Ravens' reserve tank is filling Likes of Zeier, Staten widen the options on once-thin depth chart

Subs spice consecutive wins

Young group 'starting to come together'

December 16, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

If depth and lack of competition were two of the Ravens' major problems during this season, then the team may have found some answers for next year in players such as Eric Zeier, John Williams, Ralph Staten, Keith Washington and James Roe.

Once the Ravens were eliminated from the playoffs after a 10-10 tie to the Philadelphia Eagles and a 16-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals during mid-November, injuries forced the club to turn to its reserves.

And the results have been favorable with consecutive wins over Seattle and Tennessee.

"I think we have a good starting 22 players, but maybe we have found a little more depth lately," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. "I think last year we were always bringing in guys to play, where I think this year we are playing guys who have been with us all year long. They have been with us right from the beginning, although they haven't played much."

Of course, the most visible has been third-year quarterback Zeier, who won his second consecutive start in place of Vinny Testaverde on Sunday by completing 13 of 28 passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns in the Ravens' 21-19 win over the Tennessee Oilers.

Marchibroda has waited until Wednesday of the past two weeks to name Zeier his starting quarterback, but he said yesterday Zeier would start the season finale Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I'm very pleased with Eric's progress really. He has played extremely well," Marchibroda said. "We knew what he could do, we knew that he could throw the football and I think if there is one area that I may be a little more surprised is his escapability.

"The fact that he is scrambling better than what I thought and he may be a little quicker than what I thought. He is bright, he is alert and a poised quarterback."

When asked if Zeier was better than Testaverde or the starter for next season, Marchibroda said: "At this point, I think you have to go on records in the past and experience also. You have to go with the guy that has the tremendous amount of experience. I haven't thought about next season or anything like that. All I'm concerned with is Cincinnati."

Testaverde, 34, has three years left on his contract. If the Ravens cut him before June 1, nearly $4.3 million would count against the 1998 salary cap. If the team waived him after June, approximately $1.6 million would count against the 1998 cap and $2.6 million in 1999.

Marchibroda said he expected Testaverde to be with the team next season, and said he wouldn't mind having a competitive battle for the spot in training camp.

"It's good to have two quarterbacks who can play," Marchibroda said. "Many times when you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any, if you know what I mean."

Another player who has stepped up is Washington, a defensive end the Ravens signed Oct. 15. Washington had progressed every week, but Sunday against the Oilers he found himself playing on both sides for injured ends Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett.

Washington finished with six tackles, knocked down a key fourth-down pass on a goal-line situation in the third quarter and then stripped Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair of the ball, which led to the Ravens' game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

But maybe no player has made more of a favorable impression than rookie safety Staten, who was drafted in the seventh round out of Alabama.

Staten, filling in for injured Stevon Moore, had two interceptions against Seattle last week and made six tackles Sunday. Three of those were among the most vicious of the year by the Ravens. The Oilers had to take running back Eddie George off the field twice.

"I'm not surprised at what these guys have been able to do," Zeier said. "I've been with them about six months now. It was about getting in there, getting the opportunity to play."

"We have a lot of young players in the secondary, but we're just starting to come together," said Williams, a rookie free-agent cornerback. "When I'm in there, I know I have a big hitter on one side in Ralph, and Kim Herring [rookie out of Penn State] is a strong hitter on the other. We're all pretty good athletes."

Williams was activated off the practice squad three weeks ago. He plays in the team's dime coverage and on special teams, where he now has four tackles. It was Williams who knocked down McNair's pass to Frank Wycheck at the Ravens' 34 with 16 seconds left in the game to end Tenneesse's comeback attempt.

"It's a joy getting called off the practice squad," Williams said. "I'm gaining confidence as far as being able to play in the NFL. I was able to make a play and help the team out. I was like that in college when they used to call me Little Big Play Man."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals

Site: Cinergy Field, Cincinnati

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line: Bengals by 7

Pub Date: 12/16/97

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