Rhett feels his way into a reduced role as Holmes takes over 'Just another pothole,' says former starting back

Ravens notebook

September 29, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Errict Rhett spent three hours walking the line between cheerleader and malcontent on Sunday night.

He watched second-year running back Priest Holmes seize control of the starting tailback job with 173 rushing yards in his first NFL start, while leading the Ravens to a 31-24 victory over Cincinnati. Afterward, Rhett wondered what the future of the 1998 season held for him.

Three weeks earlier, Rhett had wrestled the opening-day start from second-year man Jay Graham, then produced 92 yards from scrimmage -- 72 on the ground -- against Pittsburgh. Since then, Rhett, who was pulled early during the second game against the New York Jets, has seen his role shrink drastically.

Against the Bengals, the Ravens used Rhett strictly in a short-yardage role. He rushed three times for zero yards, including a 1-yard run that produced a first down on a fourth-and-one midway through the fourth quarter. That drive ended with a 46-yard field goal by Matt Stover, who completed the evening's scoring with 6: 03 left.

"It was very difficult, sitting there watching, not having much to do but still trying to help my teammates and be part of the win," Rhett said.

"I was so happy for Priest. This couldn't happen to a better person. There were a lot of gaping holes. Whoever was in there was going to have a great game with the way the line was blocking, but Priest did a great job of keeping his feet."

Rhett, who came to the Ravensin a February trade and hoped to revive a promising career after two disappointing years in Tampa Bay, said he is determined to keep his head up.

"I'll continue to bust my butt every day, and things will work out," he said. "I don't like to accept gifts, I like to earn them. God didn't bring me this far, all the way to Baltimore, to leave me now. I'm a mountain climber, and this is just another pothole."

Lewis flying high

Imagine the type of season wide receiver/punt returner Jermaine Lewis is headed for if he stays healthy for 16 games. Lewis missed all or most of five games with injuries in 1997, and still produced the fifth-highest overall yardage total (2,025) in the NFL.

Four games into the 1998 season, Lewis has touched the ball only 22 times, with devastating results. His five touchdowns -- three as a receiver, two as a punt returner -- rank second in the league.

"When the opportunity is there, Jermaine makes the big play," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said.

Lewis' 10 receptions don't even rank among the AFC's top 20 receivers, but his 31.5-yard average blows away the competition. Oakland's James Jett is second in the conference with a 23-yard average. The Ravens' three longest gains from scrimmage belong to Lewis, who torched Bengals cornerback Ashley Ambrose for a 73-yard score on Sunday.

As a punt returner, Lewis is averaging a league-high 23.1 yards on 10 returns, with two touchdowns. His 87-yard return for a touchdown was the turning point in Sunday's victory, as it turned a tenuous 21-17 lead into a 28-17 advantage with 8: 44 left in the third quarter.

With his next punt return, Lewis could qualify as having the highest return average in league history.

Harbaugh's headgear

Quarterback Jim Harbaugh was one of only two players (backup offensive lineman James Atkins was the other) who did not participate in the Bengals game, although Harbaugh's equipment got some unexpected playing time.

Early in the third quarter, Eric Zeier got hit so hard by blitzing cornerback Artrell Hawkins that Zeier lost the ball and his helmet. Zeier recovered his fumble, but his helmet had to go, since the collision knocked out the electronic receiver that quarterbacks use to hear play calls from the sideline.

Zeier trotted over toward the sideline, from where Harbaugh tossed his headgear.

Harbaugh wished he had a bigger role in the contest. He tipped his hat to Zeier.

"I thought [Zeier's] head was really in the game. He made some good checks, got us out of some bad plays and made some key throws. He played a mistake-free game for the most part," Harbaugh said. "Anybody who watched the game, including me, knew it was an exciting game, the kind you want to be in. I'm glad we won, and I'm glad I had a chance to rest my arm.

"We're still very much in the hunt, even though 2-2 is not where we want to be at the break. You can't win a championship in the first four games. But you sure canlose it."

Tough guy Ted

Marchibroda is known as a congenial guy, but don't think he lacks a nasty streak. Did you see him chewing out Kenyon Cotton after the second-year fullback got called for unsportsmanlike conduct on special teams in the first half?

"I've learned over the years to be tough when you have to be tough," Marchibroda said. "You don't have to go around being tough 24 hours a day to show you're tough."

Sharper steps up

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