Defense shows who's in charge

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Mitchell, Banks suffer as offense loses, 19-5

Atkins moves to left guard

August 07, 1999|By MIKE PRESTON AND GARY LAMBRECHT | MIKE PRESTON AND GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN STAFF

Brian Billick's highest priority in 1999 is reviving an offense that ranked near the bottom of the NFL last year.

The Ravens coach watched in frustration last night as the team staged an intrasquad scrimmage before more than 5,000 fans at Bair Stadium, where a football law was proved once again.

One week into training camp, the defense rules.

The defense sent Billick's offense back to the drawing board by forcing four turnovers, intercepting backup quarterback Tony Banks twice and cruising to a 19-5 victory.

"Rough. Rough, to say the least," said Billick, when asked to assess the performance of his offense. "The most disappointing thing was not to have done some of the things we have done pretty well all week. [We made] a few mental errors, particularly down where we had made such a big point about red-zone efficiency. You can't turn the ball over down there."

Starting quarterback Scott Mitchell connected on just one of five passes -- a swing pass to fullback Charles Evans that he fumbled away. But Banks made the most glaring errors.

Banks, who started 43 games in three ineffective seasons with St. Louis before getting traded to Baltimore, started badly last night. Backup linebacker Brad Jackson ended his first drive with an interception, giving the defense a 6-0 lead.

Banks then led the second team on an impressive, 62-yard drive, in which he converted passes on third down to rookie wide receiver Brandon Stokley and running back Jay Graham. Then, after cornerback Duane Starks interfered with Stokley, moving the ball to the 3, Starks picked off Banks in the end zone on third-and-goal.

Except for an encouraging late showing by No. 3 quarterback Wally Richardson, who moved the third-team offense 57 yards on the final drive of the scrimmage, the offense pretty much stalled after Banks' second miscue.

"You're talking about what some are thinking is one of the better defenses in the league. Obviously, you have to give them credit," Billick said. "They played well. They didn't give up big plays. In order to win this type of scrimmage, you have to make big plays on offense.

"Even though the defense clearly dominated across the board, we moved the ball well. We learned a little bit about this football team, but I'm not going to rush to judgment."

The scrimmage featured eight offensive possessions, mixing in first-, second- and third-team units. The first-team offense and defense faced each other only once.

The defense earned points last night for two sacks, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions and for stopping drives in three plays or without giving up any points. The offense earned points for advancing the ball inside the opponents' 20 and for recording three consecutive first downs on two drives.

On defense, cornerback Chris McAlister and safeties Kim Herring and Bennie Thompson batted away passes. Defensive ends Rob Burnett and Keith Washington shared a sack of Mitchell on the opening drive. And cornerback John Williams recovered a fumble on the night's final play.

The intermission featured a kicking contest between Matt Stover and his camp competition, Scott Bentley. Each kicker hit seven of eight attempts, but Bentley edged Stover, 20-18, after Bentley nailed a 51-yard field goal that Stover barely missed.

The Ravens will play a mock game this morning at Bair Stadium and have off tomorrow.

Atkins wants to settle in

Ravens offensive lineman James Atkins played well yet sparingly at left tackle last season, but he has moved to left guard this year where he is battling Everett Lindsay for a starting role. The transition hasn't been that difficult, according to Atkins.

"I feel good about playing left guard," Atkins said. "I just want to get in and stay in one spot. This is my seventh year in the league. I played left tackle four years, then I had to go and play a little guard. I basically just want to settle down and get in one spot and play."

"You don't have to move as much at guard as you did at tackle pass blocking," Atkins said. "But for run blocking, you've got to move more with pulling. It's really no big transition for me. I feel I'm good at either one I play, but right now I feel comfortable at guard."

Atkins says he is intrigued by playing next to All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden. He also likes the Ravens' new offense.

"This is the best offense I've been in since I've been in the NFL," Atkins said. "The offensive line is working well together. I think Jonathan and I can really be good together. We can knock a lot of people off the ball. Both of us have quick feet. We're both athletic. I'm looking forward to growing with J.O. because he hasn't had a consistent guard since he has been here."

Going for the gold

Veteran wide receiver Billy Davis presents as good a candidate as any to grab the starting position opposite Jermaine Lewis.

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