Vinson looks to muscle in on bigger role

Ravens notebook

Restored shoulder, additional weight give fullback confidence boost

August 04, 1999|By MIKE PRESTON | MIKE PRESTON,SUN STAFF

Ravens fullback Tony Vinson is hoping his role with the team grows with his body.

Vinson, a former star running back at Towson State, weighs 240 pounds thanks to an off-season diet and weight-training program that helped him add 10 pounds. During the past two seasons, there were concerns about him just making the roster.

Now, he is firmly positioned as the Ravens' No. 2 fullback behind Charles Evans and one of the team's better special teams performers.

"He's a little different type back than Chuck," said Ravens running backs coach Matt Simon. "But he brings something to the table Chuck can't, and that serves him well on special teams. He has good hands and is a real fluent runner."

Vinson barely was given a chance to run the ball in his previous two seasons with the team. He spent most of his 1997 season on special teams, where he was fourth on the team in tackles with nine. He spent all of last season on injured reserve after separating his shoulder in training camp.

The added weight and rebuilt shoulder have given Vinson a boost in confidence.

"I put a lot of time into the off-season program with Coach Friday [training and conditioning coach Jeff Friday]," said Vinson, who graduated from Towson in 1993. "I watched my diet and ate better, more vegetables and cleaner fruits with protein shakes. I feel pretty good at this point in training camp. I've taken some shots on my shoulder to see how it would feel and haven't experienced any pain."

Important year for Sharper

Nearly an hour after the morning practice session had ended, weak-side linebacker Jamie Sharper was still on the field covering running backs and tight ends on pass patterns.

This is a critical third year for the former University of Virginia linebacker, and if he doesn't get it done this season, it might be his last with the Ravens. Sharper has been more consistent in training camp and wants to earn a spot on the team's nickel and dime defenses.

In other words, Sharper wants to make big plays.

"The first couple of days were hard on my legs because they were so sore," said Sharper. "But now I'm starting to get them back, and I can put in the extra time. I'm looking forward to the season. I want to improve on the six games we won last year. We worked way too hard in training camp for only six wins.

"After last season, I knew I had to improve on getting rid of the blocker, getting to the ball and making as many tackles as Ray [Lewis, middle linebacker]," said Sharper. "I want to be on the field during third downs whether it's blitzing or in pass defense. That's where you make the plays to put the offense back out on the field."

Ogden impressive

The only player who can stop left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden is Jonathan Ogden, said his position coach, Jim Colletto. Ogden has made the Pro Bowl during the past two years of his three-year career.

So far in training camp, he seldom has to do things twice and is often the demonstrator on drills. Colletto has coached him only since April, but he marvels at the 6-foot-8, 335-pound specimen.

"This offensive system is brand new to him and brand new to me, so the better I get at it, the better they get," said Colletto of his offensive line. "But Jonathan is one of the most athletic guys I've seen for a guy that big. He already is one of the best tackles in the game and could become the best of all time. How good he becomes is strictly up to him. Sometimes when a player is that good, complacency will set in. But he has tremendous skill and athletic talent."

Extra work for Metcalf

Running back/receiver Eric Metcalf didn't have the luxury of two minicamps to work with the Ravens, so he is behind everyone else as far as his role on the team and learning the offense. Both the running back and receiver positions are crowded, so Metcalf hasn't been getting the desired repetitions he would like.

Like Sharper, he spent an hour after practice conditioning himself.

"Eric is still learning, and that's a hard thing for Eric right now," said head coach Brian Billick. "He didn't have a minicamp, so he's in the phase where he is still thinking right now. We haven't begun to assign roles yet as to who's going to do what."

Said Metcalf: "Those are the things I have to do right now because I don't have this offense down. I'm not getting the reps I would want to keep me tired and keep my heart level raised."

Ofodile getting a chance

Under former Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, backup tight end A. J. Ofodile said he rose as far as he could go on the depth chart, which amounted to third string.

With Billick, Ofodile has a chance to show that the numbers he put up last preseason, a team-leading 12 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown, can be put up in the regular season. Last year, he basically played on special teams.

"I think right now it is just a wide-open camp," said Ofodile. "I think I fit really well in the offense. The opportunity is there. Some of the stigmas that might have been there previously, I'll have a chance to erase those.

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