Zeier set to get call Sunday Marchibroda leaning toward backup QB for first start this year

Source: 'He deserves chance'

Injuries, ineffectiveness hampering Harbaugh

September 23, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

After alternating quarterbacks during the first three games of the season, the Ravens appear ready to hand the starting job to backup Eric Zeier in Sunday's game against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals.

Although Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said he plans to announce his decision today, several sources indicated yesterday that Marchibroda is about to send Jim Harbaugh to the bench and give Zeier his first start of 1998.

"I have to decide what is the best way for us to beat Cincinnati," Marchibroda said. "I know what we're going to do."

Harbaugh, who has yet to complete a half in three starts, has battled injuries to the elbow and the ring finger on his throwing hand, as well as ineffectiveness. Marchibroda pulled him in the second quarter of last Sunday's 24-10 loss in Jacksonville. He later complained that Harbaugh failed to get the ball downfield enough.

Harbaugh suffered a hyperextended finger in the season opener against Pittsburgh, then was bothered by the injury the following week before leaving the game against the New York Jets. Harbaugh said after the Jacksonville loss that his arm and throwing hand felt fine.

Players were off yesterday, and neither Harbaugh nor Zeier could be reached to comment.

"Eric has played well, and he deserves the chance [to start]," one source said. "[Marchibroda] is definitely leaning that way."

As a backup, Zeier has received the bulk of the playing time already this year. He has completed 42 of 72 passes (58.3 percent) for 602 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. His quarterback rating is 93.6. Zeier also went 2-1 as a starter over the final three games of 1997. The loss came against the Bengals, against whom Zeier completed 28 of 41 passes for a career-high 349 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

By contrast this season, Harbaugh has connected on 13 of 26 passes for 128 yards without a score. His rating is 64.3.

The Ravens also are close to benching second-year weak-side linebacker Jamie Sharper for the second consecutive season. Sharper, a second-round draft pick from Virginia who was benched briefly last year, is coming off a subpar performance in Jacksonville.

Sharper missed several tackles on Jaguars halfback Fred Taylor, including one that helped Taylor complete a 52-yard scoring run in the first quarter. He also was part of a blown coverage scheme that allowed tight end Pete Mitchell to catch a 44-yard pass to set up Taylor's run. In addition, Sharper drew criticism for his coverage play on special teams.

"It wasn't one of Jamie's better games, no question about that," Marchibroda said. "These things happen, and I wish I could explain them. We're going to go with Jamie in this [Cincinnati] ballgame."

Unless Sharper rebounds with a strong performance, second-year man Cornell Brown could be taking his place soon.

With Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis out for at least two weeks with a dislocated left elbow, the Ravens are down to five linebackers and are restricted in their flexibility at that position. Tyrus McCloud will replace Lewis, and Brown will function as McCloud's backup.

Sharper was unavailable to comment.

"Jamie has got the frame and he's one of our best athletes, but he still gets into that lackadaisical mode," Lewis said. "He's somebody who has all the ability to be as good as he wants to be. You wonder why does he play like that? I don't understand it.

"Either you're going to get to the ball and hit somebody or not. I've talked to Jamie about this many times. No one can get Jamie to change but Jamie."

NOTES: The Ravens signed offensive lineman Adam Hernandez TC to their practice squad after losing offensive lineman Alex Bernstein, who signed with the Jets. Brown leads the Ravens with five special teams tackles. Bengals cornerback Corey Sawyer had surgery yesterday to repair torn cartilage in his left knee, and is out for one to three months. Thomas Randolph will replace Sawyer as the nickel back. Ravens tight end Eric Green is second in the NFL with 190 receiving yards and trails Denver's Shannon Sharpe by 2 yards. Green is averaging 19 yards on his 10 receptions. Wide receiver Jermaine Lewis has only six receptions in three games, but is averaging a whopping 32.2 yards per catch. The Ravens have been outscored 27-3 in the third quarter.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals

Site: Ravens stadium

When: Sunday, 8: 20 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 2, ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Tickets: About 1,800 remain

Line: Ravens by 5 1/2

Pub Date: 9/23/98

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