Ravens, Phillips will huddle

2 sides to meet today in Atlanta

status of Holmes in question

July 08, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens coach Brian Billick is expected to meet with Lawrence Phillips today in Atlanta, and a favorable impression by the disgruntled running back could lead to a visit with the team's top administrators next week in Baltimore.

Both Billick and Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, confirmed the scheduled meeting yesterday, and said both parties were in the initial stages of the talks.

But even mild interest in Phillips is an indication that the team has some doubts about starter Priest Holmes. Both Billick and Newsome downplayed the talks with Phillips, but Billick was supposed to be on vacation near a lake in northern Minnesota until next week.

But severe thunderstorms and 90 mph winds forced him to move to Minneapolis yesterday. Phillips and his stormy past put Billick today in Atlanta.

One of the motivating factors for the meeting in Atlanta is that Phillips has family there.

"Art [Ravens owner Art Modell] and I met with Lawrence several years ago when he was coming out in the draft, and [pro personnel director] James Harris also met with him when James was with the New York Jets, so we already have a feel for him," said Newsome, on vacation in Alabama. "We felt Brian should meet with him alone, and we'll see how he feels when we all get back to Baltimore next week."

"If Brian feels we should pursue this further, then we'll have Lawrence in for a meeting with several members of the front office soon," Newsome said. "But again, we're just in the initial phase."

Newsome, though, said the team has already begun more investigations of Phillips, updating their files from three years ago when the team considered making him the No. 4 overall pick in the 1996 draft.

Instead, the Ravens drafted left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who has become a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

Phillips has had numerous problems dating back to his days at the University of Nebraska, where he pleaded no-contest and was sentenced to one year of probation after dragging his girlfriend down a flight of stairs.

Since then, there have been numerous other run-ins with the law while playing with the St. Louis Rams and the Miami Dolphins including drunken driving, disorderly conduct and violation of probation. He reportedly was fined about 50 times in two years with the Rams.

Phillips recently became the first NFL Europe player to rush for more than 1,000 yards when he gained 1,021 on 194 carries with the Barcelona Dragons. Billick wants to see if his past problems are truly behind him.

"I'm going to have one of those face-to-face meetings with him," Billick said. "It's going to be all encompassing. We'll talk about what transpired in St. Louis, Miami and Barcelona. I want to find out where he is at, his expectations and what we perceive his role will be if we do this."

Billick said the Ravens' interest in Phillips has no connection with the status of the team's other running backs.

"This is very similar to what we're doing at the wide receiver position," Billick said. "We know the situation, but we brought in players like Webster Slaughter, Qadry Ismail and Billy Davis. It doesn't mean we're out to necessarily replace a player or saying we're devoid at that postion. But the name of the game in this league is to get better."

Billick said one of the major differences between Phillips in St. Louis and the one that ran for Barcelona is a decrease in body weight. He also said he was not overly concerned about the drop off in the level of competition from the NFL to European teams.

"I think he was a little heavy in St. Louis," said Billick of the 6-foot, 230-pound Phillips. "Clearly, you have to balance the quality of competition, but it's no different than looking at a player at a small school compared to major college. You have to project a little."

There is a ways to go before the team will make Phillips an offer. According to Newsome, Frankel has told him the Ravens are one of four final teams that have drawn Phillips' interest. Phillips, though, has little to bargain with and will probably get the minimum contract of $400,000 loaded with incentives.

If the team brings him to Baltimore next week, Phillips will have to undergo a physical, and the team will take a hard look at the hamstring Phillips pulled in the European championship game nearly two weeks ago.

"If we bring him to training camp, we'd have to alter our expectations because he just completed 10 games," Billick said. "A running back will take more punishment in those games, than say, an offensive lineman.

"I've been through this before with players like Brad Johnson and Everitt Lindsay. There will be times during training camp when they'll just have to sit out a practice because they have to recover."

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