On the run again, Rhett makes noise with big first half

Big-talking tailback gets 1st 100-yard game as Raven, poses challenge to Holmes

September 20, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

In the eyes of Ravens guard Jeff Blackshear, running back Errict Rhett is an offensive lineman's dream.

"Errict Rhett is a grinder. He's going to grind on every down," Blackshear said. "He's a hard runner, a tough runner, and he's going to talk stuff on every play. He's going to talk trash while he's running. We haven't really had a chance to play smash-mouth football since the preseason. We had that today."

In the wake of yesterday's 101-yard rushing performance -- his first 100-yard game in his two years with the Ravens -- Rhett may have seized a chance to grab the starting tailback job for the time being from Priest Holmes.

Ravens coach Brian Billick would not commit to a starting tailback for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, and Rhett would not say he deserved to be a starter. But there was no doubt that Rhett felt like a free man yesterday.

Think back to 1998, when Rhett arrived in Baltimore after wearing out his welcome in Tampa Bay, where tailback Warrick Dunn had taken over. Rhett beat out Jay Graham in the preseason, rushed for 72 yards in the season opener against the Steelers, then pulled a hamstring and found himself in former coach Ted Marchibroda's doghouse by Week 3.

Rhett basically disappeared for the season's final 13 weeks, eventually finishing with 180 yards rushing. Then, think back to 1994 and 1995, when Rhett played his first two years in Tampa and rang up 1,000-yard seasons each time.

Rhett did his best yesterday to look forward.

"I think I'm 10 times better than I was in '95. I think I get better like wine. I get better with time," Rhett said. "Whenever I get into the game, I'm going to make something happen. I always push myself. When my opportunity comes, I take advantage of it.

"Me and Marchibroda, me and his style didn't click. He didn't want a guy with a lot of passion and a lot of heart who talked on the field. He wanted a quiet-type guy who didn't talk."

Billick said Holmes, who suffered a sprained right knee in last week's season opener, was moving too uncomfortably while wearing his knee brace in pre-game warm-ups to suit Billick. So he gave the ball to Rhett.

"Errict always runs with authority and conviction," Billick said.

Curiously, Rhett, who did not touch the ball in St. Louis, also did not touch the ball on the Ravens' first series, then was replaced by Holmes for a series.

The Ravens then decided to put the offense in Rhett's hands for a while. Good move. Midway through the first quarter, the Ravens began an 80-yard touchdown drive, and Rhett began to roll.

He warmed up with hard, straight-ahead runs of 4 and 6 yards, popping up from the ground each time with some chatter for the Pittsburgh defenders. Then, on first down from the Ravens' 41, Rhett energized the home crowd by bursting through the right side, bouncing off cornerback Travis Davis and rambling down the right sideline for 35 yards.

Rhett completed the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, his first as a Raven and his first since 1997.

The crowd roared as Rhett swung his arms from side to side in an unusual celebration.

Rhett ripped off a 21-yard run to the Pittsburgh 45 to finish with 71 yards in the quarter. More head-bobbing, more trash talk.

By halftime, Rhett had 80 yards on 13 carries. The Steelers made adjustments, then flooded the line of scrimmage with seven- and eight-man fronts. Rhett squeezed out another 21 yards on nine carries in the second half.

Asked if he felt he should start against the Browns, Rhett shrugged.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "I try to be a playmaker whenever I get in there. I try to be an attitude adjuster."

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