Ravens look to old hand, new faces Club signs linebackers Olsavsky and Kopp to aid special teams

Harbaugh to start Sunday

Williams to center, Cavil to left guard

October 29, 1998

In moves aimed at shoring up the Ravens' depth at linebacker and improving special teams play, the club signed veteran linebackers Jerry Olsavsky and Jeff Kopp to one-year contracts yesterday and placed reserve middle linebacker Tyrus McCloud on injured reserve.

The Ravens also made several anticipated changes on offense. Quarterback Jim Harbaugh was named the starter for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Left guard Wally Williams was moved to center in place of Jeff Mitchell, and Ben Cavil was inserted as the starting left guard.

To make room for the two new players, the Ravens waived reserve offensive lineman Spencer Folau.

The move to Harbaugh was not unexpected. Eric Zeier had played below par in the last three games and is still struggling with a thumb injury on his right hand which he hurt two weeks ago against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens were forced to make a move at linebacker when McCloud suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury in the first quarter of Sunday's game at Green Bay. McCloud had started two games for Ray Lewis earlier this season, and the Ravens were still not totally comfortable with Lewis, who dislocated his left elbow during the third game of the season.

Olsavsky, 6 feet 2 and 230 pounds, is a 10-year veteran who spent nine seasons (1989-97) with the Steelers and this past training camp with Cincinnati before being released on Aug. 13. Olsavsky is considered a hustling overachiever who played despite a reputation as being too small and too slow to play in the NFL. Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis lobbied for him the past three years.

Lewis coached the Steelers' linebackers from 1992 through 1995. Olsavsky is also an outstanding special teams player who had 37 starts in 108 games and has 222 career tackles, 2.5 sacks and has broken up eight passes. Olsavsky also had 55 career special teams tackles.

"Both can play defense and contribute on special teams. With Tyrus on IR and Ray having dislocated his elbow, we need guys who can step in and play. Jerry has played in the NFL because of his production, not because of his good looks," Lewis said, jokingly. "He can enhance the play of other players with his knowledge of the game."

Lewis said Olsavsky was one of the game's tough guys, playing with Cincinnati in training camp with a dislocated wrist until the team's defensive coordinator made him get an X-ray.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger can't play football. If you know what you're doing and be a little aggressive, then you'll be all right," said Olsavsky. "I've got just about everything down except the blitzes. Once I get the names down, I'll be all right. I've watched this team play Pittsburgh, and this is a good team, they just need to get over the hump. Hopefully, I can help get them there."

Kopp, 6-3 and 244 pounds, is a fourth-year veteran who was waived last week by Jacksonville, the Ravens' opponent Sunday at Ravens stadium. Kopp also is considered a special teams whiz and has 49 career special teams tackles, including 36 for the Jaguars since 1996. Kopp also started three games for Jacksonville last season in place of injured strong-side linebacker Kevin Hardy.

The Ravens have probed Kopp for a lot of information on Jacksonville.

"I'm giving them everything I've got," said Kopp. "The Jaguars have become accustomed to that so they will change a few things here and there. My role here is to contribute on special teams and backing up the linebackers. It feels great to be here and I love this team's defense. The Jaguars always hate playing against the Ravens' offensive line."

Said Marvin Lewis: "Jeff has proven himself to be a capable inside linebacker, and they have won with him starting. He has a football temperament. Both of these guys are winners and hopefully they can show us the door that's not far away."

The Ravens' special teams cover units need some help. The Ravens have the fifth-worst kickoff team in the AFC, allowing teams to start at an average of the 27-yard line. They are ranked 18th in the league as far as punt coverage, allowing 10.5 yards a punt.

Harbaugh started the second half of last week's 28-10 loss to Green Bay, but he completed nine of 20 passes for 174 yards, including passes of 53 and 46 yards, the later a touchdown pass to Jermaine Lewis in the fourth quarter.

Harbaugh was bothered by a hyperextended finger on his throwing hand and tendinitis in his elbow, which forced Marchibroda to go with Zeier after three games.

"I feel like I haven't put Coach Marchibroda in a position where he could rely on me," said Harbaugh. "I'm looking forward to starting and seeing what happens. I feel strong now. I got amnesia in the first seven games. I think if we stick together, play hard, we can make a run at the playoffs."

Marchibroda is looking to spark an offense that has scored only one touchdown in the last 14 quarters. Williams was expected to be the center at the beginning of the season, but a contract dispute caused him to miss five weeks of training camp, forcing the Ravens to go with Mitchell.

Mitchell, a second-year player and first-year starter, hasn't played well the last two games.

"I guess they've got to do something, and it's an obvious choice," said Mitchell.

Pub Date: 10/29/98

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