Williams to join Ravens today Holdout has no problem moving to left guard

CB Harris is signed

August 18, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens starting center Wally Williams said last night that he plans to join the team at training camp this morning and has no problems with coach Ted Marchibroda possibly moving him to left guard.

Williams, in his sixth year, had planned to join the team yesterday morning at Western Maryland College but said he altered those plans because he needed to take care of certain family matters. His absence yesterday seemed to annoy members of the Ravens' front office as well as the coaching staff.

Meanwhile yesterday, the Ravens agreed to a one-year contract with cornerback Corey Harris. Terms of the deal were not available, but Harris is expected to have an impact on the team's special teams as well as on passing situations when five or six defensive backs are required.

"There were just certain things I had to do because my wife was leaving town, the children had to be cared for," said Williams, whose holdout has lasted 24 days. "I'm not out to please everybody. Some of them might say you said you were going to be here after two weeks, then you said three weeks. But you know, there have been a lot of things said during this whole process that didn't come true from both sides.

"I did what I had to do and I handled it the way I wanted to handle it all the way until the end," said Williams, who lives 20 to 25 minutes from the team's camp headquarters. "This has been a stressful situation, long and drawn out. When I report, it's over. All I want to do is focus and get ready for the season opener."

Williams is the team's designated franchise player and is guaranteed a salary of $3.062 million this season, which is the average salary of the top five offensive linemen in the league. Williams made $900,000 last season.

Williams reportedly wants a deal that will pay him more than New York Jets center Kevin Mawae, who signed a five-year, $16.8 million contract including a $5 million signing bonus on Feb. 19. Williams was rated the top free-agent center on the market after last season and Mawae was considered No. 2.

"I've seen a lot of guys come in late and still start," Marchibroda said. "But they have a tough time catching up and usually don't have good seasons."

Williams isn't sure how the holdout will affect him. He says he has worked out constantly and is below his required weight, which is 315 pounds.

"I don't run pass routes or have to break on a ball," Williams said. "Everything I need to hit is within a 1-yard radius. Hey, I wasn't in shape to play last year after coming back from the injury [ruptured Achilles' tendon], but I played. So I know I can do it now.

"I'm in fairly good shape, but I know I can't prepare for the hitting," he added. "But one of the main purposes of the holdout was for me to come in and just get ready for the season opener on Sept. 6. I've got 2 1/2 weeks to prepare. I'm not looking at the two remaining preseason games. I want to get in my work, work with the guys and then have my legs under me for the first game."

According to the collective bargaining agreement, Williams had until the 10th game of the regular season to report even though the Ravens were not required to pay him for games missed. The Ravens, though, were perturbed by Williams' absence yesterday. Owner Art Modell and team vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome had few comments about the situation.

When asked if the team had entered any recent negotiations with Williams, Newsome said no and then responded: "He and I have an understanding. That's all I will say."

"I talked to Ozzie on the day veterans reported to camp," Williams said. "He said that if I kept my weight down and played all right that it was their job to entice me with a long-term contract. I'm going to take him for his word that it will happen if I keep my end of the deal. I'm not going to take anything for granted, but if it happens it happens because I want to stay here. If it doesn't, well, then I just have to move on."

Once Williams reports, he could find himself at a new position. Marchibroda said there is a strong possibility Williams could be moved to left guard, where the coach has not been satisfied with the play of present starter Ben Cavil or backup Spencer Folau. Williams has played both positions during his six years with the Browns/Ravens. Present starting center Jeff Mitchell, a second-year player who hasn't played a down in an NFL regular season, would retain the job.

"That's fine with me," Williams said. "I've done it before when somebody got hurt, and I did it last year filling in the last two games at left guard. I don't mind filling the void."

The move would be a logical and smart one because centers often double-team with guards and therefore can be the weakest lineman.

Mitchell has turned in solid performances in both preseason games and improved in his run blocking, which he rarely had to do at the University of Florida. Marchibroda played Mitchell the entire Jets game while most of the regular starters came out at halftime.

"I think I have played all right, I'm getting the job done, nothing glittering," Mitchell said. "My run blocking has gotten a lot better."

"Left guard is the biggest need on our football team right now and if we brought in someone new, that's where we would play them," Marchibroda said. "I don't think it's a gamble with Jeff at center and Wally at guard, it might be a gamble if we didn't make the move."

Harris' impact won't be as dramatic. The six-year veteran who has played for Houston, Green Bay and Seattle isn't challenging bTC for a starting role, but he is a good athlete and versatile enough to play safety or cornerback. He can match up one-on-one when a team uses four receivers.

"I've done that all my career, that's something I'm used to," Harris said of the nickel and dime defensive situations. "With this team, they go after the quarterback and it's a nice situation to be in. The main thing for me was having the opportunity to play and to play for a winning team."

Pub Date: 8/18/98

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