Potts set to assume lead role, as blocker Ravens FB opening holes after slow start

October 06, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Maybe the real Roosevelt Potts is starting to surface.

The one that once pile-drived the opposition into the turf as a lead blocker for the Indianapolis Colts in the early 1990s. The one that had a career-high 26 catches out of the backfield for the Colts in 1994, with a 9.7-yards-per-catch average. The Potts that gained 711 yards rushing in 1993.

Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

"I think the Cincinnati game was my turning point," Potts said. "Now it's just a matter of going out and doing it every week."

Potts, 6 feet and 250 pounds, didn't have a carry in the Ravens' 31-24 win against the Bengals two Sundays ago, but running back Priest Holmes had 173 yards rushing. Guess who was the lead blocker on most of those plays?

Bengals linebackers James Francis and Reinard Wilson got up-close and personal looks, and so did Ravens running back coach Al Lavan, who was impressed with what he saw.

"The last game, overall, was his best game since he has been here," Lavan said. "He has been looking more consistent in all areas, including blocking and pass blocking."

The Ravens signed Potts, 27, as a free agent March 3 and got a glimpse of what he could do early in training camp, which started in mid-July. But several weeks later, Potts' knees began swelling during two-a-day practices, the fallout of a torn anterior cruciate ligament near the end of the 1995 season.

Potts sat out the entire 1996 season after being suspended by the NFL for violation of its substance-abuse policy. The Ravens looked like they were about to lose their gamble on Potts, especially after the team had been in the running for free-agent fullbacks Sam Gash and William Floyd.

"His progress has been slower, slower than what I thought it would be," Lavan said. "He had the early injuries in camp and he couldn't get the quality work he needed. In the early preseason games, he was hobbling on one leg. I didn't know if he was going to make it through camp."

But once the two-a-days ended, Potts' legs got stronger because he was using them less. He was able to make contact and engage potential tacklers, but not able to explode into them and finish the block.

Potts was just one of a number of reasons the running game didn't work in the first three games. Lavan admitted yesterday that Potts has had his knee drained several times already this season.

"I tore my ACL in my right knee, but the left knee was giving me a lot of problems because they took some things out of that one to repair the right one," Potts said. "I started having problems after the first eight or nine practices because I was getting a lot of repetitions. Mentally you want to do things, and then you try to overcome it physically.

"I always had the technique, but I could not drive and finish the block," said Potts, who has gained 29 yards on 13 carries this season. "Only lately have I gotten to the point where I feel comfortable and confident."

And when Potts is completely healthy, he is imposing. In 1993, he was the Colts' feature back and led the team in rushing.

One of the people to pay him a compliment that season was the usually stoic Jim Brown, the former Cleveland Brown whom some consider the best running back ever. Brown called Potts one of the best all-around backs in the league.

A year later, Potts became Marshall Faulk's full-time blocker. Even then, Potts averaged 4.4 yards on 77 carries.

Potts admits he may not return to that form, but the Ravens aren't asking him to play a dominant role. They don't want 30 rushes a game. They don't want him catching six or seven passes per outing. They just want a heavy hitter leading the way or a fullback who can crash for 1 or 2 yards on short-yardage situations.

They also want him to continue to be a leader.

"He is the kind of guy who makes himself the center of attention on the field," Lavan said of Potts during practice. "But he is so steady on the sideline during games, much more intense.

"You can see the focus, the concentration. He leads by example. He can be effective as a runner again, but it has to come with time. As his knees have gotten better, so has his performance."

NOTES: Vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome said the team has started talks with wide receiver Jermaine Lewis about a contract extension. The Ravens also are having discussions with middle linebacker Ray Lewis and will contact the agent of offensive tackle Orlando Brown and guard Wally Williams before the season is over. Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa missed practice yesterday for a "personal reason," coach Ted Marchibroda said. Quarterback Jim Harbaugh also missed practice to see a specialist about the tendinitis in his right elbow. Harbaugh is expected to rejoin the team tomorrow when practice resumes; Marchibroda said he had been throwing well. Free safety Kim Herring, out since the second game with a dislocated shoulder, is expected to start Sunday. He began practicing with the team last Thursday.

Pub Date: 10/06/98

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