With trio of vets added, Ravens put backfield in motion Contending may depend on performance of Potts, Harbaugh and Rhett

July 20, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Errict Rhett looks at the 1998 season as a year of resurrection. His rebirth begins on Friday, when he joins the rest of the Ravens veterans at training camp for the first full-squad workout.

Although their circumstances differ, the same could be said for quarterback Jim Harbaugh and fullback Roosevelt Potts.

And how smoothly that trio blends will go a long way toward determining how much the Ravens resemble playoff contenders.

In Rhett's first two NFL years (1994 and 1995), he produced back-to-back, 1,000-yard seasons in Tampa Bay. The next year was marked by an acrimonious holdout that ruined his season. Last year, he became a barely used commodity with the arrival of rookie Warrick Dunn.

After a February trade with the Buccaneers, Rhett is entering a new year in the Ravens' new, two-back offense. He will compete with second-year man Jay Graham for playing time at tailback. One might say Rhett, who is signed through 1998 and could become an unrestricted free agent next year, is enthusiastic about his new lease on a football career.

"I feel like a person who got a big break. I got a second chance, and, boy, am I going to take advantage of it," Rhett said. "You know how hard people usually work in the last year of their contract? I never want to be average. I'm a beast."

Rhett also salivates over the prospect of running behind a solid offensive line that includes Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden and averages about 320 pounds.

"I've never played behind a line like this," said Rhett, 5 feet 11, 210 pounds. "In Tampa, I was bigger than the guards and stronger than the whole offensive line."

And the Ravens have never incorporated a fullback into their base offense before now. The Ravens chose to go after Potts, a 6-foot, 250-pounder whom running backs coach Al Lavan described as a "train wreck of a blocker."

Potts also is looking to prove himself all over again. Drafted in the second round by the Colts out of Northeast Louisiana in 1993, he gave the Colts three productive years. He averaged 4.8 yards a carry in 1995 to help the Colts reach the playoffs, but a torn anterior cruciate ligament knocked him out of the postseason.

Things got worse after that. Potts was suspended for the entire 1996 season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He returned to play sparingly in Indianapolis, then Miami last season, before the Ravens took a chance on him.

"He was the best fullback available, and he is a changed person," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, head coach of the Colts during Potts' solid seasons. "He realized he made a mistake, and he wants to go forward.

"Rosey is a power back who will really help our running game. He'll lower his shoulder and be extremely effective as a lead blocker. He can also run with the ball and has good receiving ability."

Another guy who stands to benefit from a good offensive line is Harbaugh, who did his best work with the Colts under Marchibroda. Harbaugh's near-flawless play in the 1995 postseason brought Indianapolis within a Hail Mary pass of the Super Bowl.

Last year, Harbaugh crumbled under the futility of the Colts' front, which allowed 62 sacks - a big reason the Colts finished 3-13.

"This is a good, young team with a good offensive line," Harbaugh said. "I know what to expect from Ted, and he has a great knowledge of the game." Marchibroda envisions Harbaugh using a running game to complement his scrambling ability and relatively mistake-free brand of passing. Harbaugh has completed 59.2 percent of his passes during an 11-year career. In his past four seasons, he has thrown 49 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions.

"Jim is an outstanding quarterback. He's been in the playoffs two of his last three seasons," Marchibroda said. "He's a fine passer who plays well outside of the pocket. He brings toughness and leadership to the Ravens. I think the fans of Baltimore will be able to identify with this guy."

As for running backs coach Lavan, he can't wait to get started with the new toys the Ravens bought him.

"They are experienced, performance-driven players who've done it already," he said.

Newcomers to watch

Quarterback Jim Harbaugh: He'll be the most scrutinized of the new faces. The Ravens don't expect Harbaugh to win games by himself. They do expect him to move the offense with a minimum number of mistakes, especially in the clutch. He will benefit from an offensive line superior to the one he left behind in Indianapolis, and Harbaugh's ability to scramble adds another dimension.

Running back Errict Rhett: The Ravens are counting on his experience and fresh legs to provide a tailback weapon in their two-back offense. Unlike Jay Graham, a big-play threat, Rhett is a tough plodder who has averaged 3.5 yards in his career. Because of contractual problems and the arrival of Warrick Dunn in Tampa Bay, his playing time dried up during the last two years. Still, he was good enough to gain 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons (1994 and '95).

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