Giants a sight for sore eyes Ravens relieved preseason's ending, real work at hand

August 28, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Sure, the Ravens would like to win their preseason finale against the New York Giants tonight. It would give them a 4-0 exhibition record and additional momentum going into their most promising regular season since the team moved here from Cleveland 30 months ago.

Yet, with the exception of some players who are fighting for spots on the 53-man roster that must be finalized on Sunday, the Ravens weren't exactly squirming in anticipation as they boarded a train for New Jersey yesterday.

Most of them are banged up and relieved that a strange preseason schedule -- one during which they waited nine days to play Philadelphia on Monday, then prepared for tonight's with one day of practice -- is nearly behind them. They're more excited that the regular-season opener against Pittsburgh at the To Be Named Later Stadium here is finally upon them, and they want to be healthy for the Sept. 6 kickoff.

"If anybody tells you they're not looking toward Pittsburgh, they're lying to you," said tight end Eric Green, who probably will sit out tonight's game with a sore knee.

"Every one of us knows the task at hand. That [the Steelers] is what I've been preparing for this whole off-season," Green added. "I don't want to say we're overlooking this game. It's going to be a tough game. But this game is more about tuning up to go into the Pittsburgh game on a positive note."

Tailback Errict Rhett, who is chasing Jay Graham for the starting job, begs to differ.

"I play every game like it's my last game," Rhett said. "I don't care if it's preseason or we're playing against Jones High School. I want to win. Who doesn't want to win at everything? I've got a mosquito fight I want to win. We're preparing for the Giants, and we want to beat them."

"You play every game to win. That's first and foremost. And we certainly want to win," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "Second, we hope nobody gets hurt and that everybody is well for Pittsburgh."

Among the Ravens' prime objectives tonight is getting their offensive line back to an acceptable performance level after Monday's sloppy showing against the Eagles. The Ravens ran the ball poorly and didn't fare much better on pass protection. Quarterback Jim Harbaugh bailed them out repeatedly with his scrambling ability.

Because Marchibroda plans to play the bulk of his starters for only a quarter, the first team needs to rebound quickly. Among the linemen, only first-year center Jeff Mitchell and left guard Wally Williams, who looked sluggish in his first action after a lengthy holdout, will play longer.

Although they suffered the loss of cornerback Jason Sehorn to injury, the Giants figure to test the Ravens defensively. Their front seven includes Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan and outside linebacker Jessie Armstead. Several Ravens linemen said that group was the nastiest they faced in 1997.

"[The Giants] have had a whole week to prepare for this game, and this probably will be the strongest defensive team we've faced so far [this preseason]," Marchibroda said. "They'll be ready."

The Ravens should benefit from the return of Jermaine Lewis, who figures to test the Giants deep from his wide-out position and put pressure on their special-teams coverage as a punt returner.

Defensively, the Ravens, who have allowed only 13 points in the preseason, will be looking closely at a number of backup players.

With the emergence of free-agent rookies like Lional Dalton, Larry Fitzpatrick and Chartric Darby, could the end be near for four-year veteran Mike Frederick or second-year man Chris Ward? With newly acquired safety Corey Harris likely to make the team, are the days numbered for Rondell Jones or Donny Brady?

The Ravens will hold out a number of defenders tonight. Strong )) safety Stevon Moore (shoulder) expects to play on Sept. 6, as do tackle Larry Webster (hamstring), linebacker Cornell Brown (hamstring) and cornerback John Williams (arm fracture).

Offensively, backup lineman James Atkins (knee) will not play, and tight end Brian Kinchen (thumb) should see limited duty, his first of the preseason.

Watch list

1. The offensive line: Against Philadelphia on Monday night, its run-blocking was miserable. Even with deft scrambling by quarterback Jim Harbaugh (five rushes, 42 yards), the Ravens managed only 3.1 yards per carry in the first half. The pass protection also was weak, especially from right tackle Orlando Brown. Left guard Wally Williams showed the effects of his long training-camp holdout, and he needs to rebound. Center Jeff Mitchell gets his final preseason tuneup. He and Williams will play longer than the rest of the starters.

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