NFL becomes reality for Starks Despite hamstring injury, top pick set for duty today, 'will play quite a lot'

Ravens notebook

August 15, 1998|By Eduardo A. Encina | Eduardo A. Encina,SUN STAFF (Staff writer Ryan Basen contributed to this article.)

Cornerback Duane Starks, the Ravens' first-round draft selection, has recovered from a hamstring injury enough to play in an NFL contest for the first time today when the Ravens meet the New York Jets in a preseason game at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.

Starks, the 10th pick overall in the draft, watched from the sideline in last week's game against the Bears, but coach Ted Marchibroda said the rookie will see plenty of playing time today.

"Duane will play quite a lot," Marchibroda said. "We'll put him in the nickel packages, as well as in the two-receiver set. This will be a good test for him."

Starks signed late last week and began practice immediately. But on Wednesday, he injured a hamstring and, though he returned on Thursday for the afternoon practice, there had been some doubt among the coaches that he would be able to play today.

"They've been running me hard since I've gotten here," Starks said. "But now I've got my legs back and am ready to go."

Starks looked ready to go on Thursday, displaying the speed and coverage sense the Ravens desperately need in their secondary. He was full of energy, swatting away several passes and occasionally punching the air in celebration as Deion Sanders does.

But for today's game, Starks said he expects some nervous energy to build up.

"I expect to get [a case of nerves]," he said. "But I think that's something that happens to all guys before the game. Even veterans get it.

"I'm just trying to be relaxed. I want to go in and get on to a good start, and I'm excited to start my pro career."

Starks' work on Thursday got the attention of teammates.

"He's like a bundle of energy out there," cornerback Rod Woodson said.

"It's good to have guys like him who are young and energetic to bring the other guys up."

Listening to R. Lewis

NFL Films sent a camera crew to camp for Wednesday afternoon's practice and stuck a microphone on the jersey of linebacker Ray Lewis. They were hoping to catch some of Lewis' verbal performances on tape.

"I didn't even know I had the mike on," said Lewis, who is one of the more vocal Ravens. "If I knew it were on my jersey I would have watched what I said. I was just me. I didn't do anything special. I just did what I always do during practice."

Lewis isn't sure why NFL Films chose to mike him instead of equally loud teammate Errict Rhett.

Lewis said: "I guess they felt like I was playing well and I'd be an interesting person to mike."

P. Johnson not resting

Rookie receiver Patrick Johnson has made steady strides at his first NFL training camp. He arrived at camp touted as a speedster with a lot of potential but also in need of a lot of work. His work ethic has drawn no complaints from the coaching staff.

"I've picked up on the offense well. I feel like I'm learning a lot," said Johnson, who caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Eric Zeier against Chicago.

"I've improved my catching and reading defenses. Overall, I've become a much better receiver over the past few weeks."

Despite his improvement, Johnson said he has much to learn before becoming a key contributor in the passing game.

"I need to work on my catching, route running, everything. I put the most pressure on myself to get better," he said. "I don't feel any pressure from the other guys. The competition at receiver brings out the best in me. It should for everybody."

Doesn't get easier

Last season, defensive lineman Chris Ward was in the role of a draft pick trying to make the team. A year later, Ward finds the competition no less tough.

The team brought in fifth-round selection Martin Chase, along with free-agent rookies Lional Dalton and Chartric Darby. Each of the three tackles has impressed coaches, putting Ward on the bubble.

"I knew they were going to bring in some young guys this year," said Ward, the first of two seventh-round picks last year. "It just makes me work harder. It's like trying to start over, but it just makes me work harder."

Opening for Ofodile

With the implementation of the Ravens' new "small ball" offense, it appears the main beneficiaries will be running backs and tight ends, who will get more short-yardage passes. And after the thumb injury to Brian Kinchen, tight end A. J. Ofodile has gotten lots of opportunities in the new offense. He intends to use those opportunities to impress coaches.

"Anytime you have a tight end with the talent of Eric Green, I think you have to use him a lot," Ofodile said. "Now, what I have to do is show what I can do and go from there."

Last year, Ofodile made the active roster after being on the Ravens' practice squad in 1996. The past two years, he's played in the World League for the Rhein Fire, which he said has given him a leg up in camp.

"The World League helped out a lot with my conditioning," Ofodile said. "I feel a lot better this year than last year."

This season brings a new challenge for Ofodile, mainly in the form of rookie tight end Cam Quayle. Both are competing for the third spot at the position.

"Every year there is competition in camp," he said. "The only thing I can do is show what I can do and get the coaches' confidence."

Yet Ofodile may be on the bubble, since the team signed free agent Harper Le Bel.

Marchibroda has said Le Bel's main duties will be as a long snapper, yet on the roster he would be designated a tight end. It's rare that a team would keep four tight ends.

Pub Date: 8/15/98

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