Steady diet of 'names' on menu Topped by Sanders, backs posing weekly challenges

Ravens notebook

July 31, 1998|By Mike Preston and Gary Lambrecht | Mike Preston and Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Ever since the 1998 NFL schedule was released last spring, the Ravens have been pointing to one date -- the season opener on Sept. 6, the day Pittsburgh will help christen the team's Camden Yards stadium.

But don't think the players have failed to notice what's on the rest of the plate. You want to see a parade of the league's more dynamic running backs? How about some of the cream of this year's draft? Just follow the Ravens.

"We've got some people to buckle up for," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Nothing but big-name backs. I'm really looking forward to playing against Barry."

That would be the remarkable Barry Sanders, who comes to town with the Detroit Lions to close out the regular season on Dec. 27.

The rest of the schedule includes a who's who of running backs. There's Curtis Martin and the Jets on Sept. 13, Dorsey Levens (if he can agree on contract terms) and the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 25, Napoleon Kaufman and the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 8 and Robert Smith and the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 13.

And that's merely an addition to the normal, twice-a-year diet of such AFC Central backs as Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis, Tennessee's Eddie George and Cincinnati's Corey Dillon.

The Ravens also get a close-up look at some of the top draft picks.

They'll see quarterback Ryan Leaf in San Diego on Nov. 15, then play host to Peyton Manning and the Colts two weeks later. They'll face cornerback Charles Woodson when the Raiders come to town. They'll deal with running back Curtis Enis in Chicago on Dec. 20. Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor will come at them twice. And don't forget Minnesota wide receiver Randy Moss.

As the players drag through the dog days of training camp, their minds are a bit more fixed on the present -- the next practice, the next meeting, the next repetition.

"It's tough enough out here, as opposed to looking forward to a Barry Sanders," defensive end Keith Washington said. "It will be challenging to go against guys like that, but I can speak for a lot of guys when I say it's too early to look that far ahead. We've got to get through this first."

Said defensive tackle Larry Webster: "It will be good to go against good ballplayers like that. It will be good to see how good some of those young guys really are, because this isn't college anymore. We know we've got some good competition. You think about the future, then you jump back to the here-and-now."

Sluggish effort

Maybe it's the tired legs that set in during the first phase of training camp. Maybe it was the fact that coach Ted Marchibroda gave the players Wednesday night off -- no meetings, no 11 p.m. curfew, just an obligation to be at the morning meetings yesterday on time.

Whatever it was, the team looked so sluggish at yesterday morning's practice that Marchibroda didn't attempt to conceal his irritation.

"We had too many dropped balls. It was a little sloppy out there. They didn't practice nearly as well as they need to," Marchibroda said.

"I don't want to blame it on the morning after a night off. They have to practice better than that. We've got some guys who think they'll be ready when the preseason opens up [Aug. 8]. Those same guys say they'll be ready when the season starts. They're the same guys who will never be ready."

It's a snap

Harper Le Bel, a veteran of 10 NFL seasons, has done this before. He's been through many two-a-days and hot training camps. But he's not used to doing it on such short notice.

"I hadn't snapped a football since December," said Le Bel, signed by the Ravens on Wednesday after spending last season with the Chicago Bears. He was brought in after tight end Brian Kinchen, the Ravens' long snapper, tore a tendon in his right thumb, putting him out for about six weeks.

"I know that I'll be a little rusty," Le Bel said. "I could have played better today, and I know that. But I'll have a better day tomorrow. It's good to get the pads on and work."

Le Bel has appeared in 131 NFL games and caught one pass, good for nine yards, with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1990. He has seen some action at tight end, mostly in his first three years with the Atlanta Falcons, for whom he played from 1991 to 1996. Le Bel was originally drafted in 1985 by Kansas City in the 12th round.

"If I could play some tight end on top of long snapper, I'd be real happy. But I can live with snapping for the season," Le Bel said. "That's what they brought me in here to do."

Camp update

Missing in action: Wide receiver Michael Jackson and running back Errict Rhett missed the morning workouts yesterday because of personal problems. Rhett's brother was in a serious automobile accident. Wide receiver Jermaine Lewis was out because of a hip flexor. Fullback Roosevelt Potts missed last night's practice with right-knee injury that's not believed to be serious. Fullback/special teams player Tony Vinson (Towson State) missed the practice with a separated left shoulder and could be out for a week. He's expected to get an MRI this morning.

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