Modell finally breaks silence

Ravens owner happy Billick got win, not that his old city lost

`Glad to get this behind us'

He discusses progress, Case, pre-game quiet

September 28, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

One day after the Cleveland Browns left town, the self-imposed gag rule on Ravens owner Art Modell was lifted as far as talking to the national media. The former Browns owner said yesterday he was no more excited about defeating Cleveland, 17-10, Sunday than winning any other game, and was optimistic about the team's future under first-year coach Brian Billick.

Modell said he was happier for Billick than himself because it was Billick's first win of the regular season. Modell said he didn't talk to the media because he didn't want to become the focus of the contest, and he was glad the game was over.

Modell was the owner of the Browns for 35 years before moving the franchise to Baltimore nearly four years ago. Cleveland (0-3) rejoined the NFL this season after a three-year absence.

"I'm glad to get this Cleveland game behind us," Modell said. "When I was in Cleveland, I was criticized for talking too much and last week I was criticized in Cleveland for not talking at all. I can't win.

"People were looking for bulletin board ammunition. Too much was being made about Modell this and Modell that.

The game was being treated as if it was Art Modell squaring off on the field against Al Lerner [Modell's former business partner and current Browns owner].

"I agree with Brian: Any win is a good win and this one was good for this organization. We've got a good football team here and it's going to get better. We're not great, but it's a team with promise. We've got two No. 1 draft picks next year, and that should get us two blue-chippers."

Billick did not hesitate pointing out that he knew the game was important to Art Modell and Modell's son, David, the team's president, but he insisted there was no pressure from the front office to win.

"I'm the only one who can put pressure on myself," Billick said. "We all have pressures in our jobs, and people can turn up the heat if they choose to. But only if you allow them. Clearly there was no mistake what the feelings were going to be in the organization, how important it was to Art and David, as it was to Al Lerner and Carmen Policy [Browns president].

"In talking with Chris [Palmer, Browns coach] before the game, you could tell we were kindred spirits at that point because we had been through the same week. We knew we had to keep our teams focused and let the rest take care of itself.

"I saw Art after the game and obviously he felt good about it. He liked what he saw. He had his usual comments about this call and that call. But it was great. He enjoyed it -- the day, the fans and the fun he had with his family."

With one game left before the first quarter of the season ends Sunday, Modell likes the progress the team has made under Billick. He has been impressed by the team's defense, which was ranked No. 13 heading into the Browns game allowing 286.5 yards per game. The Browns had 189.

"St. Louis had some success against us, but they look like they might become a playoff team. They have a lot of weapons," Modell said. "I really like the way our linebackers are playing, especially Jamie Sharper, who has stepped it up. He and Peter Boulware have taken a lot of pressure off Ray Lewis, our middle linebacker.

"Then with Boulware and Michael McCrary on the pass rush, we have a great 1-2 punch."

But Modell knows there has to be some improvement on offense. He feels the same way as Billick. The offensive line has performed well as far as run blocking. The Ravens have the third-best rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 4.6 yards a carry with running back Errict Rhett having rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the past two games.

Modell is aware of the lack of talent at the receiver position but is hopeful about the development of young players such as Patrick Johnson and Brandon Stokley. He pointed out that the Ravens could use their first-round picks to get some instant talent at the skill positions.

"Our offensive line has performed well," Modell said. "I'm encouraged by the performance of Errict Rhett and I tried to tell Ted Marchibroda and Al Lavan [former running backs coach] last season that Rhett should have been given more of an opportunity."

Modell said he has been impressed with quarterback Stoney Case, but feels he should stay in the pocket more. Case completed 12 of 25 passes for 165 yards in his debut against the Browns, but also threw three interceptions. A lack of arm strength, especially on out patterns to the far side of the field, was evident.

He rushed for 57 yards on 11 carries, and scored twice on 1-yard runs.

"That running around is a concern," Modell said. "I think he needs to stay in the pocket longer and not bail out so quickly. A quarterback that runs around can only take you so far. But this young man has talent and Brian has a reputation of working with quarterbacks."

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