Jones: Defensive line is due for big season 'We're light years ahead,' underrated tackle says

Ravens notebook TTC

August 05, 1998|By Ryan Basen | Ryan Basen,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Defensive tackle James Jones was one of the Ravens' unsung heroes in 1997, quietly starting all 16 games and recording six sacks, 75 tackles and three forced fumbles. Jones no longer cares about last season, though.

"I don't like to look back, even at a good year," Jones said. "We didn't win enough games, that's the bottom line. That's enough motivation for me to want to get better and push my teammates harder."

For an encore, Jones hasn't set statistical goals. With the defensive line healthy and in its first full training camp together, Jones expects even bigger contributions from himself.

"I want to focus on improving every day, and for that to happen we need a combination of things," Jones said. "I have them. I'm in good condition, I'm healthy and I worked very hard in the off-season.

"It'll also make my job easier to have Rob [Burnett], Goose [Tony Siragusa] and Mike [McCrary] there to take some of the pressure off of me. The line is healthier than last year and we're all better. We're light years ahead in our practice time together [as compared to 1997]. The stats will come if I give 100 percent on every play.

"I expect big things from this team. Guys are willing to pay the price to win. We're working very hard every day in camp. What it comes down to is making three or four big plays in the second half of a game. We need to make those plays this year. We can't shy away from them. If you do, you shouldn't be out there."

Caught in switches

The Ravens signed free agent James Atkins from Seattle in the off-season to help shore up the offensive line. Atkins played mostly at tackle in Seattle but asked for the chance to compete for the starting left guard spot. Two weeks into training camp, Atkins was back at right tackle, stepping in for Orlando Brown with the first team for three practices on Sunday and Monday.

Brown sat out certain drills to rest his sore ankle but returned to his position with the first team yesterday. Atkins worked with the second team at left tackle.

It has been difficult for Atkins to switch positions, even though he has played both guard and tackle in his four-year NFL career.

"At the same time I've had to get my technique down at tackle, I've also had to adjust to a new system in Baltimore," Atkins said. "In Seattle we had five-step drops, a lot of screens and a West Coast offense. That meant blocking at a 45-degree angle. Here, we square up more and block guys forward. It's a different offense."

Atkins has also had trouble jumping around after being told he may start. "I'm in an awkward situation," he said. "I wish I had had the chance to start at [left] guard. The coaches told me I'd have the opportunity to compete in camp and said, 'the best man wins.' "

It doesn't make it any easier on Atkins that he has to fill in for Brown, the team's mammoth tackle.

"It's a challenge but I have to be myself, not try to play like he does," said Atkins. "I'm a mean guy, too. I've got a mean streak."

Ofodile in as starter

Backup tight end A. J. Ofodile, who played in 12 games on special teams last season, lined up with the first team yesterday. With Brian Kinchen injured and Eric Green (knee) sitting out the morning session, Ofodile played ahead of the other two tight ends in camp, rookie Cam Quayle and 10-year veteran Harper Le Bel.

Ofodile didn't feel as if anything had changed, though. "This practice is not any different at all. I still have to be intense and keep with my technique out there," he said.

In the afternoon Green returned to practice and Ofodile went back to the second team.

Ofodile faces stiff competition from Quayle and Le Bel for the third spot but is not worried.

"I don't feel any extra pressure because it's the same as last year," Ofodile said. "Last year I beat out two other guys [for the third tight end job]. It's just a part of this business."

Ofodile may find out just how much of a business the NFL is if he does not make significant strides in 1998.

"When it's your third or fourth year in the league and you haven't become a starter, it becomes important to show what you can do," said tight ends coach Ken Whisenhunt. "We haven't seen much of A. J. in the preseason. Essentially it's now or never."

Washington gets reps

Defensive end Keith Washington has made steady progress ever since he signed with Minnesota as an undrafted free agent in 1995. With injuries along the defensive line, he's getting a long look.

Washington was on the Vikings' practice squad in '95 before playing with Detroit in 1996. Last season, Washington played in 10 games for the Ravens and started the season finale against Cincinnati. For the year, he recorded two sacks and 24 tackles.

With Martin Chase, Mike Frederick and Burnett missing time at camp, Washington has been awarded far more practice repetitions than he expected.

"The more I do in practice, the better I feel," he said. "Plays start to come naturally the more times you see them. The only problem [with practicing more] is I'm getting more tired."

Pub Date: 8/05/98

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