Ravens midseason report card

November 03, 1998|By Mike Preston and Gary Lambrecht

Running backs

The strongest contribution has come from second-year man Priest Holmes, and he didn't get to start until the fourth game. After his 173-yard effort that night against the Bengals, Holmes has performed admirably, although the offensive line could have helped him more. Errict Rhett began the season with nearly 100 yards of offense against Pittsburgh, but has slipped into a nearly invisible role. Second-year tailback Jay Graham has been a nonfactor, and fullback Roosevelt Potts has not been the blocker the Ravens had counted on. Predictable play-calling also has not allowed this group to shine at times. The Ravens have rushed for only two touchdowns. -- D+

Quarterback

The Ravens have gotten inconsistent play at best out of the game's most critical position, which is to be expected when a team's starting quarterback is not healthy. Jim Harbaugh's season-opening injury against Pittsburgh set the tone for the first half of the season. Backup Eric Zeier did a commendable job coming off the bench during the first month, before turning in the game of his career as a starter in the team's last victory against Cincinnati on Sept. 27. But Zeier could not hold up in the face of nonstop blitzes during a three-game losing streak. The best news is Harbaugh has put finger and elbow injuries behind him. The offense should be more productive in his hands. -- C-

Receivers

With the exception of third-year star Jermaine Lewis, this has been a disappointing group. Part of the problem was Zeier, who had obvious trouble finding and hitting open receivers during his four-week stint. In addition, Harbaugh's early injuries prevented him from delivering the ball effectively. Lewis has caught five of the team's eight touchdown receptions. What has happened to Michael Jackson? He led the team with 14 touchdowns catches in 1996, and has gradually disappeared since then. He has yet to score this year, while averaging only 2 1/2 catches per game. Rookie Patrick Johnson and third-year man James Roe have battled injuries all year, while veteran Floyd Turner barely has been used. Tight end Eric Green was off to an outstanding start, before a chest injury knocked him out of two games. -- C

Offensive linemen

Not many people refer to this as one of the league's top units anymore, which is appropriate. Unimaginative play-calling aside, this line simply has not done its job for much of the year. Sure, Zeier could have avoided numerous sacks with a little mobility and presence in the pocket, but too many breakdowns in pass protection have occurred. The run blocking has been poor at times. The most inconsistent performances have come from right tackle Orlando Brown, who is not playing his best ball in the year leading to his next contract. Wally Williams came on strong after struggling early at left guard, while second-year center Jeff Mitchell had held his own before getting benched in favor of Williams. If not for the steady play of right guard Jeff Blackshear and the Pro Bowl-caliber play of left tackle Jonathan Ogden, this group would be in deep trouble. -- C

Defensive linemen

They were the backbone of the team coming out of training camp, and that has yet to change. The team's most dramatic improvements have been on defense, which starts up front. Right end Michael McCrary is simply the team's best free-agent find, and his fierce pass rushing will pay huge dividends statistically and in his next contract after the 1999 season. Defensive tackles James Jones and Tony Siragusa have been excellent against the run from week to week, while Jones' pass rushing has been impressive as well. Left end Rob Burnett is a spark at times, but he has a tendency to get pushed out of too many plays. Backup end Keith Washington is a solid contributor. Backup tackle Larry Webster has eight weeks to turn around a disappointing year. -- B

Linebackers

The youngest starting trio in the NFL is still going strong enough, but is suffering from the wear and tear of life in the big leagues. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis missed two games with a dislocated elbow, and he has not been a huge factor since returning to action on Oct. 18. Peter Boulware's shoulder problems, and his inability to use his hands on the pass rush are having a detrimental effect on his strong-side play. The injury has offset Boulware's pass rushing impact. Jamie Sharper was nearly benched earlier for his inconsistent play on the weak side, although he continues to show promise. Losing backup middle man Tyrus McCloud for the season hurts their depth. The Ravens want second-year player Cornell Brown to push Sharper more. Brown is athletic enough. His maturity is another question. -- B-

Defensive backs

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