McCloud's performance is a smash hit

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Linebacker finishes second in tackles in preseason

September 04, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Linebacker Tyrus McCloud made a key sack on New York Giants quarterback Kerry Collins midway through the fourth quarter and finished the game with four tackles, three of them behind the line of scrimmage. Yet he still felt like he should have done more.

McCloud has been one of the Ravens' best defensive players this preseason, tying for second in tackles (16) with cornerback Chris McAlister behind Ray Lewis (20).

"I want to actually be better," McCloud said. "I had a couple of good plays that they might have seen. But I could have been a lot better technique-wise. Overall though, I think I did OK."

That speaks volumes for how far McCloud has come in his three seasons with the Ravens. His play this preseason prompted defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to heap praises earlier in camp on McCloud, who backs up Pro Bowler Ray Lewis.

McCloud sacked Collins for a 7-yard loss to the Giants' 16 on a second-and-seven with the Ravens down 24-21. He stopped running back LeShon Johnson for no gain on the Giants' first possession in the second quarter. He also broke into the backfield to tackle running back Sean Bennett for a 2-yard loss on the first play of the fourth quarter and a 1-yard loss in the second quarter.

The sack came on a blitz, something McCloud likes to take advantage of.

"Every time that he calls my number to blitz than I feel that I have to make the best of the opportunity," McCloud said. "I just put in my mind that when the quarterback drops back, I have to go make this play. The game was close. They needed somebody to make a play. So I just gave it all I had and made the play."

Bentley vs. Stover

After nailing a kickoff in the corner at the 3-yard line and hitting both extra points, kicker Scott Bentley looked ready to upset veteran Matt Stover for the kicking job.

Then with his chance to make his strongest statement, Bentley missed a 40-yard field goal wide left ending the first half.

"I was real disappointed about the field goal," Bentley said. "But you look at the numbers after the preseason, him and I are pretty much even. I think I was a little more consistent on kickoffs. That miss just came at a bad time. You make some, you miss some."

Bentley is right about how close the numbers are. For the four preseason games, Bentley went 2-for-3 on field-goal attempts, while Stover went 3-for-4. Both made all extra-point attempts.

"I'm not going to discuss this player by player," Billick said on the competition for jobs. "That [Bentley's miss] equates into the equation. But I'm not going to judge that in the court of public opinion."

Jackson comes through

Before the last-second heroics, there was linebacker Brad Jackson making another late-game defensive play.

Jackson's 26-yard interception return of Collins put the Ravens at the Giants 5-yard line with 2: 16 left in the game. Although running back Jay Graham fumbled on the possession, Jackson's interception coming when it did left the Ravens with enough time to get the ball back for one last drive.

"I think it was a little bit of a rush," Jackson said. "Kerry just threw it, and it was right there. I just thank the Lord for that opportunity."

Last week against Carolina, Jackson sacked Jeff Lewis for an 11-yard loss in the fourth quarter, halting a Panthers drive. He credits the switch from strong-side linebacker to weak after the second preseason game as part of the reason why he is able to make plays. Jackson spent last season on the Ravens practice squad and is competing for a roster spot.

Armour catches on

Wide receiver Justin Armour found the end zone for the first time this preseason on a 20-yard pass from quarterback Stoney Case.

It was the Ravens' opening drive of the second half, and Armour, who finished the game leading the team with five catches for 55 yards, found himself open after crossing with Floyd Turner, who he is competing with for a roster spot.

"We've been working on it all week," Armour said. "My position has come open quite a few times but for whatever reason, we haven't hit it. We were kind of laughing, saying that in the game we'll probably hit it. Floyd came off the ball real well and took the cornerback out of there. Basically, the corner has to make a decision and it is hard to do because he rarely sees the inside guy coming out."

Armour struggled with drops earlier in camp but has played well lately, finishing the preseason with 12 receptions, the most on the team. Billick likes Armour's 6-foot-4 frame, which is an advantage he has over the other receivers.

Special teams improves

The Ravens made some notable strides with their struggling special teams, especially in punt coverage, where they allowed 5 yards on two returns.

There also were drawbacks. Besides Bentley's missed 40-yard field-goal attempt, kickoff coverage teams allowed an average of 30 yards on four New York returns.

"I thought there was a lot of hustle," Billick said. "But technically, what we're doing and how we're doing it, has to get a lot better."

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