'Kids' on defensive side prepare for final test Unit takes youthful look, as backups earn jobs in tomorrow's season finale

Ravens notebook

December 20, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Although defensive tackle Tony Siragusa and end Michael McCrary practiced yesterday, the defense will probably be taking on the same youthful look in tomorrow's season finale that it showed in last week's 21-19 victory over Tennessee.

Look for third-year end Keith Washington to start in place of left end Rob Burnett, whose ankle injury kept him off the practice field all week and probably will restrict him to the sideline in Cincinnati.

Look for Larry Webster to get most of the playing time in Siragusa's spot.

And expect McCrary to play sparingly, opening up more opportunities for third-year backup Mike Frederick and rookie Chris Ward.

In short, if Burnett, Siragusa and McCrary are off the field, the Ravens' defense will consist of four rookies -- safeties Ralph Staten and Kim Herring and linebackers Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper. Only three players -- tackles James Jones and Webster and cornerback Antonio Langham -- will boast more than three years of experience.

"That's how we played last week, and the kids are giving us a good, honest effort," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "This will be their biggest test. The two teams we played [Seattle and Tennessee] before, they played like it was the end of the year. This club [Cincinnati] is hot.

"Guys like Staten and Herring are still learning. They could be a year away or a few years away, but you have to play them and see if they do well. Three games won't put those kids in the Pro Bowl, but our kids have performed as well as anybody's."

Boulware continues to shine

One kid who has played beyond his years is Boulware, the odds-on pick to grab Defensive Rookie of the Year honors on Tuesday.

He leads the Ravens and all rookies with 11.5 sacks, and is second in the AFC behind Buffalo's Bruce Smith (14). Boulware is one sack away from tying the league's record for rookies, which is shared by Leslie O'Neal, now of the St. Louis Rams, and second-year Arizona Cardinals end Simeon Rice.

Marchibroda said he thinks Boulware will win the top rookie honor. He also predicted a Pro Bowl in the near future for the fourth overall pick in the 1997 draft.

"I can't think of anyone else [who deserves the award]. I can't think of any other draftees on defense who are shining," Marchibroda said.

"Peter is special. He pretty much has the entire package. He's bright, talented, and he has the motor. And he's tough to keep off the field."

Boulware is one of seven players who has started every game for the Ravens this season. The others are offensive tackles Orlando Brown and Jonathan Ogden, guard Jeff Blackshear, James Jones, Burnett and middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

Heavy subject

The Ravens' offensive line will be spotlighted on an upcoming ABC-TV program, "20-20," which will take a closer look at the NFL's heaviest offensive front.

The Ravens average 321 pounds.

"At first, I was thinking, why [interview] us? We haven't won that many games and we're not going to the playoffs," said Blackshear, who quickly warmed up to the idea.

"We probably average more like 330 on Sunday. After we make weight, we do some more eating. The only light one is Q."

That would be center Quentin Neujahr, who measures 6 feet 4 and a measly 305 pounds.

"I'm the midget, without a doubt," Neujahr said.

The program is scheduled to air Jan. 5.

Et cetera

Right cornerback Eugene Daniel practiced lightly yesterday, the first time he has dressed in nearly three weeks. Daniel could play sparingly against the Bengals, although DeRon Jenkins will start his fourth consecutive game in Daniel's place. Rookie running back Jay Graham did not practice yesterday after suffering another setback with his sore left ankle at Thursday's workout. Lewis needs only three tackles to reach the 200 mark.

Pub Date: 12/20/97

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