Bench gives Starks spark

Losing starting job spurs turnaround for Ravens cornerback

November 13, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Cornerback Duane Starks' response to being benched several weeks ago: Two interceptions the past two games and his best football of the season.

Starks lost his starting job to rookie cornerback Chris McAlister in the fifth game this year. But even with such a setback, Starks, like any good cornerback, does not lack for confidence.

"I know I have the talent to play," Starks said. "Each corner out there has the talent to play. It's just getting the opportunity. There's nothing I can do about [losing the starting job] except keep my head up and keep playing.

"My goal is to get back out there and show what I can do. I feel like I'm Michael Jordan, but not on the court. Jordan can't be Jordan unless he's on the court."

Starks has been on the court, but from off the bench. He has seen action in the Ravens' nickel set, recording one of the best defensive plays of the year last Sunday. He intercepted Browns quarterback Tim Couch in the end zone in one-on-one coverage on Kevin Johnson in the second quarter.

It was the kind of play the Ravens thought they would see many of after Starks had a solid preseason.

This was to be the year the second-year player, who was drafted in the first round out of Miami in 1998, was supposed to become more consistent.

Instead, as the season progressed, it was the same up-and-down Starks, who tied for the rookie lead in interceptions last season but also had problems.

Now he's back up, and, according to defensive backs coach Steve Shafer, may stay there.

"He's playing as well as I've seen him play," Shafer said. "In all aspects of it, too, mental as well as physical. His preparation through the week has been excellent.

"He's taken his game to a different level. I've been seeing it in the direction that we've been wanting it to go."

Shafer said the turning point came when Starks lost his job. The situation is different this season, with a new coaching staff, a rookie cornerback and the expectations that come in the second year for a 10th overall pick.

The problem for Starks was that he was practicing like he was playing, in other words, struggling. But he has picked it up in practice the past few weeks.

"I think he recognized his level of play at practice has to pick up in order to play well on the field," coach Brian Billick said. "He's seen that, and he's learning what it is to be a professional.

"He was huge in the Cleveland game. The big hit on Couch and the interception were key."

The Ravens will need a similar big game from Starks tomorrow against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell both had 100-yard games the first time the teams played last season.

Starks sees it as a chance to add to his interception streak.

"I'm focusing on going out there and making big plays," he said. "Even if I don't start and I continue to make big plays and get interceptions, then I'm doing my job. If that's what my role is to do, then that's what I'm going to do.

"I'd rather get an interception than shut a guy down. Really, an interception proves that you've done that. You look at guys who go to the Pro Bowl and it's always guys who make a lot of picks."

That what Starks has his eye on.

The cornerback selected before Starks in the 1998 draft, Charles Woodson, could be headed to the Pro Bowl this season.

Woodson, who tied Starks for most interceptions by a rookie (five), was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season.

"I feel, and this is the honest-to-God truth, if Michigan wouldn't have won the national championship, I feel quite sure that I could have possibly been the first corner picked in the draft," Starks said.

"It all depends on what teams need what type of corner."

Right now, he has to work his way back into the big picture. At his current pace, the return could be relatively soon.

"Do I like the fact that I'm sitting on the sideline? No," Starks said. "I don't think anyone would like that, really.

"When I do get out there, I'm going to show what I can do. And that's my whole plan."

NOTES: Unless safety Darren Perry reports by Monday, the Ravens may terminate his contract. Perry signed a deal with the team through the 1999 season Tuesday, but is considering retiring again. "He's got some personal issues going on that he has to resolve. We'll see what he wants to do over the weekend or by Monday. Then we'll move on," Billick said. Offensive lineman Sammy Williams, wide receiver Marcus Nash and rookie safety Anthony Poindexter were placed on the inactive list yesterday. Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, said he welcomes the physical presence of Poindexter, who gained a reputation for dishing out vicious hits at Virginia. "We've already got athletes running around back there. We need a thumper," Newsome said. Billick hinted that veteran safety Stevon Moore, who had the fourth knee operation of his 11-year career last week, is considering retiring. "There comes a point, but that's for Stevon to decide," Billick said.

Sun staff writer Gary Lambrecht contributed to this article.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Jacksonville Jagauars

Site: ALL TEL Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

When: Sunday, 4:05p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK

Line: Jaguars by 13

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.