The new and improved Eric Green is almost as impressive as the old one.
Only a couple of days ago in training camp, the tight end blocked linebacker Chris Buxton 15 yards down the field and out of the video camera picture. A day later, he caught two long passes in practice, including one for 40 yards for a touchdown against middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
If that wasn't enough, then consider yesterday. Green, who reportedly missed 39 practices in one season with the Miami Dolphins, told tight ends coach Ken Whisenhunt his knee was sore.
Then, Green still went out for practice. Not only did he participate, but he also didn't miss a repetition.
"He is having a good camp after coming off a good off-season. Eric is a very competitive person," Whisenhunt said. "Today, I'm not sure the Eric Green of the past would have practiced. But he was out there and took every rep. To me, that's a statement."
Green is being heard and felt quite often around training camp. He is easily one of the team's most impressive players. He has been crushing outside linebackers with an explosive initial step and sheer strength. He owns the short and intermediate passing zones, and then buzzes past linebackers and safeties on deep routes.
Green may not be the same player he was in Pittsburgh when he was All-Pro in his rookie season of 1990, but this is the closest he has come to that form.
"There is a fire there, like he has something to prove," strong-side linebacker Peter Boulware said. "He has come ready to play. With most players, you play to their strengths. With Eric, you don't really know what his strength is, because he has speed, quickness and power. He can do it all."
Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said: "He has been catching the ball downfield in practice. He worked extremely hard during the off-season and is in great shape."
A year ago, Green was the team's third-leading receiver with 65 catches for 601 yards and five touchdowns. But during the off-season, Green went on a diet and reshaped his 285-pound body. He didn't lose a lot of weight, just moved it around.
He went from a size 44 waist to a 38.
"I turned a lot of fat into muscle," said Green, 6 feet 5, 280 pounds. "I started eating right. Instead of fried chicken, I'd eat baked or grilled chicken."
Green also got on a rigorous cardiovascular program, exercising on a walking/cycling machine twice daily with 45-minute workouts. Then he would run outside.
Green reported little stress on his knees, which had caused him to miss substantial playing and practice time the past three seasons. The knee problems started in 1995, when Green had arthroscopic knee surgery to repair cartilage while with the Dolphins. He returned to the playing field within nine days. The Dolphins cut him before the start of the 1996 season.
"One thing that turned my life around was getting cut from Miami," Green said. "Coming from Pittsburgh, I was the highest-paid tight end to ever play the game. They told me I was going to be the centerpiece of their offense. They were going to get me the ball. I was nothing more than the third tackle.
"Then a guy [Jimmy Johnson] comes in and told me I was not good enough to play for his team. But those things motivated me, pushed me. Now, I look forward to having my best season since I averaged 15 yards a catch with Pittsburgh in 1993. I want 100 catches."
That many receptions may be a stretch but not a superb season. Green smells big numbers and big money. He turned down a two-year, $4 million contract offer from the New Orleans Saints to stay one more season with the Ravens for $1.2 million.
The Ravens are committed to a running game and have one of the biggest offensive lines in the NFL, while the Saints are still trying to build an offense and find a philosophy. The Ravens have Jim Harbaugh, a short- to intermediate-range passer, while the Saints counter with Heath Shuler and Billy Joe Hobert, two quarterbacks who seemingly can't throw at all.
"The trainers and doctors on this team have worked well with me," Green said. "There was a lot more money on the table in New Orleans, but I wanted to give something back to this organization. They can reap the benefits from helping me.
"You win in this league with a running game, defense and by passing when it's not expected. If we're successful running, then that will draw the linebackers up. Once we play-action, that gives me more room to work. As for Jim Harbaugh, a lot of people think we're going to work out well together. He likes to throw to me, for some reason," said Green, laughing.
A great season could extend Green's career for another three to four seasons. It could also silence the critics who have said he has a poor work ethic.
"I would like to do an extension," said Green, 31. "Right now, I feel I can play another two or three years. The coaches feel confident in me, and sometimes a player performs better when he knows he is needed. I'm very excited about this season, more so than I've ever been since Pittsburgh. As for my critics, I'll leave them to make their own judgments about me."
Pub Date: 7/30/98