Brown, Sharper to share position Change benefits both, Marchibroda says

October 22, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Before Sunday, rookie linebacker Jamie Sharper had never been benched. Fellow rookie linebacker Cornell Brown had never started a professional game.

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said the change did both of them some good.

Not that those role switches mattered in the larger picture -- a 24-13 Miami Dolphins victory that represented the low point of the Ravens' season. The Dolphins extended the Ravens' losing streak to three by controlling the line of scrimmage, running over them for a season-high 148 rushing yards.

And Brown and Sharper made their share of mistakes on the weak side. Like the rest of the Ravens' front seven, they were caught over-pursuing often in the face of Miami's effective counter plays. Like the rest of the front seven, they missed tackles.

But Marchibroda said he still likes the progress he saw in two linebackers the Ravens are betting will play significant roles in their future. Brown recorded two solo tackles before giving way to Sharper after the first quarter. Sharper had three tackles and made some impressive stops in the second half.

Marchibroda said he is leaning toward again starting Brown and bringing Sharper off the bench Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

"It was Cornell's first taste of starting a ballgame, and I thought he played decently. He did what was expected of him," Marchibroda said. "We want Jamie to play, too. We don't want to eliminate him. We thought this might help Jamie in the long run. He has to learn to do the job for 60 minutes.

"We selected those linebackers [in the draft], and there's nothing wrong with a little competition for the job. I think it makes both of them better football players. Jamie has to play better than he's been playing, and, with Cornell, we're rewarding somebody who has worked hard."

Brown, 6 feet, 240 pounds, is in a Peter Boulware-like position. At Virginia Tech, he was a pure pass rusher who led the Big East Conference as a junior with 14 sacks and totaled 40 in his career. As a Raven, he has converted from defensive end to outside linebacker. From understanding his keys to comprehending how the opposing offense is trying to neutralize him, Brown said the transition is getting easier by the day.

Still, Brown, who until Sunday had been limited to special teams, said he felt a shocking jolt walking onto the field with the first-team defense in front of a sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium.

"It was exciting. I just didn't want to mess up anybody else while I was in there," said Brown, a sixth-round pick.

"I'm aware that this is an opportunity. I would like to think I took advantage of it. I probably didn't, since I came out of the game after the first quarter. I lined up wrong a couple of times, and there were some plays I should have made that I didn't. I want them to think they've got a person they can count on."

The Ravens are counting heavily on second-round pick Sharper, 6-3, 240, to be the same force he was at Virginia, where he finished with 435 career tackles, tops in school history.

Sharper has been inconsistent at best, from his reads to his technique to his tackling. As the season reaches its midpoint, he is tied for seventh on the team with 27 tackles, a strikingly low number for a weak-side linebacker who typically operates in more open space and faces few double teams.

"They have to move somebody around because of how badly the defense [ranked next-to-last in the NFL] is playing right now," Sharper said. "I don't know if moving me is going to make a difference. You can't always figure out what coaches think. You just have to go out, play hard and help the team bounce back."

Sharper rebounded to erase some rough moments. He began the second half by committing a holding penalty on the Ravens' kickoff return, pushing the offense back to the Baltimore 12-yard-line. Then, midway through the third quarter, he could have dropped Miami receiver O. J. McDuffie for a short gain, but Sharper failed to wrap up McDuffie, allowing him to slip away for a first-down, 13-yard gain to midfield.

Sharper came back on the same drive to drop running back Irving Spikes for a 1-yard loss on a third-and-one, forcing the Dolphins to settle for a field goal.

"I missed reads a couple of times, but I thought I was attacking well," Sharper said.

Marchibroda agreed.

"Jamie missed a couple of tackles, then he made a few good plays after that. He showed more aggressiveness than what he has showed previously.

"These babies have to grow up. They have to become men quickly."

NOTES: The Ravens' secondary continues to nurse a variety of injuries. Safeties Stevon Moore (groin) and Rondell Jones (knee, shoulder) and cornerback Eugene Daniel (hamstrings) are questionable for Sunday's game, and Daniel is not expected to practice today. The Ravens plan to practice in full pads today and tomorrow, an unusual move by Marchibroda, who was displeased by the team's lack of toughness in the loss to Miami. The Ravens own the NFL's top-rated passing game and lowest-rated pass defense. Jermaine Lewis leads the NFL with a 16-yard average on punt returns. The Ravens have committed 17 turnovers, second highest in the AFC.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Washington Redskins

Site: Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, Landover

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line: Redskins by 6

Series: First meeting

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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