Armour: spot is no stain

New Ravens WR rejects Turner favoritism claim

September 11, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

The words spoken last week by former Ravens wide receiver Floyd Turner seemed a little strange to Justin Armour.

Turner implied, after he was cut by the Ravens, that the reason he did not get that final receiving spot was that he was not given an equal opportunity, partly because of the longstanding relationship between Armour and coach Brian Billick.

Armour says he was surprised to hear talk of favoritism from Turner, whom he considered a friend during training camp.

"Floyd and I had a great relationship," Armour said. "We had a lot of good talks together. Certainly a guy who's been playing a long time [10 seasons] expects to be around every year. He's just frustrated. Maybe he said some things he didn't mean. Maybe he did mean them. But the bottom line is this is a business. And coaches don't keep people just because they like them."

Billick, as an assistant coach at Stanford, recruited Armour out of high school. Armour said he and Billick hit it off, and the coach sold him on Stanford over other, bigger programs.

The two remained cordial over the years before the Ravens signed Armour as a free agent after he was released by the Cleveland Browns in May.

Turner said he could see the writing on the wall during training camp when Armour, who has caught only one pass the last three seasons, was running with the first team in three-wide receiver sets almost from Day 1.

Armour struggled early with dropped passes in practices and games but Billick kept playing him, costing Turner valuable time. To Armour's credit, his play picked up considerably as the preseason wore on. He finished as the Ravens' leader in catches with 12 for 133 yards and a touchdown.

"I've been in the league five years now, and at the end of training camp, I can honestly say that the five or six guys that are kept for the receiving squad are the five or six guys they should have kept," Armour said. "The year I got cut [by the Buffalo Bills in 1997], I thought to myself that I didn't have a good camp and don't deserve to be in this group. Last year in Denver, there was a guy whose coach was his best friend and he got cut.

"[Turner's remark] was pretty much a cheap shot said out of frustration and I didn't give it two thoughts."

One of the main reasons why the Ravens' coaches liked Armour and decided to stick with him while he struggled is because of his size. His 6-foot-4, 209-pound frame gives the team an added dimension in the red zone.

He is also a solid special teams player who has come from complicated offensive systems, like Billick's, while playing at Stanford under Bill Walsh, in Denver, San Francisco and the Bills under Marv Levy.

2; "Coaches don't keep people just because they like them." Justin Armour "That is what he is here to do is to use his size," Billick said. "You have to have a mix in the receiving group. He clearly is the guy we need in terms of size. You'd like to have the total package. But Justin is smart. He can play across the board. He knows how to use his body."

Billick compares Armour to Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey, which is fitting since Armour was McCaffrey's understudy last season in Denver.

Armour said McCaffrey is the reason why he has improved so much this season, compared to when he first broke into the league. Armour was drafted by the Bills in the fourth round in 1995 and caught 26 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns his rookie season.

After that year, Armour's career headed downhill. He injured his foot, causing him to miss the entire 1996 season, then was cut by the Bills in training camp the next year. The Philadelphia Eagles picked Armour up but kept him on the inactive list for six games, then waived him. He finished the season with the 49ers, but did not see any playing time.

Armour signed as a free agent with the Broncos last season, seeing action in eight games but, more importantly, learning from McCaffrey.

"Most of my career I've spent time behind guys who were fast receivers," Armour said. "I would try and eliminate what they were doing. Then, finally landing in Denver, playing behind McCaffrey, who is pretty much my size and same abilities, watching him play changed my game a lot. He's not trying to finesse anyone or run past you. He's literally trying to out-physical anyone in front of him."

The other part of Armour's game the coaches like is his intelligence. Armour was valedictorian of his high school class, and Billick said he has the smarts to play any of the receiving positions.

Academics was a primary reason why Armour chose Stanford, where he set a school record with 2,482 receiving yards.

Now, after beating out Turner, Armour is out to prove to his teammates and coaches that the right man is indeed in the right place.

"Football is a sport that is built on respect," Armour said. "Once your teammates see that you can make plays and a guy can be counted on, they start to respect the fact that your job is valuable to the team."

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