Starks no longer backpedaling in secondary


Cornerback steps up game, could regain starting spot

November 05, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens second-year cornerback Duane Starks is having success on the comeback trail.

Starks was benched at halftime in Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons. Since then he has been working in a regular rotation with rookie Chris McAlister and DeRon Jenkins. He also has played in the team's nickel and dime coverages.

Last Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, Starks intercepted one pass and almost picked off two more. And if he keeps playing well, Starks could earn his way back into the starting lineup.

His rebirth would be a welcome relief for the Ravens, who made Starks the No. 10 overall pick in the 1998 draft. Starks is 10th on the team in tackles with 17 and tied for second in passes batted down with three other players at six.

Starks should get a lot of playing time Sunday because the Cleveland Browns often require teams to use a lot of nickel and dime coverages, according to Ravens coach Brian Billick.

"My playing time depends on how they use their receivers," Starks said. "If I get a chance, I'll go out and do my job. Whatever this team has asked me to do, I have done it. I felt bad about what happened [benching], but I'm over it. I never lost my confidence."

Said Billick: "Anybody can work their way back into the starting lineup. Given the fair amount of three-wide-receiver and other configurations they run, we anticipate a fair amount of nickel and dime packages, which would increase the amount of reps he gets. Anytime they play, and play well, it further increases the reps.

"Obviously, it was emotional for him going through the transition. He also had to deal with the emotion of a struggling team, like we're doing right now. But he has always prepared and practiced hard throughout."

Webster fills key role

One of the reasons the Ravens' defense has been so dominating is defensive tackle Larry Webster. After seven years in the league, Webster finally got a chance to start during training camp and has made the most of it.

Webster has only 15 tackles, but middle linebacker Ray Lewis has gotten a lot of his 102 tackles because of Webster.

"I think my play has been consistent, within the structure of the defense," Webster said. "My job is to occupy two offensive linemen, keep them off Ray and the other linebackers, and let them make tackles. If the opportunity comes, then I'll make the tackle, but that's not my primary job."

Webster's performance has caught Billick's eye.

"He just gobbles up certain aspects of an offense," Billick said. "He is a role player. He is the kind of guy that when things are going well, you don't realize you have a player like him."

One that got away

The Browns have come under scrutiny recently for releasing several free agents who have caught on with other teams, including Ravens receiver Justin Armour.

Armour, a fifth-year veteran, was selected by the Browns in the expansion draft Feb. 2, then terminated May 26. He signed with the Ravens about a month later. Armour has 19 receptions for 329 yards and two touchdowns, which would make him the second-leading receiver in yardage on the Browns behind Kevin Johnson's 466.

The Browns were looking for younger players.

"I thought he was a fine player," said Browns coach Chris Palmer. "We let him go because we wanted to let him catch on with someone else. We were trying to develop younger players and give him an opportunity to continue his career. I hope he appreciates it."

Looking to break out

The Ravens have the 26th-ranked offense in the league, averaging only 268.4 yards a game. Quarterback Tony Banks will make his second start of the season Sunday, and he feels the Ravens need a good game offensively to break out of a slump.

Banks has completed 21 of 48 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown in a little more than four quarters of play.

"We have nine more games to play, so it ain't over yet," Banks said. "We're going to take it game by game, but we need just one big, breakout kind of game offensively, something we can build confidence off of."

Lindsay back in position

Everett Lindsay's performances seems to have dropped off in recent games, but Billick said it should pick up now because Lindsay is back at left guard.

With injuries to starting tackles Jonathan Ogden and Harry Swayne and reserve tackle Spencer Folau, Lindsay has played tackle at various times. Ogden and Swayne started and finished against Buffalo, and Folau is expected to suit up against the Browns.

"I don't know if it's tapered off," Billick said of Lindsay's performance. "He is playing good, solid football for us. Since the last game, fortunately, he was able to get into a consistent position. The previous weeks, he was bouncing all over the place. A lot of people can't appreciate how difficult it is. It sounds simple, but it's hard to go from right guard to left guard, from left tackle to right tackle."

R. Lewis goes to videotape

Former Chicago Bear Dick Butkus is considered by many to be the best middle linebacker ever, but Lewis doesn't spend a lot of time watching Butkus on tape.

He prefers watching other, more recent players.

"I watch a lot of film of players like Ronnie Lott, Mike Singletary, Walter Payton and people like that," Lewis said. "I'm not taking anything way from Butkus, but I watch film of people who were [closer to] my time, people who had a passion for the game and didn't worry about the money aspect of the game. The only thing that mattered was that they were competing against each other."

Billick, though, said Lewis might end up in the same class with Butkus as possible Hall of Fame material.

"With his athletic ability and his passion, he can be one of the best," Billick said. "If he can sustain it over a period of time, which is the true test, he's got Hall of Fame potential. He is one of those guys -- and there are only a handful -- you'd better account for, or he'll beat you. He's like Reggie White, that level of player."

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