Ravens give Zeier start Testaverde knee injury not healed

QB's streak of starts will end at 34

December 05, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda has named reserve quarterback Eric Zeier the starter for Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks, replacing Vinny Testaverde, who has not recovered from a knee injury.

Marchibroda made the decision yesterday afternoon, told Zeier during practice and informed Testaverde immediately after the team's 2 1/2 -hour workout. Marchibroda said the decision to give Zeier his first start as a Raven was based solely on the injury and not because of recent criticism from fans and media of Testaverde.

"Zeier is going to start," Marchibroda said. "We think Vinny's knee will be all right by Sunday, but Zeier has to be ready to start at this point. I told Vinny that it's too hard to get two quarterbacks ready during the week, there is just not enough time."

Testaverde injured his left knee Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars with 1: 54 left in the second quarter, when running back Bam Morris blocked safety Travis Davis into him for a sack.

A magnetic resonance imaging test Monday revealed that Testaverde had a bruise on the bone near his shin and a mild stretch of the posterior cruciate ligament. Testaverde came out to practice with the team Wednesday but left after 40 minutes when he felt a twinge in the knee.

Testaverde wore a brace at practice yesterday but showed signs of stiffness when he walked. Zeier took most of the repetitions with the first team even though Testaverde participated lightly in seven-on-seven passing drills. Both Testaverde and Marchibroda said Testaverde would be the No. 2 quarterback Sunday, meaning he'd play if Zeier got hurt.

During his 11-year career, Testaverde has rarely missed a game because of injury. The last time was in 1994 because of a concussion. He had the fourth-longest current streak of starts among NFL quarterbacks with 34, behind Green Bay's Brett Favre (90), Tampa Bay's Trent Dilfer (45) and New England's Drew Bledsoe (45).

"The brace was bulky and it is more for prevention," Testaverde said. "Once I felt the twinge [Wednesday], that told me the knee wasn't ready. I got a few repetitions today, but it was light. I probably won't wear the brace Sunday. It's hard to get ready when you can't prepare properly.

"Ted is the coach and he makes the decision that is best for the team. The quarterback, more than any other position in football, needs to take a lot of reps during the week. Not knowing whether I was going to play or not made it beneficial for Eric to get a lot of snaps in practice. Overall, I have much more experience than Eric, so if I come in for him it doesn't have as much affect on the team."

Zeier, in his third year out of Georgia, said his approach to Sunday's game will not change even though he is now the starter.

"The physical preparation changes because I'm getting more snaps, but the mental preparation remains the same," Zeier said. "I've always prepared during the week like I'm going to take every snap in the game. Obviously, though, Vinny is not feeling any better."

Ravens players seemed to be confident in Zeier, who led the team to two fourth-quarter touchdowns Sunday in the Ravens' 29-27 loss to Jacksonville. Zeier completed seven of 12 passes for 87 yards against the Jaguars, but three of his passes were dropped.

"When the starter goes down, the backup has to step up and get the job done," said center Wally Williams. "Eric did a nice job last week and I think the guys will go out and play hard for him."

The offense won't change for Zeier, even though he is 4 inches shorter and more mobile than Testaverde. Zeier started four games as rookie with the Cleveland Browns, going 1-3, but has played sparingly during two years in Baltimore.

Zeier has completed nine of 19 passes this season for 103 yards. His only other action came against the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Nov. 9, when Testaverde suffered bruised ribs during a 37-0 loss.

"We'll continue to go out and try to get this thing together," wide receiver Michael Jackson said, referring to the team's sluggish offense. "Eric has looked good in practice and we have confidence in him. I know the receivers will play a good game for him."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Seattle Seahawks

Site: Memorial Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: No TV/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Ravens by 1 1/2

Tickets: 5,000 remain

Pub Date: 12/05/97

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