Final report card

January 04, 2000|By Mike Preston

Quarterbacks - C

Tony Banks may not be the answer, but he deserves another year in the Ravens' system. There is no guarantee, though, that he'll re-sign with the team because there is still a strained relationship between Banks and coach Brian Billick. Banks played well in the second half of the season and opened up the offense with the long ball. The Ravens still should draft a quarterback in April and add a veteran backup such as Tennessee's Neil O'Donnell, who could start if Banks falters, while still giving the rookie a chance to mature. Stoney Case is not the answer even as a backup and there probably won't be a lot of interest in him on the free-agent market. Case is a favorite of Billick, but he shouldn't be retained.

Running backs - B

Despite injuries to Priest Holmes (knee) and Errict Rhett (ribs), the Ravens got the maximum performance out of both players. Rhett carried the team when Scott Mitchell and Case were struggling at quarterback despite facing seven to eight players in the box weekly. Holmes at least enjoyed better matchups near the line of scrimmage because teams had to back off with Banks in the lineup. Both players ran hard, especially Holmes at the end of the season. Rhett was more of a power runner, and Holmes had more effectiveness outside the tackles. The Ravens have offered Rhett, a free agent, a contract, and Holmes is an unrestricted free agent. The Ravens still don't have a breakaway back, a player who can go the distance. Holmes had one long touchdown pass out of the backfield this season, but neither player was much of a receiving threat. Both need to work on pass protection. Fullback Chuck Evans was a decent lead blocker, but Billick needs to use him more as a runner.

Receivers - C

Qadry Ismail was one of the most improved in the league and had more than 1,000 yards receiving, but he still isn't a bona fide No. 1 receiver. Ismail would be No. 3 on most teams and the Ravens should pay him accordingly during the off-season, when he becomes a free agent. Jermaine Lewis was a bust in 1999 after a stellar 1998 season, and Justin Armour was inconsistent, which means he'll have a tough time making the roster next season if the Ravens re-sign him. Billick blew it by not having second-year receiver Patrick Johnson in the lineup earlier this season for Armour. Johnson improved a great deal and should be a top-notch receiver next season. The Ravens got little production from their tight ends, and that probably means Greg DeLong won't return next season. Ditto for tight end Aaron Pierce. Tight end is very high on the Ravens' priority list.

Offensive line - C+

This group did an average job, but Billick didn't cater to its strength, which is running the football. Left tackle Jonathan Ogden started slowly and played well until the last game of the season. Rookie Edwin Mulitalo made a slow transition from college tackle to guard, and should be stable at the position for some time. Center Jeff Mitchell and right guard Jeff Blackshear were solid, though Blackshear had a better season in 1998. Mitchell did not play well in the last game. Right tackle Everett Lindsay is nothing more than a backup and will be a sub again next season if the Ravens decide to re-sign him. He was the weak link in the line. The Ravens are thankful right tackle Harry Swayne will return from a foot injury next season. The line gave up 56 sacks this season, but some were the result of the quarterbacks and running backs not performing up to par. Keep in mind that Ogden, Mitchell and Mulitalo are young players.

Defensive line - A

This group was excellent and had more depth than any unit on the team. The Ravens went three deep at defensive tackle with starters Larry Webster, Tony Siragusa and top sub Lional Dalton. Webster and Siragusa were primarily used to keep blockers off middle linebacker Ray Lewis, but single blockers could not handle Siragusa or Webster one on one. Siragusa wants a contract extension because his current one expires at the end of next season, but that probably won't happen until the end of it. If the Ravens don't want to re-sign Siragusa, they may draft a defensive tackle in the early rounds in April. Defensive ends Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary had great years. Burnett had the better season and was a force all year. McCrary, bothered by off-season knee surgery, had a slow start but started returning to Pro Bowl form by the end. The unsung hero of the defensive line was Fernando Smith, who was effective at end and tackle. Replacement Keith Washington also had a solid season. Washington and Smith are free agents, but Smith is more of a priority because he can play in the Ravens' base defense. Washington probably would physically wear down if he was a full-time starter at end.

Linebackers - A

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