Fit Morris makes day for Ravens Running back returns from four-game ban to a warm welcome

Lift for ground game

Modell is optimistic, but repeats warning

September 23, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

One day after scoring a season-high 36 points in the team's most explosive offensive showing of the season, the Ravens added an old face and a new weapon as star running back Bam Morris returned to the team after a four-game suspension.

A slim and fit Morris reported to the team's training complex in Owings Mills yesterday following a suspension that began on Aug. 25 for violating the NFL's policy on substance and alcohol abuse. The reported substance was beer.

Morris, who plays at anywhere from 245 to 250 pounds, had to undergo some conditioning tests yesterday that several team officials said were a mere formality. Morris was with the team by 12: 30, then met with running backs coach Al Lavan and Jerry Simmons, the team's strength and conditioning coach, before going outside to run five "gassers". A "gasser" consists of twice running the width of a football field in a required time.

"Basically, all he had to do was stay near 250 pounds, and that proved he had been doing what was needed," said one team official. "When Bam doesn't run, he blows up."

The workout was supervised by a number of coaches and team officials, including head coach Ted Marchibroda and owner Art Modell, who had to give his permission before Morris was officially back on the roster.

"We're very pleased with his condition, perhaps surprised with his conditioning," said Modell. "He is in better shape now then when he reported to training camp. We intend to reinstate him immediately and get his practice shoes on this week. We want to get him involved in a regular routine, back into a conditioning groove under the watchful eye of Ted and his staff."

Morris, who rushed for 737 yards last season on 172 attempts despite missing the first six games, spent the last week and a half training in his hometown of Cooper, Texas, with his brother. His routine included swimming, running and lifting weights.

Modell had told Morris he would cut him if he did not return "clean of body, spirit and mind."

"When I last met with Mr. Modell, he told me he didn't want me to blow up," said Morris. "I ran in the hot heat for one and a half weeks in Texas and that helped.

"Four weeks gave me the time to find myself, to find what the problems were," said Morris. "I found them and addressed them. Sometimes I slip off. That doesn't mean I'm not coachable or a bad guy. I let down Mr. Modell, Coach, family and myself. But I can have a great year; it just has to be 12 games instead of 16."

According to league policy, Morris can be be tested up to three times a week and as many as 10 times a month. Another violation would mean a year's suspension. Morris was suspended July 16, 1996, for four games after he was fined $7,000 and given six years deferred adjudication for possession of six pounds of marijuana in his car on March 23, 1996, in Cooper.

Neither Marchibroda nor Morris would give a time frame for when Morris would start, but he is expected to get some carries against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

Morris would immediately affect a running game that has produced only 370 yards on 101 carries this season. His presence in the lineup gives a team loaded with weapons another major one. The Ravens already have one of the best receiving corps in the league with wide-outs Derrick Alexander, Michael Jackson and Jermaine Lewis and tight ends Eric Green and Brian Kinchen.

"No question, we were 3-1 without Bam and Wally Williams [starting center who is expected to return in mid-October from a torn Achilles' tendon], but we're a better team with them," said quarterback Vinny Testaverde. "Not only does [Morris] make us a better team, but he gives us more depth. This is a big plus."

"I said it before training camp, and I still say it: Bam has the capabilities of being a special back," said Lavan.

Morris was greeted warmly by his teammates yesterday. Safety and team captain Bennie Thompson even joined Morris in running his last gasser.

There doesn't seem to be any resentment, especially from running backs Earnest Byner and Jay Graham, who had to carry the load in Morris' absence.

"He has been part of our team from the first day he left on suspension," said Testaverde. "It's like a player getting hurt for four weeks and coming back from an injury."

"It's reality and you have to deal with reality," said Byner. "Bam has the potential for taking this team to another playing level. They are hoping he eventually takes over the position and becomes the player he can be."

Despite the warm welcome, optimism was still guarded.

"History says that you don't know," said Byner. "History says you hope. History says you pray for the best, but also be leery of the potential. You put people in situations where you give them the best opportunity to be successful. The rest is up to the individual."

"I don't know if it will happen again," said Modell. "I have great faith in my fellow man. I have great faith in his mother. The infraction was marginal: He drank alcohol-free beer that had alcohol in it and I thought he deserved a second chance. But if this happens again and Bam Morris is suspended for a year, I can't see a future here for him with this team."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: San Diego Chargers

Site: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

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

Line: Chargers by 1 1/2

Record: 1-3

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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