Ravens' backfield still in motion

Club plans to sign veteran Broussard, wants Rhett to return

April 20, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

After winding up the NFL draft without picking a running back, the Ravens plan to begin filling that void today by signing veteran Steve Broussard to a one-year contract.

Broussard, a nine-year veteran who played the past four seasons in Seattle, agreed to terms and was expected to be in Baltimore to take a physical by last night.

The Ravens envision Broussard, 5 feet 7, 201 pounds, as a player who can assume dual roles as a third-down back and kickoff returner. While his offensive role has been reduced in recent years, Broussard, 32, remains a force as a return man. He ranked fourth in the NFL with a 26.9-yard kickoff return average on 29 returns last year. He returned one kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.

Ravens coach Brian Billick can see Broussard sharing kickoff-return duty with second-year man Patrick Johnson, and rookie cornerback and top draft pick Chris McAlister could end up sharing punt-return duty with wide receiver Jermaine Lewis.

"Brossard fills a lot of holes. He's a good, solid veteran and he's well-thought-of around the league," Billick said. "He's a third-down back and he'll join that return group."

A first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 1990, Broussard has become primarily a return threat since signing with Seattle as a free agent in 1995. He set a Seahawks record with 50 kickoff returns in 1997, but split duty with rookie Ahman Green in that role last season.

For his career, Broussard has rushed for 2,625 yards on 578 carries and has caught 126 passes for 882 yards. He has rushed for 19 touchdowns and caught three touchdown passes. In 1998, Broussard touched the ball on only nine offensive plays.

"He had other options, but this was a good opportunity," said Harold Daniels, Broussard's agent. "He catches the ball well, and the Ravens will throw the ball a lot. Plus he wanted to play on grass. He's been playing on [artificial turf] for his whole career [in Atlanta, Cincinnati and Seattle]."

The Ravens also are setting their sights on re-acquiring running back Errict Rhett, whose 1998 season did not go according to plan under then-coach Ted Marchibroda. Rhett rushed only 44 times for 180 yards, and he collected most of those yards in the season's first two games before spending most of the year on the bench behind Priest Holmes, who went on to crack the 1,000-yard barrier in his first full season.

Rhett rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 1994 and 1995, his first two years in the NFL, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, said he would be pursuing Rhett this week.

Leigh Steinberg, Rhett's agent, did not return phone calls yesterday.

"The door is wide-open for Errict Rhett if he wants to come back," Newsome said.

Team owner Art Modell added, "Errict Rhett never had a chance to produce what he can do on the football team, as he did down in Tampa Bay, when he had two, 1,000-yard seasons."

Billick met with Rhett several weeks before the draft and told him the Ravens would love to have him back, unless they drafted a running back with their first selection. Under those conditions, Rhett had said he probably would look elsewhere for a possible starting job.

"We were very upfront with him before the draft," Billick said. "He gave me no indication that he didn't think this would be a good place for him. This is certainly a viable option. It would be very nice to get Errict."

The Ravens spent part of yesterday signing a group of about 10 rookie free agents to join their four draft picks -- McAlister, wide receiver Brandon Stokley, offensive lineman Edwin Mulitalo and safety Anthony Poindexter -- at this weekend's three-day rookie minicamp.

NOTE: Billick will conduct a four-day, voluntary minicamp for veterans beginning Monday. He will then enact the same four-day format beginning June 7, before the team has a full-roster minicamp June 11-13.

Ravens draft overview

Players selected:

Rd. No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. School

1 10 Chris McAlister CB 6-1 206 Arizona

4a 105 Brandon Stokley WR 5-11 197 Southwest La.

4b 129 Edwin Mulitalo OL 6-3 328 Arizona

7 216 Anthony Poindexter SS 6-1 223 Virginia

Picks traded:

Rd. No. Traded to For

2 42 Atlanta Falcons' 1st-round pick in 2000 draft

3 72 Detroit QB Scott Mitchell

5 145 St. Louis QB Tony Banks

6a 180 New England TE Lovett Purnell

6b* 185 Minnesota OL Everett Lindsay

*-Pick obtained from Tampa Bay for QB Eric Zeier

Pub Date: 4/20/99

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