Billick departs happy camper

Ravens coach satisfied with progress as team heads to Owings Mills

August 27, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens coach Brian Billick ended his first training camp yesterday and declared he was relatively satisfied with the progress of his team, which found a solid fullback, a possible starting left guard, depth on the defensive line, and rehabilitated two of its top defensive stars.

After nearly five weeks, the Ravens are 2-0 in the preseason and healthy, and have gained confidence in their first-year coach during the initial practice sessions of the 1999 season.

"We got through relatively healthy," Billick said after yesterday morning's session at Western Maryland College before the team traveled back to Owings Mills, where it will resume regular workouts that are closed to the public.

"To get through camp and have only one definitive guy out [left guard James Atkins, hamstring], and to be 2-0 -- I know it's only preseason, but it feels good -- and go through camp without incident. If you had told me that ahead of time, I would have said, `Yeah, I'll take that.' "

Billick wasn't the only Raven to leave training camp upbeat. Second-year cornerback Duane Starks said Billick left a favorable impression last Saturday when the Ravens defeated the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, 19-6.

"He's a lot more involved, a lot more talkative than Ted Marchibroda," Starks said. "After the last game, a lot of guys were saying, `See what happens if you listen.' There is a great deal of confidence among this team."

The Ravens still have a ways to go in building their offense, but at least the team has found a major part for its West Coast offense, or West Coast system, as Billick prefers. Fullback Chuck Evans has distinguished himself as a runner, receiver and blocker. Another former Minnesota Vikings player, guard/center Everett Lindsay, also has been impressive.

Lindsay is expected to make his second straight start tomorrow night against the Carolina Panthers in place of Atkins. If Atkins takes too long to get back in the lineup, he might find himself without a job. Lindsay and Evans were two of five former Vikings brought in by Billick, Minnesota's former offensive coordinator, to help teach the offense and the team about tempo.

Lindsay was acquired for a draft pick in April and Evans was the first free agent signed in the off-season by the Ravens.

"That worked out well and that's why the camp ran so smooth," Billick said. "During meetings and practice, players were where they were supposed to be, doing what they were supposed to be doing when they were supposed to be doing it. Obviously, we still have some things to work out. We need to have a better understanding at an instinctive level."

Billick was pleased with the progress of new quarterback Scott Mitchell, even though Mitchell has completed only 14 of 25 passes for 145 yards, compared to backup Tony Banks' 18 of 26 for 268 yards and two touchdowns.

Banks is a better athlete and might come up with more big plays, but he still needs to refine his techniques and work within the framework of the offense. Billick liked the way Mitchell engineered a 16-play, 83-yard drive last week against the Falcons and found his secondary receivers.

Mitchell is starting to gain control of the offense.

"I saw improvement in myself and as an offense," Mitchell said. "[Billick] put a lot on us, he really did. But that's the way he wants to teach it, that you understand the concepts of play and not just understand things from rote memory. He wants you to have the ability to think and act on the run.

"All I asked of Brian was an opportunity. I have no question I can play and get the the job done in this system and in this league."

The receivers were shaky most of training camp but may have had a breakthrough game against the Falcons, and there were fewer dropped balls in practice this week. The Ravens have eight receivers on the roster. Billick could have five or six on the final roster.

"How many drops have you seen lately?" Billick said. "We're getting better. We have the explosiveness to get downfield, but we have to be more efficient on the short and intermediate stuff. You have to have consistency underneath to go vertical."

Defensively, the Ravens found depth on the line. Second-year players Martin Chase and Lional Dalton are capbable backups at tackle behind Larry Webster and Tony Siragusa, and backup defensive ends Fernando Smith and Keith Washington have played well.

Rookie and No. 1 draft pick Chris McAlister has performed well, but not enough to replace third-year cornerback DeRon Jenkins, who has resurfaced under the coaching of Steve Shafer. The transition of Rod Woodson from corner to safety hasn't been totally smooth, and Billick hinted that the 13-year veteran might be bored.

"I would like to see in Chris a sustained, consistent thought process," Billick said of McAlister. "All rookies' minds wander and they make mistakes they shouldn't. But you can't rely on pure talent, a mistake a lot of rookies make."

Of Woodson, Billick said: "When you're talking about a veteran that has been in as many camps as Rod, pacing is important. Then when you see them in a real game, he knows how to do it and get it done. I'd like to see a little more of it now, but it's not unusual for a veteran."

Two players who got bored of not practicing were McCrary and linebacker Peter Boulware. Both seem to have completely recovered from off-season injuries. Boulware (shoulder) could see some action tomorrow night, and McCrary (knee) is scheduled to play the last game of the preseason against the New York Giants.

NOTE: Agent Michael George reported little progress in his negotiations with the team about a contract extension for his client, McCrary. The two sides are expected to meet again today.

Next for Ravens

Preseason opponent: Carolina Panthers

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Ravens by 3 1/2

Pub Date: 8/27/99

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