Ravens have maximum plan during two-week minicamp Marchibroda: 'We have a lot of work to get done'

June 01, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Most NFL teams have a one-week minicamp, but the Ravens are not in the same situation as a lot of teams.

Most teams don't have an entirely new offensive backfield. A lot of teams don't face starting two new cornerbacks. Most teams won't be playing in a new, $220 million stadium for an owner who has demanded an "elite team" in 1998.

The Ravens minicamp will cover two weeks beginning today, with a lot of purpose and a sense of urgency. Only the second week is mandatory, but most of the veterans got the message that they "should" attend both sessions.

Only two draft picks are expected to miss camp, second-round selection Patrick Johnson, an Oregon wide receiver, and Georgia Tech linebacker Ron Rogers, drafted in the sixth round. Veteran quarterback Vinny Testaverde was not extended an invitation for the camp and is expected to be released soon, possibly as early as 4 p.m. today. The Ravens will practice on the field three times per week.

"We have quite a few changes in personnel," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "We have to familiarize our ballclub with a lot of new things. We have a new quarterback, possibly a new backfield and a new numbering system from a year ago because we're going to run more two-back sets. We have a lot of work to get done.

"But our guys have worked hard in the off-season, and they're enthusiastic about this minicamp. There is a genuine interest in seeing how we have developed," Marchibroda said. "I'm excited as I've ever been."

According to Marchibroda and quarterbacks coach Don Strock, there will be a difference in the role of the quarterback. With Testaverde about to be waived, the Ravens will tailor their offense to Jim Harbaugh and Eric Zeier.

Neither has the arm strength of Testaverde, but both are versatile and able to make big plays out of broken ones. The Ravens will no longer feature the classic, drop-back style quarterback, but instead one who can throw off sprint-outs and rollouts.

The Ravens also will get their first extensive looks at fullback Roosevelt Potts and running back Errict Rhett. Both were signed in the off-season, Potts from the Miami Dolphins and Rhett from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Slot receiver Jermaine Lewis, in his third year out of Maryland, also will debut at wide receiver, while Ben Cavil, Sale Isaia and James Atkins compete to start at left guard.

"I have a lot of fun with these guys," Rhett said. "The offense is a lot different than what I'm used to. They use a lot of numbers while most of the time I've been in offenses that mixed numbers and words. But it's been good running with Rosy, and it will be interesting to see how it comes together."

"The left guard position is wide open, but we like the competition we have there," Marchibroda said. "We need to improve our team in a couple of areas. I'd like to see us have more success inside the 20 offensively, while, at the same time, we need to do a better job defensively inside the 20. We've got to hold onto the ball longer and do a better job with field position."

Defensively, there are not as many personnel changes as a year ago. The Ravens have a new cornerback in veteran Rod Woodson, a free agent signed from the San Francisco 49ers. The key battle in minicamp that will carry over into training camp is third-year player DeRon Jenkins against No. 1 draft pick Duane Starks for the other starting cornerback position.

Ravens owner Art Modell has said that all top draft picks must start, so it's inevitable that Starks will work his way into the starting lineup. It's just a matter of when.

"Obviously, one major area of concern is the corner," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "But we basically have the same nucleus of players, and we're excited to get on the field after a good, productive off-season. The biggest thing is that we get the opportunity to come together over a prolonged period of time and install some of the things with the players that we've discussed as coaches."

The Ravens are expected to blitz more often in 1998. Defensive ends Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett have had a full year to recover from major knee surgeries, and strong-side linebacker Peter Boulware established himself as one of the best pass rushers in the league last season as a rookie. And Lewis probably will have Woodson blitzing from the corner.

"As we went through the season last year, we pressured more and more," Lewis said. "In the off-season, that's why we were looking for cover guys. We're going to play to certain players' strengths, and hopefully their strengths will become ours."

Lewis said he was happy with the improvement of Boulware and fellow linebacker Jamie Sharper in the classroom during the off-season. Lewis and Marchibroda expect better seasons than a year ago, when both were rookies.

The coaching staff also expects second-year linebacker Tyrus McCloud to improve so that he can relieve middle linebacker Ray Lewis and possibly challenge Sharper for playing time at the weak-side position.

"We've had some success with young players," Marchibroda said. "This year, we feel we have a number of players who not only can take one step, but two steps. I'm talking about McCloud, Sharper, [safety] Kim Herring and even Boulware. We know what Peter can do as a defensive end, but he can still improve as a linebacker."

Marchibroda said the Ravens are still searching for a veteran wide receiver or cornerback. The free-agent market reopens again today. The Ravens may be interested in cornerback Tyrone Poole of the Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts cornerback Carlton Gray and New England Patriots receiver Vincent Brisby.

Pub Date: 6/01/98

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