Despite mistakes on offense, Billick encouraged by debut

Errors correctable, Ravens coach says

August 14, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

There was no ranting or raving at the Ravens training camp at Western Maryland College yesterday.

Maybe the Ravens' 10-7 preseason-opening win against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night wasn't an offensive work of art, but first-year coach Brian Billick knows the key word for 1999 is patience. Plenty of it.

After a long bus ride home from Philadelphia, which included a 45-minute delay in traffic, Billick spent yesterday morning poring over game film before sending his team out on the practice field for a 45-minute walk-through session. Billick spent most of the time teaching instead of scolding.

After all, it was only the first game under a new coach with an offense that has undergone a face lift as far as personnel.

"It's the old good news, bad news," said Billick. "The bad news is that I saw a lot of mistakes. The good news is that they are correctable. I'm encouraged by how correctable the mistakes are."

Specifically, Billick was talking about the two false start and two delay-of-game penalties as well as some missed blocking assignments, particularly in the interior of the offensive line. But overall, Billick didn't seem too concerned, despite the Ravens having only 175 yards total offense, just 42 rushing with an average of only 1.6 a carry.

But he was disappointed that the Ravens converted on only five of 16 third-down attempts.

"Every time we started to develop some continuity on offense, we get an offsides or something that would set us back," said Billick, whose team has had the same problem in training camp practices. "But also in certain situations, if we just catch the ball, we add three or four more first downs."

Overall, it was not a bad night for the Ravens receivers, who have had problems in training camp. Veterans Qadry Ismail, Billy Davis and rookie Brandon Stokley each had three receptions and Stokley had a touchdown reception of 10 yards from quarterback Tony Banks in the second quarter. Ismail worked with the first team yesterday for the second straight day in place of second-year player Patrick Johnson.

But the receivers did miss out on some big plays. Justin Armour dropped a 20-yard pass from quarterback Scott Mitchell that would have given the Ravens a first down on a third-and-18 play at the Ravens' 35 with 1: 05 left in the first quarter.

Johnson dropped a 25-yard pass in the end zone from Banks with 2: 57 left in the first half, but made up for it a couple of plays later when he hauled in a 12-yard pass on a third-and-seven at the Eagles' 22. The inconsistency has Billick wondering if he can find a solid corps of five or six for the regular season.

"I hope so, I hope so," said Billick. "That was a classic Tazmanian [Billick's nickname for Johnson] move. Tony Banks puts it in there as sweet a shot that I've ever seen and he drops it. Then he comes back and leaps over people for a catch. It's discipline, looking the ball in. It comes with experience.

"Our receivers ran some good routes, the timing was good and they got where they were supposed to be. They had good technique. Now we just have to catch the ball."

All three of the quarterbacks performed up to par. Banks had a slow start, but still completed nine of 15 passes for 75 yards in about two quarters. No. 3 quarterback Wally Richardson was impressive during his fourth-quarter showing, and probably retained his spot for another season. Richardson was seven of 11 for 60 yards and led the game-winning 50-yard drive that ended with a 30-yard field goal by Matt Stover as time expired.

"Jason Maas [rookie quarterback from Oregon] may get some time, but he needs more seasoning," said Billick. "He is where Wally was the past couple of years."

Mitchell completed only four of seven passes for 30 yards, but he had little time to throw because the Ravens' offensive line had problems dealing with the Eagles' pass rush. Billick said he was impressed with Spencer Folau, who was filling in for Jonathan Ogden at left tackle, but Folau had problems with defensive ends Hugh Douglas and Mike Mamula.

Ravens center Jeff Mitchell, left guard James Atkins and swing center/guard Everett Lindsay also had problems with the Eagles stunting up the middle and at times were simply overpowered. Billick shuttled the three players, something he said he wouldn't do during the regular season.

"We were solid at times, not as good at other times," said Billick. "There is little continuity there now, but we'll cut down on the rotation as we get more into the preseason."

Ogden could begin practicing as soon as Monday, with Atkins beginning workouts by the middle of next week. Ogden has been bothered by a hip flexor and Atkins suffered a hamstring injury Thursday night.

Pub Date: 8/14/99

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