McCrary mends like he tackles: with efficiency

Quick knee recovery means Raven likely for Sept. 12 opener

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

Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary is known as a fast healer. Since having arthroscopic right-knee surgery four months ago, he has done nothing to tarnish that reputation.

Unless he experiences a major setback in his rehabilitation, McCrary figures to be on the field when the Ravens open their regular season Sept. 12. And at the rate he is progressing, he could begin practicing with the team midway through training camp, which opens in nine days at Western Maryland College.

Bill Tessendorf, the Ravens' head trainer, said McCrary might see his first live game action in the team's preseason finale Sept. 3. McCrary, who has been building lower-body strength without incident since early May, has begun to run 60-yard sprints in the past week.

All systems point to a timely recovery.

"Until now, our focus has been on strength, and [McCrary] has more leg strength now than he did when he went to the Pro Bowl [in February]. Now, we're focusing more on running, cutting, changing directions, skills he needs to play football," said Tessendorf, who added that the player's injury-induced lack of conditioning showed during his initial sprints.

"Mike's tongue was hanging down to his kneecaps after that first group of 60 [-yard dashes]. He was pretty winded. But he has done exceptionally well [in rehab]. We're very pleased with his progress."

McCrary, one of the NFL's top pass rushers, recently turned 29 and is about to enter his seventh season. He predicted he will see practice and preseason game action before the start of the regular season.

The Ravens plan to restrict McCrary to conditioning and weightlifting for the first two weeks of camp.

"[The Ravens] are really taking their time with me. It's not like it's a big deal. Our defense is already in place," said McCrary, who added that he is about 5 pounds short of his desired playing weight of 260.

"I plan to get out on the field. I just don't know when. But I will be on the field before the season starts. I will be going at full speed before the season starts."

And McCrary wants a new contract with the Ravens before the season starts, or else he plans to test the free-agent market in 2000. He is heading into the final season of a three-year, $6 million contract, and is scheduled to make $2.5 million in base salary in 1999.

He could more than quadruple that salary in signing bonus alone if the Ravens and his agent, Michael George, reach agreement on a six-year extension they have been pursuing for nearly two months. George and Pat Moriarty, the team's vice president of administration, met last Friday at George's Manhattan office and are expected to meet again this week.

"I basically know where we are and what it's going to take to sign [McCrary]," said George, who initially proposed a six-year, $42 million deal that would make McCrary the highest-paid player on the team and the highest-paid defensive end in the league. "We had a productive meeting last week, but I won't know how much progress we've made until we talk again."

McCrary is coming off the best season of his career. In 1998, he recorded a career-high 14.5 sacks -- second best in the AFC -- and ranked second on the team with 102 tackles, including 68 solo.

McCrary, who has 35 sacks in his past 38 games, achieved recognition with 13.5 sacks in 1996, his final season in Seattle. After signing with the Ravens in 1997, he had arthroscopic knee surgery a month before the season opener, but missed only the first game and went on to collect nine sacks.

After last season, he had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee, then came up lame after playing in his first Pro Bowl. An arthroscopy on March 11 revealed damage in the lining of the same knee's joint. He has had four knee operations since joining the Ravens.

"All people want to do is talk about my knees, but I've only missed one game in the last two seasons," McCrary said.

Pub Date: 7/20/99

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