Weak special teams mar strong showing

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Penalties, low production leave Billick frustrated

Notebook

August 22, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Ravens coach Brian Billick soaked in last night's 19-6 preseason victory over the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons by breathing a sigh of relief about an offense that showed some life and a defense that continues to look like the backbone of the team.

Then, Billick frowned, as the subject turned to special teams, an area where the Ravens have looked pretty weak.

Last night, save for some sound punting by Kyle Richardson and solid kicking by Scott Bentley, the Ravens piled mistake upon mistake. They gave up too many yards in kickoff and punt coverage. Their punt return production, nonexistent a week ago against Philadelphia, improved only slightly last night. Then there were the penalties in the return game.

In the first half, Tyrus McCloud, Jermaine Derricott and Corey Chamblin were flagged on returns.

"I'm not real happy with the special teams," Billick said. "Penalties are a difficult thing to judge sometimes. You look at the film and wonder sometimes was that holding or was that clipping? Plus, we've got a lot of guys rolling through [with a roster of over 80 players]. But I'm not happy with it."

What upset Billick the most was the 52-yard kickoff return the Ravens allowed after they had taken their first lead of the game at 10-6 with 9: 23 left.

"We had the hammer right there," Billick said.

J. Lewis answers back

At 5 feet 7, Ravens wide receiver Jermaine Lewis could hardly be described as a sleeping giant before last night's game. But with no receptions to show for his first preseason under Billick, Lewis' game clearly had yet to awaken.

Lewis, who took some indirect criticism last week when Billick said he had yet to see any receiver emerge as an "absolute, go-to guy," responded forcefully. In the first quarter last night, Lewis put a stamp on the Ravens' second possession.

Looking very much like the guy who figures to make or break the Ravens' passing game in 1999, Lewis combined with quarterback Scott Mitchell for 65 yards of an 83-yard drive, which ended with a 24-yard field goal by Bentley.

Each of Lewis' receptions was good for a first down.

Lewis broke out of his brief slump with an 11-yard catch on the drive's second play, then made the key reception of the drive on third-and-16 by beating cornerback Ray Buchanan down the right sideline for an 18-yard gain to move the ball to midfield.

Two plays later, Lewis hauled in a 19-yard grab. On the next play, he worked the middle for 17 more yards to the Falcons' 10.

"We're starting to come together as a unit. We showed some improvement. Scott Mitchell had a good night," Lewis said. "Last week, I ran good routes, I was in the right spots, but I didn't get the ball. This week, the ball was there."

McAlister regains legs

Rookie cornerback Chris McAlister admittedly had a rough week of practice, as a parade of receivers ran by him.

Last night he seemed recovered: No receiver beat him deep and Ronnie Harris tried it twice to no avail. McAlister also recorded a solo tackle and broke up a pass.

Receivers hold on

Are the Ravens' much-maligned, slippery-fingered receivers finally getting a grip?

Last night's performance, save for one glaring drop by Qadry Ismail, marked a positive turn of events. From Jermaine Lewis to Webster Slaughter to Patrick Johnson, the Ravens discovered some sure hands for a change. Even Ismail chipped in two receptions for 23 yards.

One of the high points came with 9: 23 left when Johnson broke open deep, stumbled, then maintained his concentration and ran under a pass by backup quarterback Tony Banks to complete a difficult, 57-yard play. That set up a go-ahead, 4-yard touchdown run by Jay Graham.

Wise investment

Backup defensive tackle Lional Dalton continues to pay dividends for the Ravens. Before the Ravens opened up a 17-6 lead on Johnson's first touchdown catch of the preseason, the Ravens stuffed Atlanta on back-to-back, short-yardage plays just outside the Ravens' 10.

First, Dalton and Martin Chase slammed quarterback Danny Kanell to the ground for no gain. Dalton then stopped Harold Green for no gain on fourth down to give the Ravens the ball.

"We've got a pretty good rotation going. I'm comfortable at my position," Dalton said.

Et cetera

Linebacker Peter Boulware (shoulder), defensive end Michael McCrary (knee), left guard James Atkins (hamstring), wide receiver Brandon Stokley (both shoulders), cornerback James Trapp (shoulder) and tight end Aaron Pierce (hip) did not play. Boulware and McCrary are not expected to play until the preseason finale against the New York Giants on Sept. 3. ...Left tackle Jonathan Ogden returned to the starting lineup after missing the preseason opener with a hip flexor.

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