Morris seen reporting in shape Ravens await return, ending 4-game ban

September 16, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens officials, players and Bam Morris' mother expect the star running back to be close to playing shape when he reports to the team's Owings Mills training camp Monday, ending a four-game suspension.

The Ravens (2-1) will be in Memphis, Tenn., on Sunday to play the Oilers (1-1), and Morris is expected to join the team the next day. Ravens owner Art Modell has said he wanted Morris clean in mind, body and spirit when he returns to the team.

Morris began serving a four-game suspension on Aug. 25 for violating the NFL's policy on substance and alcohol abuse. The Ravens have required him to report at 250 pounds, which is about his ideal playing weight.

Morris did not return phone calls from Cooper, Texas, where he is staying with his mother, Marie, but she said her son had dropped 3 or 4 pounds within the past six days, and that he weighed 252. Morris is expected to return to Baltimore later this week.

She added that Morris has been running, lifting and swimming regularly with his older brother, J. C., a former running back at Texas Christian. Ravens officials have considered Morris' mother key to him returning to the club in shape.

"I'm a heavy person and so are a lot of people in our family," she said.

"I helped him out when he was in college, and I'm helping him out now. I'm preparing his food and I'm watching his workouts. He's eating nothing but baked potatoes and baked chicken. By the time he gets back to Baltimore, he might be down to 245 pounds."

"There is no question that she is the most influential person in his life," said Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel. "I think throughout all the different ordeals he has been confronted with, letting down his mother has been the most disappointing. She will be the driving force for him to stay on the straight and narrow. I don't think he wants to disappoint her again.

"I expect him to come back and adhere to the things Mr. Modell wanted him to do," added Newsome. "Do I expect him to play a full game right away? No. Do I expect him to contribute? Yes."

Morris' mother said the latest setback for her son has been difficult. The player reportedly tested positive for beer.

"I'm a believer," she said. "I believe that if you put Christ first, everything will be all right. When this happened, I didn't know how much I could bear. I was relieved to hear it wasn't drugs, but it was still a slap in the face. This time, though, I have seen Bam work hard; I mean, really hard."

Team officials were not allowed to discuss any type of football matter with Morris during the suspension, but he kept in daily contact with several players, one of whom was second-year middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

"He's looking real good. His spirit is always up," said Lewis. "He doesn't let too much stuff get him down. Sometimes, I don't think he realizes how much the guys love him."

"With him back in our offense, people aren't going to be able to sit back on Michael and Derrick [receivers Derrick Alexander and Michael Jackson]. They're going to have to bring their safeties up, and it's only going to make it easier on Michael and Derrick."

Modell said Morris will be weighed and tested yesterday on his conditioning. The Ravens' first game after Morris reports will be Sept. 28 against the San Diego Chargers.

"I met with Bam and his wife on the night of our last exhibition game against Buffalo," said Modell. "I told him the requirements and, if they are not met, I told him he would be cut. He knows I meant every word.

"I expect him to be in good enough shape where we will use him against San Diego, and the addition of him with Earnest Byner and Jay Graham gives us one heck of a combination."

There is no question Morris would give the team's running game a lift. On Sunday, the Ravens had only 63 yards rushing against the Giants on 21 carries, and have 281 yards for the season on 73 carries.

Some of the running game's problems can be attributed to an offensive line that has been hampered by injuries.

Morris gives the team a power runner in short-yardage situations. He had 737 yards rushing on 172 carries last season. He started the final seven games and rushed for 618; only the Detroit Lions' Barry Sanders had more yards rushing in that span.

"We've seen what Bam can do when he came back last year, but this time he'll be in better shape. What he accomplished last year was something special," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. "Initially, we want to make sure he still understands what we're trying to do offensively, and I'm sure he does.

"We understand that he's not going to be great right away. We're using Earnest now because he's the most dependable, and we use Jay to spell Earnest. We'll use Bam in a similar situation until he becomes ready.

"We've been able to come out of this at 2-1, and it's hard to say we would've had a better record with Bam. But at the beginning of the year, if you had asked would we be happy to start the year at 2-1, I would have had to say yes."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Tennessee Oilers

Site: Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn.

When: 1 p.m., Sunday

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Oilers by 3 1/2

Series with Ravens: Oilers lead, 2-0

Last meeting: Oilers won, 24-21, at Memorial Stadium on Dec. 22, 1996.

Pub Date: 9/16/97

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