Addition also subtraction Ravens: The acquisition of Harbaugh, Potts, Rhett and Woodson was a face lift expected to bring a smile. Halfway through the season, frowns persist.

October 28, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The picture on the Ravens' sideline was notable, mainly because of the inactivity it captured.

While the team's inept offense stumbled during the second half of a 12-8 loss to Tennessee 17 days ago, quarterback Jim Harbaugh and running back Errict Rhett stood side by side as spectators, united in frustration. Injuries to Harbaugh's finger and elbow had dropped him to backup status. Rhett was on the bench for reasons that remain a mystery to him.

The Ravens created rising expectations for 1998 during a three-week stretch last winter, primarily by revamping an offense around the additions of Harbaugh, Rhett and fullback Roosevelt Potts. They had hoped to bolster their young, talented defense by signing veteran cornerback Rod Woodson.

If not for the superb play of Woodson, the 2-5 Ravens would have nearly nothing to show for their four-way investment, as the season reaches its midpoint with this week's game against visiting Jacksonville.

Harbaugh, acquired on Feb. 14 in a trade with Indianapolis that cost the Ravens a third-round draft pick in last April's draft, has experienced one of the more nightmarish seasons of his 12-year career. The week before the season opener, tendinitis crept into his right elbow. Early in the season opener, he suffered a hyperextended ring finger on his throwing hand.

Eventually, both ailments landed him on the bench in place of Eric Zeier, who appears to have conceded the starting job following three straight, ineffective performances. One might say Harbaugh is behind schedule. His 46-yard connection with Jermaine Lewis at Green Bay marked Harbaugh's first touchdown pass of the season -- in Week 7.

"I feel like the worst of my problems is behind me. It's been a kick in the teeth to me, to prepare the way I did in the off-season, then have this happen," said Harbaugh, who has completed only 22 of 52 passes for 302 yards. He has also thrown four interceptions.

"I came up with an elbow injury that's haunting me. It's like a pitcher with a good fastball who gets hurt and gets hit all over the park. It's important for one guy to take the reins and play well. I want to take the bull by the horns and get us out of this thing," he said of the Ravens' three-game losing streak.

The backfield situation has remained unsettled and unimpressive in other ways. Potts, signed to a one-year deal in March, was supposed to be the bulldozer who sparked the team's two-back, run-oriented attack. He has averaged 1.9 yards a carry and been criticized by the coaching staff for his inconsistent run and pass blocking.

Rhett's role has gone through several changes since the Ravens gave up a third-round pick to Tampa Bay in next year's draft -- they have since reacquired that pick -- to bring Rhett north. He outplayed anointed starter Jay Graham for the entire preseason, before taking the job four days before the season opener. Rhett then rushed for 72 yards against Pittsburgh that day, before being benched for Graham in the first half after looking sluggish against the New York Jets in week two.

Rhett missed the next game with a hamstring problem, then found himself benched in favor of second-year back Priest Holmes, who has remained the No. 1 back for the past five games. Holmes is averaging 4.3 yards on 81 carries and has a team-high 28 receptions.

Rhett, who started his career with back-to-back, 1,000-yard seasons in 1994 and 1995, has carried just 31 times for 149 yards and has yet to score a touchdown.

"I still don't know what I did wrong, but I ain't going to run up my blood pressure if they don't put me in," said Rhett, who got four carries in Green Bay after not touching the ball for two games. "If they don't want to use me, it's out of my hands. I'll never doubt myself. I'll continue to work my butt off each and every day. My teammates know that."

Coach Ted Marchibroda refused to second-guess the trade that made Rhett a Raven.

"You can't go through life that way. You make a decision, you go with it, you live with it," he said. "There was no way to foresee what Priest was going to do. And I think, in time, Errict Rhett is going to help us. We'll see more of him as the season goes along.

"Rosey has done maybe better than what people have acknowledged. We should see the best of him from now on. You have to start with Jim being hurt [as the problem]. We haven't seen the real Jimmy Harbaugh this year. We'll see that from now on in."

Whether that means the Ravens will visit opposing end zones more often remains to be seen. The Ravens have scored 10 touchdowns in seven games, one by the offense in their last 14 quarters. Their 102 points represent the lowest output in the AFC, and that includes two Jermaine Lewis punt returns for scores and an interception returned for a touchdown by Woodson.

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