Ravens eyeing Phillips

Billick: Troubled back `tearing it up' in Europe

June 19, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Three years ago with the first pick of their inaugural draft, the Ravens chose offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden over Nebraska running back sensation Lawrence Phillips, whose off-the-field problems since have left his career in a state of limbo.

Three years later, the Ravens are taking another look at Phillips, wondering if he could be a potential fit in their offensive backfield.

Phillips, who has been released by the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins and has not played in the NFL since 1997, is turning some heads as he attempts to resurrect his career with the Barcelona Dragons of NFL Europe. Through nine games, Phillips has set a single-season league rushing record with 975 yards. He is averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, said the team potentially could have interest in Phillips. Priest Holmes -- fresh off a 1,008-yard season -- and Errict Rhett are the Ravens' top two running backs.

"We've looked at [Phillips] on film. We've got about 20 [NFL Europe] players we've looked at," Newsome said. "We're not close to doing any background checks [on Phillips] or anything like that. We're looking at him."

The Ravens have company. Green Bay, Buffalo and Cleveland reportedly are among a growing number of teams eyeing Phillips. Ravens coach Brian Billick spoke cau tiously about the possibility of bringing Phillips on board.

"He's worth looking into. He's tearing it up [in Europe]," Billick said of Phillips, 6 feet, 223 pounds. "We're way ahead of ourselves right now. This is all conjecture. I would need to know more about him. I would need a face-to-face [meeting] with him, if things even got to that point. I don't know the guy. I've never met him. There are some issues he has to resolve."

Phillips' brief career has been loaded with legal and disciplinary issues.

Less than a year before leaving Nebraska, Phillips assaulted his ex-girlfriend, Kate McEwen, then dragged her by the hair down three flights of stairs. He later settled a civil suit in which McEwen complained of a pattern of physical and sexual abuse. That did not prevent St. Louis from making Phillips the sixth overall pick of the 1996 draft.

During nearly two seasons with the Rams, Phillips made most of his news off the field. Two months after being drafted, Phillips was arrested for and later convicted of driving under the influence in Los Angeles. In February 1997, he was charged with disorderly conduct after an incident at a hotel in Omaha, Neb. He later spent 23 days in jail for violating the terms of his probation stemming from the McEwen incident.

Phillips also was fined about 50 times with the Rams. He reportedly is on the first step of the NFL's substance abuse policy. He also has undergone anger management counseling.

Ten games into the 1997 season, the Rams released Phillips. Shortly thereafter, the Dolphins signed him, but Phillips lasted two games in Miami.

His NFL totals include 394 carries for 1,309 yards -- a 3.3-yard average -- and 13 touchdowns.

"If we [signed Phillips], we wouldn't be doing it as some benevolent gesture. The parameters we'd set would be very narrow and definable. If you're late for one meeting, you're gone," Billick said. "We'll either think he can come in and be a guy around here or not. It would very be clear-cut. We're not experienced enough [as players] to absorb a problem, but he may not be a problem."

Team owner Art Modell already has met Phillips. Shortly before the 1996 draft, he dined with the Nebraska star and came away impressed.

"We want to know more about him. We will be pursuing this in an investigative way," Modell said. "I'm not just interested in how fast he can get around the defensive end, I'm interested in the man. We're going to get more information. We're going to see where this takes us."

NFL Europe's regular season concludes tomorrow. Should the 6-3 Dragons win their finale, they would advance to the World Bowl on June 27. Then, Phillips, 24, would be headed back to the United States.

And, possibly, to Baltimore.

In other Ravens news:

* The club made it official yesterday by signing wide receiver Billy Davis to a one-year, $475,000 contract, which includes a $75,000 signing bonus. Davis, 26, is expected to challenge for a starting job. After three years in Dallas as mainly a special teams performer, Davis broke through with the Cowboys in 1998 with a career-high 39 catches for 691 yards and three touchdowns.

* Safety Rod Woodson's contract was restructured, and the Ravens have shaved about $500,000 off their 1999 salary cap number. Woodson, who already has collected a $1 million roster bonus this year, is scheduled to earn a $1.2 million salary in 1999. Although terms of the restructuring were not disclosed, Newsome said it did not involve a pay reduction this year. Woodson signed a four-year, $11.5 million deal in 1998, in which he collected a $3 million signing bonus.

* The team waived rookie free-agent wide receiver Tywan Mitchell and has made a one-year offer to four-year veteran receiver Justin Armour, 6-4, 209. Armour, out of Stanford, was taken by Buffalo in the fourth round of the 1995 draft. His rookie year was his most productive. Armour started nine games and caught 26 passes for 300 yards and three scores. Since 1995, he also has played for Philadelphia and Denver. He has caught one pass since his rookie season.

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