In secondary, Ravens' youth is served Young defensive backs get high marks for effort

August 16, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The Ravens were eager to see their young, largely unproven defensive backs take a step forward yesterday, and, after they helped the team lay a 33-0 thumping on the New York Jets, it was hard for coach Ted Marchibroda to find much fault with them.

Sure, rookie cornerback Duane Starks, playing in his first NFL game, showed some lapses in concentration. Like the third-quarter play in which he allowed Jets receiver Alex Van Dyke to beat him with a textbook stop-and-go move along the sideline. Only by stepping out of bounds did Van Dyke fail to beat the rookie for a 35-yard score.

Sure, third-year cornerback DeRon Jenkins struggled a bit early while trying to hang with the taller, more physical Keyshawn Johnson on the outside. Sure, safeties Kim Herring and Ralph Staten were not always on the same page.

All in all, Marchibroda couldn't complain. He saw too much athleticism, too much hustle, too many plays being made by the young men.

"The secondary did their job," Marchibroda said. "They broke up PTC a few passes, they covered people, they hit people. You have to give them high marks in this ballgame."

Herring, looking more comfortable with each series in his second season, settled into his role at free safety more convincingly with an impressively active effort. He led the team with seven tackles, supporting the run defense with some nasty hits on running back Curtis Martin. He intercepted a pass and broke up two more.

Jenkins, trying to secure the job at right cornerback, came on strong to record three solo tackles, two assists and a pass deflection.

Staten, stepping in for the injured Stevon Moore at strong safety, was at his best against the run and blitzing. He produced a solo tackle and three assists, and showed some cover skills he lacked as a rookie in 1997, when he and Herring started the final three games of the season together.

For Starks, the evening was as uneven as it was special. With the Jets employing a three-receiver set for most of the first half, he played outside with Rod Woodson covering slot receiver Wayne Chrebet. In the second half, Starks teamed with Jenkins almost exclusively.

Throughout the first half, Jets starting quarterback Vinny Testaverde chose not to throw his way. To his credit, Starks stuck to wide-out Dedric Ward for most of the half.

After replacing Testaverde, Glenn Foley came after Starks repeatedly in the second half. During one third-quarter sequence that began with about eight minutes left, Van Dyke beat Starks for an 11-yard completion that went for a first down. Two plays later, Van Dyke beat Starks badly, deep down the right sideline, but Foley's throw sailed, forcing him out of bounds. Incomplete.

On the next play, Herring bailed out Starks by picking off Foley. Starks then rebounded by intercepting Foley with 4: 52 left in the game.

"I'd give myself a 'C' tonight. It was an average game for me," Starks said. "I had their receivers covered pretty good [in the first half]. I think I got a little relaxed, because they weren't throwing my way.

"I was a little tired in the second half, but that's no reason to lose my focus, though I give credit to [Van Dyke] for beating me on a good hitch-and-go. I've got to focus more on my responsibility in the Philly game. I didn't expect to have the game of my life in my first preseason game."

Marchibroda said: "They went after him at times, and he's going to have a lot of teams go after him. He needs work. I don't think there's any question about that. I think he knows it."

Marchibroda said he was most pleased with Herring's work, from his ability to communicate secondary signals to his relentless hustle.

"He made more strides. He played a smart game," Marchibroda said of Herring. "I think he was in the right place at the right time a lot."

Pub Date: 8/16/98

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