Leaders are compass for Ravens' direction Beefs abound on team, but meaty chores loom

November 08, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

As the Ravens embark on the second half of their season today against the Oakland Raiders at their Camden Yards stadium, a lot of their problems in the first half can be solved internally.

The players believe that so much, in fact, that they huddled in a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning to air a lot of complaints. The meeting was so intense that the Ravens didn't get a chance to look over the Raiders' game film until late that afternoon.

What was discussed?

Leadership, or the lack thereof, especially on offense. There was talk about who were the selfish players and who weren't. Plans were made to correct on-the-field problems, such as improving special teams play and reviving an offense that is averaging only 15.1 points a game.

The meeting was serious enough that a number of players stayed late last week to pore over game film. The Ravens (2-6) will find out against the Raiders (6-2), one of the surprise teams in the NFL, if the meeting worked.

"It was a chance for us to get a lot of stuff off our chests," said defensive end Michael McCrary. "We have come to a realization of our situation, that we need to come together as a team."

The leadership problem starts at the top -- and it begins and ends with coach Ted Marchibroda.

Let's flash back to the preseason and the early part of the regular season, when the Ravens were having some success. One could see the sense of urgency in Marchibroda. He shook up his offensive line during the preseason when he pulled the first unit off the field in the third quarter after a poor effort.

He got in the face of kicker Matt Stover when he missed a field-goal attempt against the New York Jets in Week 2, then went face to face with special teams ace Bennie Thompson when he had a penalty that almost cost the Ravens that game.

Fear is a great motivator, especially when those big paychecks are threatened to be cut off. The Ravens are no longer playing in fear. How can they? The club didn't cut long snapper Harper Le Bel until his poor snaps cost them two games.

When a player interrupted practice by yelling obscenities at a reporter recently, the team responded by closing practices to the media. If it were Bill Parcells or Mike Holmgren, the player would have been removed from the field immediately.

Need more?

After the Ravens played perhaps their worst game in Baltimore in a 45-19 loss to Jacksonville last week, the team cut no-name receiver Ryan Yarborough. Granted, the Ravens wanted to cut him the week before, but he was injured. Yet why not waive a star player who hasn't played up to potential?

The Ravens have money under the salary cap, and this was the perfect time to send a wake-up call. Instead, the team didn't get the message until Monday, when owner Art Modell threatened to cut players if they didn't play with some pride in the remaining eight games.

No one has to stand in the face of an assembly-line worker at General Motors and demand that he has to produce or be fired.

Yet given the lack of accountability by the offense, Marchibroda needs to start demanding a better effort.

"All I can concern myself with is if the football team is giving the effort," said Marchibroda, whose team has lost four straight. "As long as we give the effort, then we have a chance of winning. And if I'm a good guy or a bad guy, then so be it. Immediately after the game Sunday, I didn't feel that we got the effort, but after watching the film, I felt that we did.

"If I thought bringing in another player would help us, then I would, but he has to be better than the person you let go. You can't just let them go out the door just for the sake of bringing people in."

Don't get the impression that Marchibroda isn't competitive. He has an extremely strong desire to win. The ineffectiveness of Marchibroda's style is an indictment of what's wrong with today's players. No one on the offense wants to bear responsibility. The team doesn't have an offensive coordinator, so the Ravens are void of leadership there. The man brought in to lead, quarterback Jim Harbaugh, was hurt for the first seven games, so that discounts him. Ditto for tight end Eric Green.

It's the little things that are making the difference. Watch how the Pittsburgh Steelers break their huddle and run to the line of scrimmage on every play. Then watch the Ravens slowly strut and then blow a timeout because they can't get a play off.

Or how about two weeks ago, when a Green Bay Packers player took a cheap shot at Ravens cornerback John Williams, and teammate James Roe, standing beside Williams, failed to retaliate?

Except for right offensive tackle Orlando Brown getting in the nTC face of rookie wide receiver Patrick Johnson last week for dropping a pass, the Ravens' offensive players have shown little emotion in a game that thrives on it. There are no high-fives. There is no chest-thumping. The Ravens don't even pick up and congratulate running back Priest Holmes after a long run.

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