Quarterbacks pass first test

Ravens end minicamp with Mitchell, Banks ahead of schedule

April 30, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

It was only one day into minicamp, and one thing was already certain. Both of the Ravens' new quarterbacks, Scott Mitchell and Tony Banks, had stronger arms than the two who played the position in 1998, Jim Harbaugh and Eric Zeier.

Now the Ravens and coach Brian Billick are about to enter the next phase during minicamp II in June: Resurrect the careers of both Mitchell and Banks while trying to establish a balanced offense. The Ravens' seven-day minicamp ended yesterday, and Billick was encouraged by the progress of the offense and both Mitchell and Banks.

After a year of Harbaugh's grounding waffle balls into the turf because of an injured elbow and finger on his right throwing hand, balls were again zipping through the air at the team's Owings Mills training facility. The quick-out patterns from the far hash mark were back in the offense. So were mid- to long-range passes across the middle.

And guess what?

Neither Mitchell nor Banks repeatedly had to soak his arm in ice and miss practice time. Ravens receivers still have problems holding onto the ball, but that's an entirely different issue.

"This team had a reputation around the league for underachieving, which is a euphemism for not wanting to work hard, not being focused, not willing to do whatever it takes to be successful," said Billick. "I know it's still early, but I haven't seen any of that. Our progress has been excellent. In fact, we're ahead and we're changing the structure for the next minicamp and training camp because we're ahead.

"I think our quarterbacks did a good job," said Billick. "They picked up the system fairly well and we're ahead of what I expected. There is no question both of those guys have very strong arms. We'll know more about where we're headed with the offense once we get into the total evaluation of personnel."

But in just seven days, both Banks and Mitchell have agreed that Billick takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback to run the offense. Mitchell, 31, is expected to be the starter for the 1999 season and Banks, 26, is the backup. Banks is considered more of a project even though he has started 46 games in three years with the St. Louis Rams.

Mitchell was more polished and seemed more confident in the minicamp.

"Scott has more of a complete game," said Billick. "He knows his arm-strength, he knows where to put the ball and how to get it there. He has good footwork. With him, it's going to be more of a mental thing than anything else. He isn't totally secure with the structure of this offense yet, but we're quite sure he will reach that level.

"Tony has unlimited potential," said Billick. "He has a whip for a right arm and has good vision. He is a little raw, needing to tighten up on his drop back and improving his ability to carry the ball. But here is a guy who has had seven different coaches telling him how to throw the same route seven different ways in the last couple of years and we're the seventh team. We feel as though he can be successful playing for us and possibly coming back to play in the same system for two years."

Looking at Minnesota's offense last year, it appeared as though the Vikings had a lot of plays, but they were the same plays usually in different formations. Mitchell, like Banks, also had several coaches and offensive coordinators during his five years with the Lions.

Mitchell is delighted with the Ravens' offense.

"There are a lot of little details that make it work. He [Billick] provides the offense with a lot of options," said Mitchell. "The options aren't always there, but when they are, you have to take advantage of them.

"Brian takes a lot of the guesswork out of it for the quarterback. He gives you a precise attack, and makes it quite simple," said Mitchell. "He leaves a lot of the protection and route designs up to the receivers, offensive linemen and backs. He asks the quarterback just to see and read."

Billick said he developed his philosophy after working with former Vikings quarterback Warren Moon, who spent years running the run-and-shoot offense with the Houston Oilers before coming to Minnesota. Moon, a future Hall of Famer, set Vikings team records for passing yards (4,264), in 1994 and for completions (377) and touchdown passes (33) in 1995.

"Warren was coming into a tight end-based offense," said Billick. "He could have said this is what I do best, this is what I know, now work with it. Instead, he said be specific about what you want and let's not waste each other's time. Now, if a player of that stature can say that then I certainly can work hard on preparations. The key is being accountable. A player has to be accountable to the coach and the coach has to be accountable to his player. On any level, all players want to be coached.

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