Ravens receive share of raves in NFL review

Executive panel impressed with young talent, sees chance to be competitive

Ravens Breakdown

September 10, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Two NFL general managers and one pro personnel director who anonymously critiqued the Ravens agree that they are a young and talented team that could win as many as eight of 16 games this season.

They didn't mention the playoffs, but said the Ravens should be competitive in the AFC Central and might finish as high as second.

"Realistically, that's not that strong of a division," said one NFC general manager. "Jacksonville, rightfully so, is the class of that conference. Pittsburgh is traditionally tough, but this is not one of their better teams. Tennessee is the real mystery team in the division. No one knows how strong they are going to be. If the Titans get hot at the right time, then they could do some things. But overall, Baltimore has a chance."

Another NFC general manager is impressed with the Ravens' young talent with players like offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, wide receiver Jermaine Lewis, linebackers Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper and Ray Lewis and cornerbacks Duane Starks, Chris McAlister and DeRon Jenkins.

"Around the league, everyone is aware of the good, young players they have," he said. "Personnel-wise, they match up with a lot of teams. If they win early and mature, they could be exciting and interesting."

All three executives participated in a team analysis of the Ravens except special teams, and then a consensus grade was given for each unit.

Offensive line

The Ravens feel they have a solid group, but nothing spectacular.

Left tackle Ogden has been named to the Pro Bowl the past two years, and the Ravens have decided to start Everett Lindsay over James Atkins at left guard.

Lindsay, who played with coach Brian Billick in Minnesota last season, was impressive in training camp. Atkins missed three preseason games with a hamstring injury and is also making the transition from left tackle to left guard.

Center Jeff Mitchell started 10 games last season, and right guard Jeff Blackshear, a Pro Bowl candidate, has been a regular in the lineup for the past three years.

During the off-season, the Ravens signed right tackle Harry Swayne from the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Swayne doesn't have the brute power of former right tackle Orlando Brown, but he has much more savvy and technique and is twice as athletic.

The average weight of the Ravens' offensive line will be about 310 pounds.

The Ravens don't have much proven depth, but backup tackle Spencer Folau and guard/center Mike Flynn did perform well late last season when Brown, center Wally Williams and Ogden missed time with injuries.

Brown signed a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Browns, and Williams moved on to the New Orleans Saints.

"They lost some offensive linemen, which will hurt them, but they replaced them with some decent players," said one general manager. "They have established a running game in preseason, and I think that unit will be OK. One thing is certain: They got one heck of a tackle over there on the left side."

The other general manager was also impressed with Ogden as well as Blackshear.

"Their offensive line is like most in the league," he said. "You have two or three great players and the rest are fill-ins or regular guys. Ogden is great, and both Swayne and Blackshear are solid. They are not the most talented group, but they should be effective."

Grade: C.

Running backs

Before the start of training camp, the Ravens weren't sure that second-year player Priest Holmes was the answer at this position. Now, after four preseason games, they are sure he isn't. The solution is Holmes and Errict Rhett.

Holmes, who rushed for 1,008 yards last season, had a solid training camp and improved in every phase of the game. He hasn't done anything to lower the team's opinion of him, but the Ravens were also impressed with Rhett, a sixth-year veteran.

Neither will remind anyone of Gale Sayers. They don't have great speed, but both are steady and have outstanding work ethics. Holmes has more ability to go outside, and Rhett is able to get the tough yards inside the tackles.

Rhett performed well at the beginning of last season, but was removed from the starting lineup after a thigh injury in the second game. He was used sparingly after that and had personality differences with former coach Ted Marchibroda.

The Ravens also have Jay Graham, who may have more raw ability than Holmes or Rhett. Graham had a slow start in training camp, but he ran hard in the last three preseason games. He finally showed the toughness that his critics have said he lacks.

The Ravens brought in fullback Chuck Evans to serve as a lead blocker, but he is a do-it-all player who can run as well as catch. Evans has a capable backup in Tony Vinson, the former Towson State star, who bulked up about 10 to 12 pounds this season.

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