Fight is on for jobs Ravens' Marchibroda says competition for roster spots improved

'It's made guys work harder'

As many as 11 players could be on the bubble

June 12, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

As the Ravens concluded their minicamp yesterday, coach Ted Marchibroda saw the forming of a new team, partly because of the free-agency acquisitions, and also out of fear.

After 2 1/2 years in Baltimore, the Ravens have a new motivational device going into training, which begins when rookies report to Western Maryland College on July 20. It's called fear and is largely based on the team being $4.6 million under the salary cap.

No longer will the Ravens have to take also-rans like Jerrol Williams and Mike Croel. No longer does the team have to start rookies like linebacker Jamie Sharper and Peter Boulware, who started last season despite reporting to training camp only 10 days before the season opened.

The Ravens finally will have a competitive training camp with as many as 11 players on the bubble, including such notables as safety Rondell Jones, defensive end Mike Frederick, punter Greg Montgomery and cornerback/safety Donny Brady. Ravens vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome said the roster from a year ago could change by as much as 20 to 25 percent, which he considered the standard throughout the league.

"We're thinking like a team, acting like a team and we're beginning to feel like a team," said Marchibroda. "The attitude of our players during the minicamp was extremely businesslike. I think fear could be part of it, but I also think there is realization among the players that this could be a pretty good football team. The competition has made a lot of guys work harder this season."

Marchibroda and defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis agreed that most of the base offense and defense had been put in. At the beginning of this week, Marchibroda said that the offense had yet to become second nature to quarterback Jim Harbaugh, signed by the team on Feb. 14.

But by the completion of yesterday's morning workout, Marchibroda said he was pleased with Harbaugh as well as new free-agent signees Errict Rhett, a running back, fullback

Roosevelt Potts and cornerback Rod Woodson.

No. 1 draft pick Duane Starks, out of the University of Miami, also drew high praise from Marchibroda and Lewis. Starks had five interceptions in seven days of practice.

"I think it went well, and I'm getting use to the system and the offense," said Harbaugh. "I'm looking forward to heading into training camp. It's going to be really important, so we're going to have to go in with a lot of motivation. We've got to go out and do well from the start in the first eight games."

The Ravens came out of minicamp with two major holes still to fill: left guard and cornerback. The Ben Cavil vs. Sale Isaia battle for the guard position should be one of the most intriguing matchups in training camp. Another will be Starks against third-year player DeRon Jenkins to see who starts opposite of Woodson at the other cornerback position.

Last training camp, the Ravens were put in a position where they were practically forced to start Brady at one corner and Leo Goeas at left guard. Both were eventually benched.

"I'm looking forward to training camp," said Isaia. "I'm going out there and show that I want to start. I'm going to have the attitude that I'm going to come in and start."

Said Cavil: "Every week of training camp is going to be important. That's when the team comes together. I'm ready to go. It's going to be a tight race between me and Sale, but I'm just going to go out there and give it 100 percent."

The most competitive battle will pit second-year running back Jay Graham against Rhett. Graham has the speed to get outside and make big plays. Rhett is a tireless worker and Mr. Consistency.

"I feel good under pressure," said Rhett. "I'm optimistic about the starting job. I'm excited for the season, about going to the playoffs and maybe the Super Bowl. I love pressure."

Said Graham: "I feel less pressure now, much less than last year. It's good to get my first year over. I feel confident that I know the plays, know what to do in most of the situations on offense. He [Rhett] makes us stronger as a team, competition can only add to our team."

Marchibroda said the team is still in search of a veteran receiver and cornerback, even though there aren't a lot of quality ones available on the free-agent market. The Ravens may not sign anyone until after training camp begins.

"There aren't a lot of free agents available because I think a lot of teams did a better job managing the cap this year, which increased $10 million plus this season," said Newsome. "Also, I think a lot of players have become aware that it's to their advantage to stay with the same team and have structured their contracts to do so. But if a player becomes available that we feel can help our ballclub, we will pursue the player."

The Ravens will participate and have the No. 10 pick in the supplemental draft on July 9, but it's unlikely that player will be able to help the Ravens immediately.

Tickets for opener

Because of the ticket demand for the regular-season opener on Sept. 6 against Pittsburgh, the Ravens will conduct an inaugural-game lottery to sell 6,000 tickets.

Fans wishing to purchase tickets must send a postcard with their name and address clearly marked by June 26 with the number of tickets they wish to order (maximum of four) to: Inaugural Game Ticket Lottery, P.O. Box 17261, Baltimore, MD, 21297-7261.

Pub Date: 6/12/98

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