Camp full of questions, answers

July 28, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

As the Ravens open camp, here are 20 questions and answers about what to look for in the next month.

1. What will be the No. 1 objective of training camp?

First-year coach Brian Billick has to establish complete authority. In his first six months on the job, Billick has performed well. Clearly, he was organized, thorough and disciplined, and he communicated well with the players in two minicamps. But now he has to deal with injuries and game situations while trying to gain the confidence of his players. The parameters have changed for Billick, who has never been a head coach.

2. Will this camp be as tough as former coach Ted Marchibroda's?

No. Marchibroda was from the old school and loved to have hitting almost every session in two-a-day practices. Billick intends to get a lot of work done in the morning sessions and take it light in the afternoon practices to rest the players' legs. There will be less hitting but a lot more running, as with all the coaches who have come from the Bill Walsh tree.

3. Is there a quarterback controversy?

Not unless starter Scott Mitchell totally blows it. Mitchell looked better in both minicamps than backup Tony Banks, who still seems a little uncomfortable dropping back and setting his feet. But Mitchell, like Billick, has to establish himself as a leader, especially after a disastrous 1998 season for Detroit in which he was benched after two games. Jim Harbaugh was in a similar situation with the Ravens last season and never became the catalyst the team needed.

4. Will Priest Holmes emerge as the No. 1 running back?

Unless a top running back falls out of the sky, Holmes is the guy. Among Holmes, Jay Graham, Errict Rhett and Steve Broussard, Holmes is the most complete back and has the ability to run both inside and outside. Rhett seems destined for short-yardage situations, with Broussard the passing threat coming out of the backfield. The Ravens have doubts about Holmes, which is why they pursued Lawrence Phillips. If another top running back becomes available, the Ravens probably will pursue him.

5. Can the offensive line become a cohesive unit?

They can't do any worse than last season, when the Ravens allowed 41 sacks. Gone are starting center/guard Wally Williams and tackle Orlando Brown, who received lucrative deals as free agents. The team has two solid, athletic tackles in Jonathan Ogden and Harry Swayne, but the question marks will be in the middle of the unit. Right guard Jeff Blackshear is as physical as any in the league and vastly underrated. Second-year center Jeff Mitchell had a solid season last year, but still has to prove he can play 16 games without tiring. Left guard James Atkins had an impressive off-season, particularly in the weight room, but has played tackle most of his career. This unit should be average, but don't expect those guards to look pretty when pulling. Agility is not a strength.

6. Who will emerge as the starting receivers?

This is a cast of Who's That? Only smurf-like receiver Jermaine Lewis is a proven player. Veterans such as Webster Slaughter, Qadry Ismail and Eric Metcalf still have to prove they have something left. Billy Davis could be an explosive complement to Lewis but needs to improve his work ethic, according to reports out of Dallas, where he played last season. Floyd Turner might be in the mix, but his cockiness in the minicamps irritated a few members of the Ravens' staff. Mitchell had better keep his passes low this season. Those caroms could turn into interceptions.

7. Can Rod Woodson be successful as a safety?

There is no need for concern. Woodson is one of the smartest players in the game. Maybe no other player on the team spends more hours studying film, but his problem will be strictly physical. He wore down in the final quarter of last season, his body showing the signs of playing 12 years in the league. Woodson will be a big asset for the Ravens working with young cornerbacks Duane Starks and Chris McAlister.

8. Can the defensive line be as dominant as it was last season?

Maybe. The team will miss defensive tackle James Jones, a technician who made the line calls last season. Jones signed with Detroit during the off-season. Former Maryland standout Larry Webster will start in place of Jones. Webster had a productive off-season and hired a personal trainer. If he is to take his game to another level, Webster has to improve his foot and hand speed. Fellow defensive tackle Tony Siragusa is expected to report in great shape and should have a productive season, especially because he is in the last year of his contract. Pro Bowl defensive end Michael McCrary has to rebound from off-season knee surgery, and left defensive end Rob Burnett showed signs of slowing down last year.

9. Are there any young defensive linemen who might have an impact?

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