One on one, odds heavily favor Green

September 20, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

Eric Green is counting the number of NFL players who can stop him. He doesn't even need one finger, much less one hand.

"I always feel that putting me one-on-one with anybody is a mismatch," the Ravens' tight end said.

Anybody?

"Anybody."

Deion Sanders?

"He's too little."

A top linebacker?

"Too slow."

On the other side of the locker room, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis ponders Green's quiet boast.

"He has a great point there," Lewis said. "If you put a speed guy on him, he'll throw him around. And if you put a slow linebacker on him, he'll beat him.

"When push comes to shove, you have to put someone like me on him who has the speed and strength to fight him. But you can't fight with someone like Eric Green."

No, when you're talking about a 6-foot-5, 285-pound tight end, it's better to have him on your team.

The Ravens signed Green a year ago, stayed with him as he missed seven games with knee discomfort, then re-signed him after he underwent arthroscopic surgery in January.

Green, 30, is proving worth their wait.

After three games, he is third on the club with 14 receptions, one short of his total from last season.

Even more important, he's making the big plays that coach Ted Marchibroda wants from his tight end, the kind that Brian Kinchen rarely delivers.

Kinchen was third among AFC tight ends with 55 catches last season. He even averaged more yards per catch (10.6) than Green has thus far (10.5).

Still, there are reasons why Green is the starter, and Kinchen appears only in the two tight-end offense and as a long snapper.

Green has emerged as a go-to guy inside the opponents' 20 -- witness his fourth-quarter, 18-yard touchdown reception against Cincinnati and the interference penalty he drew to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Jay Graham last week against the New York Giants.

His 34-yard, fourth-quarter catch in that game exceeded Kinchen's longest play from last season, and was a critical play in the touchdown drive that brought the Ravens to within 23-21.

And then there's his blocking.

"What sets him apart is his explosiveness as a blocker," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel who was a Pro Bowl tight end.

"I could never be the type of blocker that he is. We don't concern ourselves when we have defensive ends over Eric Green's head. We feel like he can handle those guys."

Like Bam Morris, Green is a physical freak, a huge man with exceptional mobility. Newsome tells the Ravens' college scouts not to bother looking for a similar tight end.

Such a player doesn't exist.

"We have what you consider a prototype for a tight end," Newsome said. "He don't fit that."

Green is one to two inches taller and 40 to 45 pounds heavier than the prototype. He's third among active NFL tight ends with 29 touchdown receptions since 1990. But many still consider his career a disappointment.

Injuries are one reason, but Green also has a reputation for driving coaches crazy. Jimmy Johnson cut him last year after learning that he had missed 39 practices in Don Shula's final season.

It was difficult not to snicker when Green pronounced himself "the hungriest man in America" upon joining the Ravens last year. But he has yet to miss a practice this season, and all of his absences in training camp were excused.

"A lot of people around the league started to doubt his competitive spirit," Newsome said. "But he set out in his mind that this off-season he was going to rehab his knee, get himself in the best condition and prove to all of his doubters that he is one of the top tight ends in the league."

So far, so good.

But will Green stay healthy all season?

"That's a goal," Green said. "I'm going to do everything humanly possible to obtain that goal."

Green said he returned to the Ravens partly out of loyalty to trainer Bill Tessendorf and strength coach Jerry Simmons. He also might have looked at the Ravens' schedule, which includes only four games on artificial turf this season.

And don't forget Marchibroda.

Not only does the coach make excellent use of his tight ends, but he also gives Green whatever time off his knee requires.

Marchibroda's patience is often a virtue, but especially with players like Green. He describes the eight-year veteran as a "good person" who wants to "give something back to the people who believed in him."

The bottom line?

Green is a unique talent.

"Very unique," Green corrected. "There are a lot of tight ends in this league who either can block and can't catch and can't run routes, or who can catch and run routes but can't block. That's what I pride myself on -- being able to make defensive coordinators sweat, being able to do both."

How difficult is it to stop him?

"If he ain't got the ball, he's not a factor," said Ravens safety Bennie Thompson, who lined up against Green when the tight end was in Pittsburgh. "But once he's got the ball, he's too big in the bottom to go at his legs. That's when he becomes a factor."

And then?

"You hope two or three guys get a hold of him," Thompson said.

It takes more than one.

Eric Green can tell you that.

Pub Date: 9/20/97

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