Williams back, line assembly complete Moved to left guard, he says 'sky's limit' for Ravens' top unit

August 19, 1998|By Eduardo A. Encina | Eduardo A. Encina,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' greatest strength just got stronger.

Left guard/center Wally Williams arrived at camp yesterday, ending a 24-day holdout, and the Ravens' offensive line is intact.

Williams practiced with the first team at left guard during yesterday's practice, a move coach Ted Marchibroda has hinted the past two days. Last year, Williams started the last 10 games of the season -- eight at center, two at left guard -- after recovering from an off-season Achilles' injury.

Williams appeared near his playing weight of 315 as he went head-to-head with defensive tackle Tony Siragusa during full contact drills, looking effective most of the time.

"The first couple of plays didn't feel too good. I mean, Goose is a big guy," Williams said. "But after that it felt good just to be out here. I see it as just like the first day of training camp during my rookie season. I am behind and I have to work hard to catch up."

Williams is unsure whether he will be able to play in the final two preseason games, but he has made it a goal to start the season opener Sept. 6. Marchibroda said he would like Williams to play as soon as possible.

With Williams' arrival, the offensive line that is the team's strongest point -- with Williams, left tackle Jonathan Ogden, right tackle Orlando Brown, right guard Jeff Blackshear and center Jeff Mitchell -- is assembled, and there are high expectations that it will be among the NFL's best.

"I think that with the unit we have, the sky's the limit for us," Williams said. "We don't have backs that can't run the ball. We don't have an unpredictable quarterback. I think we have all the tools to be successful."

Williams, the Ravens' franchise player, skipped the June minicamp and held out for nearly four weeks of training camp as he sought a lucrative, multi-year contract extension. With the franchise tag, Williams is guaranteed a salary of $3.062 million this season.

"Was it worth it? I don't know if I would say it was really worth it," Williams said of his holdout. "But physically I feel good. I don't have any bumps and bruises and feel fresh, and I just want to get out there and get going.

"It wasn't a protest; I did it to prove a point. It is a thing a franchise player can take advantage of. A lot of guys in that case take advantage of it."

Marchibroda said, "We are very pleased to have Wally in camp. We felt our main need was at left guard and Wally's played it and he fulfills our need."

Williams' shift to left guard leaves Ben Cavil the odd man out. Cavil came into camp in a fight for the position and has played on the first team in Williams' absence.

But Cavil said he was happy to see Williams back in camp, adding, "I'm not worried about that [not being the starter]. I'm just going to go out there and compete and play. Wally is the franchise player and there is no soreness about it."

Williams' switch means that second-year player Mitchell will start at center. Mitchell, who missed last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during training camp, has practiced with the first team since minicamp in June.

Coaches have been impressed with Mitchell in the two preseason games, especially his run blocking.

"I've just got to keep on playing the way I have been lately," Mitchell said. "You're only as good as the last game you played.

"It feels good to be out there. Last year was terrible for me, sitting out and having to watch from the sideline. It feels good to just go out there and participate."

Ogden, coming off a season in which he started in the Pro Bowl and was named All-Pro, will be the line's anchor. The physical play of tackle Brown and guard Blackshear on the right side has continued during camp.

"It's very good to have [Ogden and Brown] out there. One of the main goals of the line is to protect the quarterback and that starts from the outside," Marchibroda said. "They do it well and keep everything in control."

Yesterday, Williams' fellow linemen joked with him as he returned. Blackshear took his hand and led him onto the practice field as if he were lost.

"The guys got their punches in today," Williams said. "But I want to be the one making some punches in the next couple of days."

Pub Date: 8/19/98

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