Once more, it's all over for Isaia Torn Achilles' ends season for Ravens' star-crossed lineman

'I'm still in shock'

Cavil could step in at left guard position

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

Ben Cavil knows how anonymously an offensive lineman lives on the field. Sale Isaia knows all too well how quickly that luxury can vanish.

Cavil's chances at winning the starting left guard position rose yesterday, at the terrible expense of Isaia, whose injury-marred career with the Ravens may be over.

Tests revealed Isaia has a torn left Achilles' tendon, knocking him out of action for the 1998 season and dealing him his second devastating injury in as many training camps. Last year on the first day of camp, he went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

He spent the past year successfully rehabilitating the knee, gearing up for a chance to win the starting job. Today, he will undergo further surgery.

"Everything was falling into place. I can't believe this happened again," said a dejected Isaia, who left the team's Westminster headquarters on crutches. "I'm still in shock."

Isaia said he has not decided on his football future.

"I don't ever remember an ACL and an Achilles' injury happening to the same individual like this," coach Ted Marchibroda said.

Injuries have followed Isaia ever since he signed with the Cleveland Browns as a rookie free agent out of UCLA in 1995. He missed that entire season with an ankle injury before appearing in nine games as a backup with the Ravens in 1996.

"I don't think the average person realizes how hard it is to play this sport," Marchibroda said. "Sale is a good person and a hard-working guy who is known as a hard-hitting lineman. He had an excellent chance to be a starter. Those who persevere usually win out. We were hoping this would have a happy ending. But it didn't turn out that way."

As it turns out, the Ravens do have something to be thankful for -- finding Cavil. He arrived 11 months ago in a trade with the Eagles as emergency help for a line up to its shoulder pads in injuries. Cavil, who had been through a cup-of-coffee stint with San Diego before spending the entire 1996 season on Philadelphia's practice roster, caught on impressively enough to start eight games at left guard.

Cavil had been practicing behind Isaia during the first week of training camp. The loss of Isaia leaves the left guard job up for grabs between Cavil and Spencer Folau.

The hardest part is behind Cavil. When the Ravens obtained him in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick just before last year's season opener, Cavil was a work in progress. His run-blocking technique needed attention. His pass-blocking skills were less than stellar. He was entering his third change of scenery in two years.

"A new team with different coaching philosophies and a new offense. Last year was like a roller coaster for me," said Cavil, 6 feet 2, 310 pounds. "Things are different for me now. I pretty much know the system and I know what's expected. I've had a full off-season and I get a full training camp here this time. I feel like I've found a home."

It didn't take Cavil, a native of Galveston, Texas, long to get comfortable in the Ravens' locker room. Teammates quickly took to his gregarious nature. Tackle Orlando Brown noticed two things about Cavil: He countered his easygoing personality with a nasty streak on the field, and he had a weak spot for a certain snack.

Before long, Cavil became known simply as "Honey Buns." Word got out of Owings Mills about that nickname, and the next thing Cavil knew, Tastykake had sent him a case of his favorite breakfast treat.

"It didn't take Ben long to fit in," Brown said. "All of us [linemen] are real physical, and once I saw he wasn't soft, he was one of us.

"Sometimes, Ben was too physical. When you get into a nine-step [pass protection] drop, you can't just jump your guy at the line and try to beat the heck out of him. You got to sit back and wait to engage the guy."

Cavil, 26, learned plenty at Oklahoma, where he studied communications and remains 15 credits shy of a bachelor's degree. The son of two school administrators who still live in LaMarque, Texas, Cavil sees himself pursuing a master's in that same field.

He was impossible not to notice on the football field.

Start with his strength. Cavil topped all of his Sooners teammates with an 850-pound squat. And he handled his switch from defense to offense gracefully, earning second-team All-Big

Eight honors as a senior in 1994 after changing sides of the ball midway through his collegiate career.

"It was hard to switch at first. You don't hear your name called at all [for a tackle or a sack]," said Cavil, a former defensive tackle. "You have to get used to the biggest reward coming when you pancake somebody into the ground, and your running back scores or your quarterback throws a touchdown pass."

However, Oklahoma basically doesn't know the meaning of passing, which presented Cavil with a major drawback as he tried to make his way in the NFL.

Still, the more the Ravens watched him on tape during the 1997 preseason, the more they liked his bullish presence.

"We saw a guy who was aggressive and had toughness. That's where it all starts," Ravens offensive line coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Ben is better equipped to fight for the job now."

Pub Date: 7/28/98

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