Ravens switch to Roe, Herring Alexander, team's top receiver, is benched

Jenkins also inserted

November 25, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

One day after the team's playoff hopes were virtually eliminated in a 16-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Ravens appeared to begin looking toward the future by naming second-year wide receiver James Roe and rookie safety Kim Herring as starters.

Coach Ted Marchibroda also announced yesterday that second-year cornerback DeRon Jenkins will start in place of the injured Eugene Daniel, who will be out for almost two weeks with a hamstring tear.

And Ozzie Newsome, Ravens vice president of player personnel, said there is a chance the team might activate rookie cornerback John Williams for Sunday's game in Jacksonville because of the number of injuries in the secondary. Newsome also said the team has had internal talks about its quarterback situation involving Vinny Testaverde.

The move to Herring was no surprise, because he has been in on most of the plays for starter Rondell Jones after the first series in four of the past five games. But the decision to start Roe in place of Derrick Alexander is something of a shocker. Alexander was benched for the first series against the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago after he was late for two team meetings.

Marchibroda would not comment on why Alexander was replaced, but he has dropped easy passes in games, including two on Sunday, and has had problems holding blocks. He also dropped two easy catches in practice Friday directly in front of owner Art Modell.

Alexander is the team's leading receiver with 52 catches for 701 yards and seven touchdowns, and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

He declined to comment on the benching.

Marchibroda said: "These are changes I feel will help the ballclub. They will help us to become a better team."

Roe has only two catches for 15 yards this season. He doesn't possess Alexander's speed or experience, but he works hard in practice and has some of the best hands on the team. He also reports to team meetings on time.

"I'm just going to work hard and do the things they want me to do," said Roe. "I guess they're saying, 'He's waited, now let's give him a chance.' Hopefully, I can make the best of it."

Jones, acquired by the Ravens during the off-season, has been bothered by injuries all season, and has been slow closing on receivers. Herring, whom the Ravens chose in the second round of the draft last April, challenged Jones for the starting job in training camp and has gradually replaced him. It was just a matter of time.

Jones is the eighth-leading tackler on the team with 42. Herring is 11th in tackles with 29. Jones' injuries apparently had nothing to do with the change.

"I'm taking it all in stride," said Herring. "Actually, Rondell has been in the first series, then they would put me in the game. The only difference now is one more series. I don't know why they did it that way. I've been wondering about that myself."

Jenkins has made significant progress in the past month, while Daniel has struggled with hamstring problems since the Ravens signed him in mid-September. Jenkins started the season as the team's No. 2 right cornerback behind Donny Brady, playing mostly as the nickel back.

But if Daniel were healthy, he would be the starter.

"We don't think he's lost for the season. We're looking at two weeks," said Marchibroda.

Marchibroda was upbeat yesterday at his weekly news conference, one day after he said his team lacked the depth to be a serious playoff contender.

"I don't think we're that far away, not really," said Marchibroda. "We're a youthful football team. We've gotten a year under the belt. It's important for us to learn from our experience. We've got four games left, and we'll see how certain people play in the four remaining games."

Marchibroda's remarks on his team's lack of depth marked the first time this season he's talked about the matter publicly. But Newsome said he's talked with Marchibroda and James Harris, the team's director of pro personnel, about the issue many times since the season started.

Newsome said a lot of the team's depth problems can be solved next season, when the Ravens get out from under the $7 million in past players' salaries that counted toward the salary cap this season. He said that because of the salary cap, a lot of teams have depth problems at one or two positions, but the Ravens have more.

"It's usually one or two, but not seven, eight or nine," said Newsome. "Next year, we will no longer have the acceleration of those past salaries, and will be able to bring in some talented guys. I guarantee you training camp will be very competitive next season.

"We haven't been perfect in our acquisitions, but we've upgraded the talent level of this football team in the past two seasons. I think we are one quality player on defense, one quality player on offense and some solid veteran leadership away from going to the playoffs."

Newsome would not give a definitive answer on Testaverde's situation or on that of any of the other quarterbacks. Testaverde has completed 260 of 453 passes for 2,870 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, but has thrown 15 interceptions. The Ravens have gone from a long-ball, fast-strike offense to a run-oriented, short-passing attack.

Testaverde will make $1.5 million this season, $4 million in 1998 ($1.5 million guaranteed), $5 million in 1999 and $6 million in 2000.

The Ravens are thinking about using Williams in extra-man situations because Herring suffered a mild concussion Sunday, Jones has been bothered by a pulled groin muscle and reserve safety Bennie Thompson has a fractured left hand.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars

Site: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line: Jaguars by 8 Series: Jaguars lead 3-0

Last meeting: Jaguars won, 28-27, on Aug. 31 at Memorial Stadium

Pub Date: 11/25/97

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