Ravens eager to impress home fans

Team brings 2-0 mark to PSINet opener

August 28, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

They are 2-0 in the preseason, with a defense that looks solid as expected and a West Coast offense that is moving past its infancy stage.

And a week after showing an ability to sustain a long drive and strike quickly with the deep pass, the Ravens will put their new attack on display before their fans for the first time.

When the Ravens take the field against visiting Carolina tonight, a chance to make a first impression awaits them. Sure, it's only preseason. Then again, consider the perspective of quarterback Scott Mitchell, the new man at the controls.

Mitchell knows fans are skeptical of a passer who basically was run out of Detroit last year and is trying to resurrect a career that featured a 32-touchdown, 4,338-yard season in 1995, but only sporadic success since.

"I know it's a preseason game, but I'm real excited to get out there in front of those fans," said Mitchell, who could play for most of the first half.

"The last couple of years, all I heard when I got introduced [in Detroit] before a home game were boos. I just want people to come with an open mind and not have preconceived ideas of what I can and can't do. Let's just let this thing play out."

It will be interesting to see the fans' response to backup quarterback Tony Banks, who has mixed glaring mistakes with spectacular moments, like his 89-yard touchdown strike to wide-out Patrick Johnson last week in Atlanta.

Banks has thrown two touchdown passes and has the highest preseason completion rate (69.2 percent) in the league. He also has committed two penalties and thrown the team's only two interceptions.

Mitchell, after looking rusty against Philadelphia, shook off two early fumbles against the Falcons to lead a 16-play, 83-yard drive, resulting in a field goal. He has completed 14 of 25 passes for 145 yards.

Ravens coach Brian Billick scoffs at the notion of a quarterback controversy, saying Mitchell is his man. And the new coach is eager to put on a show for the spectators, preseason or not.

"I'd like to look good for the fans. They deserve it," Billick said. "They'd like to see a product on the field that's worth coming out and seeing, even in a preseason game. Hopefully, we can go out and be very entertaining and competitive and win the game and stay healthy. There are some compelling battles to watch."

For those players trying to prove their worth to the Ravens' coaching staff, tonight is huge.

"The first three preseason games are a chance to declare and define your abilities and whether you belong on this team," Billick said. "The first three preseason games are paramount in terms of evaluating talent."

The wide receiver and tight end positions will be worth watching the most.

Will Lovett Purnell or Aaron Pierce be the starting tight end? Tonight could go a long way toward deciding that, as Pierce returns after missing the Atlanta game with a quadriceps injury. Look for Pierce to play most of the first half. Is A. J. Ofodile good enough on special teams to stick around as the No. 3 tight end? His showing tonight could settle the issue.

As for the receivers, even though Jermaine Lewis could play tonight after working through some back spasms earlier this week, Billick plans to take a longer look at Billy Davis and Floyd Turner, who each did not play much in Atlanta.

He also plans to run Justin Armour on the outside, after using him mostly in the slot in the first two games. Also, rookie Brandon Stokley, who caught a touchdown pass in the opener, will return after missing a game with shoulder injuries.

"It might be a bit of a Chinese fire drill," Billick said, referring to his receivers rotation tonight.

"We'll throw a lot of people through from series to series. Keep your roster cards close."

With left guard James Atkins out with a torn right hamstring, Everett Lindsay could solidify his hold on that spot, while the battle between Errict Rhett and Jay Graham for the backup tailback spot figures to intensify.

Defensively, Billick said he is looking for newly converted safety Rod Woodson to show that he is more comfortable in the backfield. The DeRon Jenkins-Chris McAlister battle for the starting right cornerback job also enters phase three. Jenkins has held off the rookie so far.

The only other suspense concerning the defense is the availability of outside linebacker Peter Boulware, whose status will be determined at game time. Boulware, recovering from a dislocated shoulder, has practiced all week.

As for the special teams, a favorite could be established in the kicking battle between veteran Matt Stover and challenger Scott Bentley. So far, they are virtually in a dead heat.

Ravens tonight

Preseason opponent: Carolina Panthers

Site: PSINet Stadium

Time: 8 p.m.

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

Line: Ravens by 3 1/2

Ravens' 1999 schedule

Preseason

Date Opp. Time TV

8-28 Carolina 8 13

9-3 N.Y. Giants Noon 13

Regular season

Date Opp. Time TV

9-12 at St. Louis 1 13

9-19 Pittsburgh 1 13

9-26 Cleveland 1 13

10-3 at Atlanta 1 13

10-10 at Tennessee 4: 15 13

10-17 Bye

10-21 Kansas City 8: 20 ESPN

10-31 Buffalo 1 13

11-7 at Cleveland 1 13

11-14 at Jacksonville 4: 05 13

11-21 at Cincinnati 4: 05 13

11-28 Jacksonville 1 13

12-5 Tennessee 1 13

12-12 at Pittsburgh 1 13

12-19 New Orleans 1 45

12-26 Cincinnati 1 13

1-2 at N. England 1 13

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