Rhett's running puts linemen on offensive

Back's ranting suits blockers' mentality

October 02, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Ravens running back Errict Rhett is starting to see that look in the eyes of his offensive linemen in the huddle.

"They are just begging for a running play," Rhett said.

If he had his way, Rhett would run the ball on every play. So would right guard Jeff Blackshear. You can see why, once you watch Blackshear fire off the line of scrimmage, grab a defensive lineman, then toss him to the ground. At 6 feet 6, 323 pounds, Blackshear is the strongest man on a line full of behemoths.

"I like to get my hands on guys and maul them. I'm not a finesse guy," Blackshear said. "I haven't met one lineman that loves to pass block. All of them love to run block more. Offensive lines love to run the ball and pound guys and be aggressive. We have the type of group that wants to be physical."

First-year coach Brian Billick, who brought the West Coast offense with him from Minnesota, has spent two minicamps, a full training camp, four preseason games and three regular-season games refining an attack based on multiple formations, short passes and the occasional bomb.

While the Ravens' pass offense finds its way under new quarterback Stoney Case, the team has learned during the past two games that smash-mouth football -- that brand of ball based on grinding down defenses with power on the ground -- has come to the fore, with Rhett leading the way in place of the injured Priest Holmes.

Since replacing Holmes (sprained knee), Rhett has rushed for more than 100 yards in back-to-back games for the first time since 1995. And the Ravens are ranked 12th in the league in rushing, averaging 123 yards a game. Their 4.6-yard rushing average ranks third in the NFL.

Rhett has done it with a combination of cutbacks and hard-nosed, straight-ahead runs. And Rhett would be the first one to tell you he could do none of it without the big boys up front, starting with his blocking back, fullback Chuck Evans.

"When you get in the huddle and look into eyes of the linemen, you know you can run the football," Rhett said. "I can almost tell how many yards I'm going to get on a play by looking into their eyes. I just hold onto Chuck's shirt and follow him. I think he's the best all-around fullback in the league. All of us are just coming together."

Right tackle Harry Swayne has played on some fine offensive lines. The unit in San Diego in the mid-1990s cleared lanes for Natrone Means, all the way to the Super Bowl in 1995. For the past two seasons in Denver, Swayne helped spring Terrell Davis and the Broncos toward Super Bowl titles.

Swayne especially likes the size and brawn of the Ravens' line. He also sees Rhett, whose game mixes power with nonstop talk in the huddle and on the field, as an ideal complement.

"Errict runs hard and he runs bigger than his size (5-11, 210), and he's always talking to us. And this is the biggest line I've ever been around," Swayne said. "That [smash-mouth philosophy] kind of plays into their hands."

Left tackle Jonathan Ogden is known as one of the league's premier pass protectors, but when is the 6-8, 318-pound Pro Bowler happiest?

"As long as we're running the ball well," said Ogden, who is mobile enough to take out multiple defenders on any given play.

Center Jeff Mitchell shares Ogden's sentiment. Mitchell said there is nothing that matches the feeling in the huddle when the offense knows it is knocking the defense off the ball and back on its heels, pounding at them relentlessly with success.

Take last week's 17-10 victory over Cleveland, in which the Ravens hung 184 rushing yards on the Browns.

"If you get a team down and you're beating [on] them, everybody looks at each other [in the huddle] and just smiles," Mitchell said. "You turn to somebody and say, `Did you crush that guy or what?' Once you get into a running rhythm and things are clicking, it's fun.

"We're going to keep it up. We just want to make it a big part of our game plan."

Billick said he recognized a smash-mouth personality in his line during training camp. And he is quite tuned into every lineman's desire, which is to demoralize a defense with a bruising ground game.

"If you'd let them, they would run the ball on every play. That's a good mentality," Billick said. "If that's going to be our particular strength, then they are going to get their wish. The key is running when you want to run, and not just taking what the defense gives you. This line is capable of that."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Atlanta Falcons

Site: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Falcons by 3

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