McCloud stuck in middle Ravens: Tyrus McCloud relishes his chance to start at middle linebacker, but he hopes fans won't expect him to be Ray Lewis.

September 26, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The education of Tyrus McCloud is about to accelerate.

Ever since he was drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round last year, McCloud has longed for a chance to start at middle linebacker, the place where he established himself as one of the nation's best at Louisville.

Following a freakish injury to Ray Lewis, McCloud gets his wish tomorrow night against Cincinnati before a sellout crowd at Ravens stadium and a national television audience.

McCloud has one request. Don't expect a reincarnation of Lewis, who will be nursing a dislocated left elbow while watching the game from the sideline. Please allow McCloud a chance to make a name for himself.

"The worst thing would be for me to go into a game thinking I'm Ray Lewis. I can't play like Ray," said McCloud, 6 feet 1, 250 pounds. "I can't talk and sound like Ray. I'm not a big-time motivational speaker. I can only use what Ray has shown me and told me. I'm going to go out there and use the tools that got me here."

Among those tools is the brute strength that compares with the average lineman. Remember when McCloud came in second at the NFL scouting combine after bench-pressing 225 pounds a remarkable 36 times? The bulging biceps are still there. So is the mentality that says McCloud will tackle anything he gets his hands on, like he did over his final three seasons at Louisville. McCloud's 403 tackles over that stretch was tops in the nation.

No middle linebacker in the NFL has the explosive first step and pursuit speed of Lewis, which means McCloud will call upon his bulk and instinctive nose for the ball to meet the challenge of shedding blocks and bringing down people like Bengals running back Corey Dillon.

"I visualize a lot, and I have visualized myself knocking the dog out of [Dillon]. Sometimes, visions come true," McCloud said. "[The Bengals] can paint a bull's eye on me if they want. I want that opportunity early, so I can show these guys on defense that I'm with them and I've got their backs.

"I can't hesitate and be afraid to make a mistake. I can't sit back on my heels. Just go. I like this challenge."

Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa said: "I played with Tyrus in the preseason, and I feel comfortable with him in there. Everybody is counting on your [defensive] calls. You're the quarterback."

McCloud's first challenge as a pro was coming to grips with a part-time role as a pro, a task that afflicts the vast majority of rookies. This is a guy who became a starting linebacker late in his true freshman year, a season he concluded by recording a safety against Michigan State in the Liberty Bowl. He wound up his senior year as a semifinalist in the voting for the Butkus Award that recognizes the nation's top linebacker.

Don't get McCloud wrong. Hearing his name called as a Ravens draft pick was a thrill. But once the realization sunk in that Ray Lewis -- a first-round pick a year earlier who was selected for the Pro Bowl in 1997 -- loomed ahead of him on the depth chart, McCloud knew the reduced playing time that lay ahead.

After an impressive preseason, McCloud was used almost exclusively on special teams last year. He finished fourth on the team with nine tackles.

"That was a tough pill to swallow," McCloud said. "The fact that I was the playmaker and the leader of that Louisville defense made it a tough transition being a backup. I had never played special teams before. It was a whole new world."

Once Lewis went down at the end of the first quarter in Jacksonville last week, McCloud's world changed dramatically. He finished with a team-high nine tackles, but wasn't satisfied with his play. Too many sloppy pass coverages. Too many

instances of reading offensive keys without reacting and getting to the hole quickly enough.

To McCloud, it's nothing that a full week of practice with the first team won't cure. Plus, tomorrow night, he won't be adjusting to the game's breakneck speed after coming off the bench.

"Tyrus did a commendable job [against Jacksonville], but he'll -- have to play better this week," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "And he should, because he's got a lot more playing time coming this week."

"It's his defense now. He has to take over," Lewis said of McCloud. "Tyrus is a very smart player and always has been. He's not competing with me. He's competing with the Bengals."

Said McCloud: "I've paid attention to detail all week. I have to go out and keep those details in mind while I'm going full speed. If I do that, I'll wake up feeling pretty good about myself on Monday."

NOTES: Siragusa, questionable for tomorrow's game due to a neck injury, practiced yesterday for the first time this week and could start against the Bengals. Wide receiver James Roe will miss his third straight game with a hamstring injury. The Ravens are honoring Hereford football coach Steve Turnbaugh as the area's coach of the week. Some tickets returned to Baltimore by the Bengals still remain for tomorrow's game. Call 410-481-SEAT or 410-261-7283. Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for the Oct. 11 game against Tennessee.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals

Site: Ravens stadium

When: Tomorrow, 8: 20 p.m.

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

Tickets: Sold out

Line: Ravens by 5 1/2

Pub Date: 9/26/98

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