2-back set a switch in formation, philosophy Ball control is the goal of backfield realignment, newcomers Rhett, Potts

Running backs

September 04, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

For proof that the Ravens have undergone a major transformation in 1998, look no farther than the offensive backfield.

Gone is troubled running back Bam Morris and the one-back set, in favor of a two-back system that stresses ball control, clock management and a pound-it-at-the-defense mentality.

And here are the twin engines the Ravens are counting on to make the attack go -- running back Errict Rhett and fullback Roosevelt Potts.

Combined with second-year tailback Jay Graham, the Ravens say they have the right combination of size, speed and toughness to give defenses headaches.

"With Potts we've got the power, with Jay Graham we've got the speed, and with Rhett we've got the tough guy," right guard Jeff Blackshear said. "We've got a pretty good backfield."

Graham and Rhett were part of the preseason's most interesting position battle. From the beginning, coach Ted Marchibroda, who loves Graham's big-play potential, stuck with the second-year back as his starter.

But from the beginning, Rhett, who is trying to resurrect a promising career after two unproductive seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, pressed the youngster for playing time, and the veteran finally was named starter on Wednesday.

The addition of Rhett, a pint-sized version of ex-Raven Morris, has brought the Ravens a rough-and-tumble runner inside who exudes nonstop energy on and off the field.

Rhett, acquired in a trade with the Buccaneers, rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his first two seasons (1994-1995). He also talks trash as hard as he runs.

"All I can do is push everybody. I try to lead by example," said Rhett, who led the team in training camp scraps. "I don't take a play off. Maybe I try too hard at times, but going hard is all that matters to me."

Graham tantalized the Ravens as a rookie with a 35-carry, 154-yard, midseason rushing performance against the Philadelphia Eagles. He also suffered an ankle injury that day that pretty much ended his year. Graham started three games and rushed for 299 yards on the season.

No matter who lines up at tailback, the Ravens feel better about their chances due to the addition of the 250-pound Potts, a veteran who signed as a free agent. Potts, who played his best football with Marchibroda in Indianapolis, missed the entire 1996 season after violating the league's substance abuse policy.

The Ravens also believe they have found needed depth in second-year fullback Kenyon Cotton and second-year tailback Priest Holmes, each of whom made the team as free agents last year. Both are among the team's most improved players and are coming off excellent preseasons.

"Cotton has turned into a real player, and Priest is a jewel," said former Raven Earnest Byner, who assists running backs coach Al Lavan. "I'm excited for both of them, and they make us better."

Scouting report

Strengths: This group, with Errict Rhett's toughness, Jay Graham's speed and Roosevelt Potts' ability to deliver the crunching block, should present problems. Second-year players Kenyon Cotton and Priest Holmes offer encouraging depth.

Weaknesses: Except for Graham, who had injury problems as a rookie, the Ravens lack a legitimate game-breaker. Graham needs to be more physical inside and should hit the holes harder.

Skinny: It's not a stretch to think that the fate of the Ravens in 1998 depends on how well this group performs.

Preseason grade: B. Graham's inability to gain tough yards was glaring. Rhett's ability to do it was striking. It's no shock that Rhett was named the starter.

Pub Date: 9/04/98

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