Ravens look to stay on course Building momentum in next-to-last tuneup remains top priority

August 24, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

If the preseason is the time to make a statement, then the Ravens can make a big one tonight when they face the Philadelphia Eagles at Later To Be Named Stadium at Camden '' Yards.

The Ravens have been businesslike and thorough in two preseason wins against the Chicago Bears and New York Jets, but this is a team that has not been able to sustain a substantial winning streak since moving here nearly three years ago.

It may only be preseason, but the Ravens need all the momentum they can muster heading into the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 6. This probably will be the last extensive playing time for the first team in the preseason, because coach Ted Marchibroda won't play the first units nearly as much against the New York Giants on Friday night.

"I've talked to the guys about keeping it rolling," Marchibroda said. "During the course of the last two ballgames when we had leads, I let them know that we've been at this point several times during the last two years, only to relax and give up the lead. So, in other words, I've talked to them about staying sharp over a period of time.

"I haven't talked to them yet about playing in the new stadium for a second time, but I will address that."

Marchibroda expects to play his starters for about a half, but injuries have forced starting wide receiver Jermaine Lew is (ankle) and safety Stevon Moore (shoulder) out of the game. Reserve defensive tackle Larry Webster (hamstring) and tight end Brian Kinchen (hand) are also not expected to play, and game-time decisions will be made on starting defensive tackle Tony Siragusa (neck and back spasms) and backup offensive lineman James Atkins.

One starter who will get a lot of playing time is left guard/center Wally Williams, the team's designated franchise player. Williams held out 24 days and reported Tuesday. He is expected to play at least 2 1/2 quarters against the Eagles, all at guard.

Marchibroda said yesterday he expected second-year player Jeff Mitchell to hold the job and start at center in the season opener against the Steelers.

"Wally will play quite a bit," Marchibroda said. "He'll play the first half with the first unit and the second half with the second group. We have to get him some work."

The Ravens have averaged 366.5 yards on offense and are not expected to show anything different tonight. The emphasis will be on the running game with Jay Graham starting at running back with fullback Roosevelt Potts, and Errict Rhett replacing Graham late in the first half. Michael Jackson also will start at wide receiver after missing last week's game with a shoulder injury.

"We'll be working on refining the offense," Marchibroda said. "We've played smart football in the two games we've won. We're not making a lot of mental errors. The players are recognizing what they see, and they're reacting with good plays. It's early. We know that, but we're seeing some good signs."

Defensively, the Ravens should get a stiffer challenge, definitely a different look, tonight from what the Jets presented last week. The Eagles run the West Coast offense, which is built around a short passing attack. That means cornerbacks Rod Woodson, Duane Starks and DeRon Jenkins could be challenged for the first time this season.

Also, with Moore out, strong safety Ralph Staten will make his second straight start and free safety Kim Herring again will call the coverages.

"We want to show a steady improvement. That's our major concern," weak-side linebacker Jamie Sharper said of the defense, which is allowing only 116 yards a game. "The Eagles run the West Coast offense, they're playing in their third exhibition game, so we might see a lot of looks they haven't shown yet. The Jets came out with some different things, and Curtis Martin got a couple of decent runs against us. We've got to be ready."

The Ravens will make the first mandatory league cuts tomorrow morning, so this could be the last game for some players. Unlike last season, when the Ravens cut about 33 percent of their roster, there aren't many players on the bubble.

One key position to watch is defensive tackle, where rookie free agents Larry Fitzpatrick and Lional Dalton will split playing time if Siragusa is unable to play.

Ravens tonight

Who: Philadelphia Eagles

When: 7: 30

Where: Ravens stadium

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

Line: Ravens by 6

Pub Date: 8/24/98

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