Starks still hitting, despite some misses Ravens: Rookie cornerback Duane Starks' risk-taking style of play has produced mixed results.

November 21, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Mike Preston contributed to this article.

Duane Starks has gambled and lost. And he will gamble again.

Last week, the Ravens' rookie cornerback fell for one of the oldest traps in pro football.

As San Diego receiver Charlie Jones ran at Starks and cut to the outside, quarterback Craig Whelihan pump-faked.

Starks, salivating over the prospect of another interception, broke toward Jones, who turned and headed up the sideline, leaving Starks behind. Jones settled under the pass before completing a pivotal, 47-yard scoring play in a 14-13 Ravens loss.

Another day, another learning moment for the rookie.

"I'm young, and I'm going to gamble at times. The best thing to do is not get caught gambling," said Starks, who makes his third straight start against Cincinnati tomorrow. "I'm still a rookie, and I know guys are going to continue coming at me."

Starks can expect more of the same against the Bengals, who sport one of the league's more dynamic receiving tandems in Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott. He can expect more of the same for the rest of the 1998 season.

"It doesn't take much to figure this out. I know what's going on," Starks said. "Quarterbacks come out against our defense and see Rod Woodson on one side [at cornerback], [strong safety] Stevon Moore in the middle and number 22 [Starks] on the other side -- that rookie from Miami. I'd throw at me, too."

The Ravens expected Starks to be a marked man, from the day they made him their first-round draft pick, and from the day they installed him as a starter.

Two weeks ago, the Oakland Raiders did the expected thing by throwing to Starks' side constantly. James Jett abused Starks by collecting 92 yards receiving, and Tim Brown also beat him for a first down.

The Chargers followed suit last week.

Starks shrugged while contemplating his date with Pickens, one of the bigger, more physical, trash-talking receivers in the league. He also is second in the AFC with 53 receptions, good for 702 yards.

"I remember getting picked on [as a rookie]. You just have to keep fighting. You can't quit. [Starks] is a fighter," Moore said. "The kid has great athletic ability. He can run with any receiver in the league and he can jump. I like the way he plays in a relaxed mode. He's always conscious of the ball."

That quality has been evident in Starks since he took the field this season. His leaping interception and forced fumble on opening day -- when he poked the ball out of Pittsburgh running back Richard Huntley's hand to force a touchback -- remain two of the season's more memorable plays.

Starks still leads NFL rookies with four interceptions. Last week in San Diego, he rebounded from getting burned by forcing his team-leading second fumble.

And he hits much harder than one would expect from a 5-foot-10, 170-pounder. Did you see him nearly decapitate Chargers running back Terrell Fletcher to end one running play last week?

"One thing about Duane is his confidence. He never loses it. He just goes on to the next play, and he's going to be a good cornerback because of that," Ravens defensive backs coach Alvin Reynolds said. "In my heart and in my mind, I feel that comfortable with him. He's going to play like a veteran."

Starks anxiously awaits the lesson that is coming in Cincinnati. He looks forward to facing Pickens, whom Starks expects to use his height and strength advantages to wear down the rookie.

"Pickens is a physical guy. I know he's going to push, shove, do everything he can to get open," Starks said. "If he gets away with a lot, he'll continue to do it. If the refs make some calls, he'll slack off.

"My goal is to make more plays than I give up. My goal is also not to bite on the hook [the out-and-up move]. It's about staying disciplined, staying on track and helping this team win."

NOTES: Despite rumors to the contrary, former San Francisco 49ers coach turned broadcaster George Seifert said yesterday he has had no contact with Ravens officials about possibly replacing coach Ted Marchibroda at the end of the season. "They have a head coach, one I have a lot of respect for," said Seifert. Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary leads the AFC in sacks with 12 1/2 , and if he continues the pace, the Ravens may have to extend his contract before the end of next season, when it expires. "We've got six games remaining, that's all I'm concerned with," he said. In a best-case scenario, free safety Kim Herring could return for the Dec. 6 game in Tennessee. Herring, who suffered his second dislocated left shoulder injury of the season two weeks ago, is going through another productive rehabilitation. Bengals receiver Darnay Scott, who is questionable for tomorrow's game with a toe injury, has half as many catches (26) as Pickens, but leads the team with five touchdowns.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals

Site: Cinergy Field, Cincinnati

When: Tomorrow, 4: 15 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Bengals by 1 1/2

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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