Tight end Green gets second wind Ravens: Out for three weeks after suffering a ruptured air sac in his chest, the returning Eric Green hopes to give the struggling offense a needed lift.

October 31, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Mike Preston contributed to this article.

In the words of coach Ted Marchibroda, the Ravens have sorely missed tight end Eric Green, who is basically impossible to miss. At 6 feet 5, 285 pounds, Green casts a wider shadow than any other receiver in the league.

Teammates and team officials alike have called him a freak, what with his unusual blend of size, light feet, soft hands and ability to deliver devastating blocks.

Green is just thrilled to have made it back from a freakish injury. When he lines up tomorrow as a starter against Jacksonville, Green will mark his first appearance since going down with a ruptured air sac in his chest against Tennessee three weeks ago. The injury occurred after Green fell on the football following a reception, and it interrupted an excellent start to the season.

"I compared [the injury] to standing in front of a truck and letting the truck run you over," said Green, who is averaging 17.1 yards on 14 receptions this year. He remains the only receiver besides Jermaine Lewis to have scored a touchdown. "Now, I feel good. My conditioning is good, my sleeping has improved. I'm ready to answer the call of my teammates. The only way I can be stopped is if I don't get the ball."

Yes, Eric Green is back. He remains as brash as he is huge. But give the big guy some bragging room. Among tight ends in the 1990s, only New England's Ben Coates and Denver's Shannon Sharpe have recorded more touchdowns, receiving yardage or receptions than Green.

Green, 31, gets the decided edge over both as a blocker. While Coates and Sharpe tend to turn or scrape opponents with good technique, Green is a steamroller. At least once a game, some poor linebacker or safety suffers his wrath during an ugly collision.

"Our running game is going to improve because [Green] is in there," said Marchibroda, who can use all the help he can get in respect to the ground game. The Ravens are averaging only 3.7 yards per rush and have managed only two rushing touchdowns this year. "Eric has been our go-to guy. He's the leader of our offensive team, and we've sorely missed him."

Quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who also is finally healthy after a nightmarish first half of the season, got comfortable with Green quickly in training camp and during the preseason. Harbaugh relished the thought of re-acquainting himself with Green on the field.

"I really can't think of anyone to compare [Green] to," said Harbaugh, referring to Green's unique physical dimensions. "He does a lot of good things in the passing game, and I don't think anyone compares to him as a blocker. Eric was our starter for a reason. Hopefully, we'll get a nice lift from him."

Before getting hurt on Oct. 11, Green was off to his best start since his days as a Pro Bowl player with Pittsburgh, which drafted him in the first round out of Liberty in 1990.

Despite missing three games in a contractual holdout, Green earned Rookie of the Year honors, catching a career-high seven touchdown passes, five of which came during his first seven receptions. During his Pro Bowl years in 1993 and 1994, he helped the Steelers make the playoffs by combining for 109 receptions, 1,560 yards and nine touchdowns.

Then came the down years. He spent an injury-hampered season in Miami in 1995, before joining Baltimore two years ago. The effects of knee surgery from a year earlier lingered throughout an ineffective 1996 season. Since then, Green has successfully battled knee and weight problems with a strong off-season regimen.

He had a career-high 65 catches last year, signed an incentive-laden, one-year, $1.2 million contract with the Ravens eight months ago, and came to training camp in the best shape of his career.

Then came the Tennessee incident. Green suffered the injury in the first quarter -- initially, team doctors feared he had punctured a lung -- after making his second and final catch of the day. He continued to play, but he noticed he began to lose his voice. Then, he began to have trouble breathing. By halftime, he was being rushed to Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"When our doctor felt lots of air building up around my collarbone [on the sideline], that was not a good thing," Green said. "I wanted to stay and finish the game, but they said, 'Hey, this is your life we're talking about.' That scared me.

"And the moment [at the hospital] my wife said she needed to sit down because she felt like fainting after the doctors explained what was wrong with me, I knew it was kind of serious at that point."

Green recovered without surgery. Two days after the game, he was released and headed straight to the team's Owings Mills complex to begin his rehabilitation.

Green, whose chest was so sore he could barely pull on a shirt without assistance that day, started with cardiovascular exercises immediately. By the following week, he was lifting weights to regain strength. He practiced all of last week.

"They told me that a normal person would take about four weeks [to recover]," Green said. "I feel like nothing has ever been wrong with me."

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