For Marchibroda, caution's in order Signs please coach, who urges perspective

August 17, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Two impressive victories into the preseason, Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda is in no mood to celebrate yet, although he concedes the team is setting the tone for a successful 1998 season that begins in 20 days against Pittsburgh.

The day after crushing the New York Jets on the road, 33-0, Marchibroda joked about burning the videotape he had just reviewed, lest his young players get a little too full of themselves. After all, the Ravens have managed a grand total of 10 regular-season wins in their first two years here.

"But we've got a different ballclub now. There's no comparison to what we had a couple of years ago," Marchibroda said. "We've got more continuity as a team and a coaching staff now. All around, we've got better personnel now. You name it [we've got more of it]."

The Ravens, be it the first- or second-string, had way too much for the Jets and the Bears on the first two weekends of August.

Consider the offensive balance they have shown. While rolling up 733 total yards in the two games, the Ravens have produced 40 first downs, including 20 rushing and 19 passing.

Quarterbacks Jim Harbaugh and Eric Zeier have completed a combined 36 of 53 passes (68 percent). And tailback Errict Rhett (32 rushes, 136 yards) continues to put the heat on Jay Graham (18 for 52) in his quest for the starting job.

Marchibroda was pleased with the way the Ravens opened up their passing attack on Saturday. Departing from their nickel-and-dime strategy against the Bears, Harbaugh and Zeier combined for three completions of more than 25 yards; two of them went for touchdowns -- the first to receiver Jermaine Lewis in the opening half, the second to tight end A. J. Ofodile in the second half.

Ofodile, after disappointing the Ravens last preseason, has become a coach's pleasant problem in his second tour here. The Ravens are sure to keep Eric Green and the injured Brian Kinchen on their 53-man roster.

Kinchen's ability to snap on punts, field goals and extra points makes him invaluable. And the Ravens signed veteran tight end Harper Le Bel to have an insurance long snapper on hand.

Could Ofodile, who has four catches for 79 yards in two games -- including the 39-yard touchdown against the Jets -- force the Ravens to go with four tight ends or to cut Le Bel?

"That's going to be one of our tougher decisions. A. J. has really showed us something the last two weeks," Marchibroda said.

Ofodile said: "The biggest thing I have to do is show them I can be consistent. I'm smart enough to know the plays I make come from good calls made by the coaches. It's my job to make the plays when the chances arise."

As for his tailback situation, Marchibroda said he plans to stick with Graham as his starter next Monday night against visiting Philadelphia, although he hinted Rhett is gaining ground in one of the more interesting position battles of training camp.

"One of Errict's jobs is to control the game, and he's been awfully good at that. He's a good, tough runner," Marchibroda said. "He still has to gain a full understanding of the offense. We're going to need him with the first unit at some point. He knows his time will come."

At some point this week, the offensive line -- which was missing three starters on Saturday -- should be at full strength. Veteran center Wally Williams, the team's franchise player who has held out of camp since he has not signed a long-term contract, is expected to report to camp today.

Right tackle Orlando Brown, who sat out the Jets game with a sore right ankle, is expected to resume practicing this week. And the news on left guard Ben Cavil is good. Cavil, who left Saturday's game with a lacerated eyelid, suffered an abrasion on his right cornea, but should return to practice today wearing a face shield.

Marchibroda heaped praise on his defense, which turned in another stellar effort at Giants Stadium. He was especially pleased with the pass rush and the coverage ability shown by safeties Kim Herring and Ralph Staten after the Jets went to three- and four-receiver sets for most of the first half.

The pass rush, generated primarily by ends Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett and linebacker Peter Boulware, has taken pressure off the young secondary. The front line also has stuffed the run with outstanding penetration.

In two preseason games, the defense has allowed one touchdown, 18 first downs and 232 total yards, while stopping opponents on 19 of 25 third-down opportunities. The first unit has not permitted a score, while giving up just 54 yards and seven first downs.

"Our front has really played well in both ballgames," Marchibroda said. "The defense finished strong last year, and we're more aggressive this year. We've added to it every year. This is the best defensive unit we've had."

NOTES: The Ravens lost second-year cornerback John Williams for at least 10 days to a fractured ulna in his right arm, suffered in the closing minutes of Saturday's game. Trainer Bill Tessendorf said Williams could return for the preaseason finale against the Giants on Aug. 28. Defensive tackle Larry Webster (hamstring) is day-to-day. Wide receiver Michael Jackson (shoulder), offensive lineman James Atkins (left Achilles') and cornerback Tyrone Hughes (right knee) could practice today. The Ravens have offered a contract that includes a signing bonus to free-agent safety Corey Harris, who could sign with them today. Only 500 tickets remain for the Nov. 29 regular-season game against the Colts. About 1,500 are left for the Jacksonville game on Nov. 1, and 1,800 remain for the Oakland game a week later.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Philadelphia Eagles

Site: Ravens stadium

When: Next Monday, 7: 30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Pub Date: 8/17/98

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