorial Stadium
When: 7: 30 p.m. Friday