Ravens see ups, downs in camp

Team still lacking sure-handed receivers

FB Cotton is waived

June 12, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

As the Ravens conclude their second full minicamp today, marking the last stop before their fourth training camp begins on July 28, they are still staring at some glaring question marks.

Other than Jermaine Lewis, the only receiver who showed dependable hands throughout the week was Brandon Stokley, a fourth-round draft pick who has yet to play a down in the NFL. Their tight ends form possibly the most unproven group in the league. Ditto for the defensive secondary.

On the plus side, the foundation of coach Brian Billick's offense has been installed, and the Ravens even got into a spirited no-huddle segment yesterday. Rookie cornerback Chris McAlister shows every indication that he will be a heavyweight addition to a defense that is on the rise. And the team showed marked improvement in its conditioning since its first minicamp six weeks ago.

The proof was evident in players like right guard Jeff Blackshear and defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who have dropped noticeable weight since late April and practiced crisply all week. Few players wilted in the oppressive heat during the camp's first two days.

One player who came up short and too out of shape was third-year fullback Kenyon Cotton, whom the Ravens waived yesterday. Cotton, who played mainly on special teams last year, reported to Owings Mills considerably overweight in April, then failed to address his shortcomings adequately in the eyes of the club.

"Nothing is one-hundred percent in this world, but I think they're responding physically and mentally in getting ready for training camp and learning the system," said Steve Shafer, the Ravens' defensive backs coach and assistant head coach.

"This game is so mental and so physical and so fast. It's the people who can put all of that together when we go live [in training camp] that turn out to be your players. We're looking for guys that really like to play football and like to compete and want to win. If you've got those qualities, you've got a chance. They wouldn't even be in this building if they didn't have ability."

One area that impressed the coaching staff throughout minicamp was the level of communication that has developed among the offensive and defensive units. Classroom concepts are slowly becoming second-nature on the field, particularly on the offensive side. Pre-snap reads and sight adjustments are coming a little more automatically.

"We're not making the same mistakes we were making earlier. Guys are starting to play on an instinctive level. We're not there yet, but we're headed in the right direction," said quarterback Scott Mitchell, whose passes had impressive zip throughout camp. "[The coaches] are throwing a lot at us, and it's starting to make sense."

Said running back Priest Holmes: "In our first camp, the communication was off, but you can see a difference now. The urgency and consistency are coming now. We've come a long way with the West Coast offense, with the timing of it, with knowing where the tight end is, and knowing how our routes will affect a receiver's route. Brian has set a high standard. Everyone is very anxious to get under way [in training camp]."

The coaching staff can't be blamed for feeling anxiety over the receiver corps, most of which is still battling a case of stone hands. The Ravens upgraded earlier in the week by signing veteran Webster Slaughter, who instantly looked like the smoothest wide-out on the field. The team continues to pursue free agent Billy Davis, who also is being courted by Oakland and St. Louis. They continue to wait for players like Patrick Johnson, Floyd Turner and James Roe to prove themselves.

"I've seen some progress," receivers coach Milt Jackson said. "I've seen it in guys like Pat [Johnson] and Phil Savoy. The problem is, we're still not doing things well enough to be where we want to be. We have to get that fixed to be a good team."

Pub Date: 6/12/99

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