Ravens to Morris: nevermore Team's top rusher, sitting in Texas jail, won't be re-signed

Offensive upgrade sought

Kelly still a QB option

Modell talks 'playoffs'

January 28, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Encouraged by the progress their defense showed during the 1997 season, the Ravens will focus their off-season attention primarily on an offense that sputtered for much of last fall, and the team plans to move ahead without running back Bam Morris.

After an eight-hour evaluation yesterday by the team's front office, coaching and scouting staffs, a team source said the Ravens will not re-sign Morris, their leading rusher during the past two seasons who is serving a four-month jail term in Rockwall, Texas, for violating the terms of his probation resulting from a 1996 marijuana possession conviction.

Team owner Art Modell said the team's quarterback situation remains unchanged. He said he expects Vinny Testaverde, Eric Zeier and Wally Richardson to return, although he did not rule out the addition of former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly. He retired after the 1996 season but has expressed interest in playing again.

Coach Ted Marchibroda hopes to speak with Kelly, 37, this week to find out if he is serious about attempting a comeback. Kelly has been spending most of his time with his infant son, Hunter, who is suffering from leukodystrophy, an incurable, degenerative, genetic disorder that affects the brain, nerves and spinal cord.

"Testaverde, Zeier and Richardson will be back. At least they'll be invited back. What else we do over and above that remains to be seen," Modell said.

"Nothing will be done [concerning Kelly] until we have a chance to look at him and find out if he wants to play. I want to see him throw the ball before we decide to go that route."

By choosing not to pursue Morris, the Ravens are left with only three running backs on their roster -- second-year man Jay Graham, 14-year veteran third-down specialist Earnest Byner and Priest Holmes, who did not carry the ball during his rookie season.

The Ravens, 6-9-1 last season, plan to upgrade their backfield through free agency and the draft.

They can begin negotiating with unrestricted free agents like Green Bay's Dorsey Levens or Minnesota's Robert Smith on Feb. 13, and they will consider college backs like Penn State's Curtis Enis or Nebraska's Ahman Green in the April 18-19 draft. The Ravens also have talked about trading from their No. 10 draft position to Nos. 1 or 2 to select a franchise quarterback like Ryan Leaf.

Marchibroda has said one of his top priorities is signing a fullback -- New England's Sam Gash is a possibility -- to diversify the offense. The Ravens mainly have used a one-back, three-wide receiver set for the past two seasons. Last season, rookie Kenyon Cotton was their only true fullback, and he played only in limited, short-yardage situations.

"It was a frank, constructive and brutally candid evaluation [yesterday], and we came away with the belief that we turned the corner defensively," Modell said. "Now, we have to do something offensively. We're out of salary cap jail, and we think we're ready to make a run at being a playoff team in 1998."

Not that the organization is satisfied with the defense, which was the league's worst in 1996 before making substantial gains toward respectability last season.

The addition of players such as linebackers Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper, safeties Kim Herring and Ralph Staten, and defensive linemen Tony Siragusa and Michael McCrary gives the team hope for the future. And the Ravens anticipate veteran strong safety Stevon Moore will make a strong return from late-season surgery on both knees.

But the Ravens still are not sold on cornerback DeRon Jenkins, and among their top free-agent priorities is a proven veteran to compete for his job.

Modell reiterated the team's intention to re-sign its own potentially unrestricted free agents -- center Wally Williams, cornerback Antonio Langham, wide receiver Derrick Alexander, tight end Eric Green, backup defensive tackle Larry Webster and reserve safety-special teams ace Bennie Thompson. Modell said the organization will push to sign Williams, Langham and Alexander before the Feb. 13 deadline.

The team also would like to bring back 14-year veteran cornerback Eugene Daniel, although probably in a coaching or player personnel capacity. Daniel visited the Ravens coaches while they were working at the recent Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

In other personnel considerations, the Ravens would like to have kicker Matt Stover back, but not under his current contract conditions. Stover, signed through 1999, is scheduled to receive a $900,000 roster bonus on March 1, a number that is unappetizing to team officials.

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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