Neujahr may not play vs. Giants But injured center says 'family' can cope on solid offensive line

September 09, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens center Quentin Neujahr is questionable for Sunday's game against the New York Giants, but the rest of the offensive line seems to have answered any questions about its play so far this season.

Neujahr, in his third season, twice went down with a sprained right ankle in the Ravens' 23-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Memorial Stadium. He missed most of the second half.

Trainer Bill Tessendorf said X-rays of Neujahr's ankle were negative, and that there was not much swelling, which was a positive sign. He also said Neujahr's status would be evaluated daily.

"Some guy got thrown into the back of my leg," Neujahr said. "It's nothing that ice, time and a little aspirin won't heal. Far as I know, everything is just a little stretched. But it's very frustrating to have only six games to show the coaches what I can do."

If Neujahr can't play, the Ravens will go with the lineup that finished the game Sunday, which included left guard Leo Goeas at center and Ben Cavil at Goeas' spot.

The Ravens didn't miss a beat with Neujahr out of the lineup, finishing with 12 "pancake" blocks (putting a defensive player flat on his back) and 412 yards of total offense, including a record-setting, 12-play, 96-yard drive in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens had 303 yards in the opener against Jacksonville.

"That's been the story of this offensive line," Neujahr said. "Every time someone gets hurt, someone steps up, whether it's a young guy like Cavil or a veteran such as Leo. We're a family within a family. If one of us gets in a fight, all five of us are going to get into it."

In two games, the Ravens have silenced the critics who said their offensive line would be the weakest unit this season.

Those assessments were based on off-season moves that included the trade of left offensive tackle Tony Jones to Denver, losing center Steve Everitt to a free-agent contract with Philadelphia, seeing top guard/tackle reserve Herman Arvie retire because of a neck injury and the move of rookie left guard Jonathan Ogden to left tackle.

To complicate matters, the team lost two top reserves for the season, guard Sale Isaia and center Jeff Mitchell, in training camp because of knee injuries.

"I think one of the main reasons we've played so well is not just because we wanted to silence some critics, but because they questioned us as a group," Goeas said.

Goeas is one of the main reasons the group has succeeded. He was signed in the off-season from the St. Louis Rams to play left guard, but when Neujhar went down, coach Ted Marchibroda inserted Goeas at center.

Goeas had played center only once in the NFL -- in the second half of a meaningless game last year. He had only taken about 10 snaps in practice with the Ravens. But Goeas has seven more years of experience than first-year center Spencer Folau.

Goeas graded out fairly high in his effort against the Bengals.

"Leo did a fine job. We're very pleased," said Marchibroda, pointing out that the Ravens had 82 yards rushing in the second half against the Bengals, compared with 64 in the first half.

"Ted wanted to go with experience, hoping I wouldn't rattle, so I just had to wing it," Goeas said. "That's not to say I wasn't a little nervous, because I was at first. Then I got in a little groove."

All of the Ravens' linemen are in a physical groove. They love to pound and taunt players, especially 6-foot-7, 350-pound right tackle Orlando Brown and 6-6, 323-pound right guard Jeff Blackshear.

All they talk about is pancaking players. Brown, known as "Zeus," is the team enforcer and intimidator, a player who used to survive on brute strength, but who has become more of a technician. Blackshear, a.k.a. "Big Black," is second in command and was the team's most physical lineman a year ago.

When they all get a little hyper along with 6-8, 318-pound Ogden in the locker room before a game, they are a sight to behold.

"You just kind of get out of their way," Cavil said. "They get real hyped and start talking about some pancakes."

Then imagine this: Brown, Blackshear and 6-5, 285-pound tight end Eric Green all lined up on the right side and you're the defensive end.

"In that situation, you become more concerned with surviving than making a spectacular play," said Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary, who goes against Ogden every day in practice. "Just survive. It's not like those guys are big and soft like a lot of players in this league. They are big, physical, mean and aggressive. They have defensive linemen's temperament.

"All they talk about is pancaking people. They don't want to just make a hole, they want to flatten people. I got a lot of respect for those guys."

The style is contagious. Cavil has played in the past two games and has been impressive with his physical approach. Before coming to Baltimore, he played with the Eagles.

"This is the most physical group I've ever played with," Cavil said. "They want pancakes. I try to get me one to keep pace. Their physical style brings it out in me."

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