Thompson agrees to 1-year contract


Veteran special teamer begins practice, brings life back to locker room

April 30, 2000|By Mike Preston and Jamison Hensley | Mike Preston and Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Ravens veteran special teams performer Bennie Thompson agreed to a one-year contract yesterday and began practicing with the team. Thompson may be the final addition of consequence until the free-agency period virtually re-opens June 1.

Thompson, 37, has played in the league nine seasons. He has led the Ravens in special teams tackles three of the four years the team has been in Baltimore, including 24 tackles last season. Thompson was named to the AFC Pro Bowl team in 1998 and named an alternate last season.

"Besides the obvious of what he brings to your team on the field, you have to admire his attitude, work ethic and love for the game," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "Bennie is at the point in his career where he realizes it might be time to move on. At some point, you're going to be able to find a person who can do the same things he can do as well as bring something to the defensive side of the ball. But I don't know if Bennie, or if we, are there yet."

Thompson was back in the Ravens' locker room yesterday holding court, as usual, joking with his fellow players as well as members of the media.

"I'm glad to see him, very happy to see him," said kicker Matt Stover, a longtime teammate of Thompson's in Cleveland as well as Baltimore. "He is a heck of a player. He adds life to the locker room. It was quite calm and somber without him. Without Bennie, Goose [defensive tackle Tony Siragusa] and James Atkins [former Ravens reserve guard], it was a quiet locker room."

Always room to improve

The Ravens had the No. 2 defense in the league last year, allowing only 263.9 yards per game. The Ravens were top-ranked in average yards per play at 4.1 and per pass attempt at 5.48.

The defense did not allow a 100-yard rusher all season, but the Ravens still feel they need to improve in another area: turnovers. The Ravens had 21 interceptions but forced only 10 fumbles last season.

"In this minicamp, there will be an emphasis on taking the ball away," said Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. "We'll be working on such things as stripping the ball, tipped balls and getting interceptions. When you achieve those kinds of things, it only adds to your confidence."

One sight the Ravens are glad to see is veteran Harry Swayne back at right offensive tackle. Swayne, about to start his 14th season, started six games for the Ravens before fracturing his right foot, which caused him to miss the final eight games of the season.

Swayne's last start was on Nov. 7 against the Cleveland Browns. Upon returning to the Ravens, Swayne found out he was joined by former Denver Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe.

"It feels good," said Swayne. "I haven't played since Cleveland week. I never thought about that until I was out there practicing today. It's been a long time, but there have been no effects. I've still got the screw in my foot, probably the washer too. I feel like Ace Hardware out there.

"It's going to be great playing with Shannon again. We have to get our calls straight. We still have some leftover calls from Denver."

Shaking rust, losing weight

Special teams player and wide receiver Billy Davis had off-season shoulder problems and needs to shake off some rust as well weight. Davis played last season at 205 pounds.

"I don't know if he has been able to work like he normally does," Billick said. "Actually, I thought he was going to be down for the weekend. But he knows he has to work and when he gets back into the usual routine, the weight will come off."

Taking it slow

Starting fullback Chuck Evans took it light for several precautionary reasons. During the off-season, he had elbow surgery and two operations to remove bone spurs in his ankle.

End zone

Outside linebacker Peter Boulware, who had off-season shoulder surgery, dressed in sweats and has not practiced in minicamp. ... Biggest fashion statement: Reserve linebacker Dennis Stallings wore black socks pulled up to his knees to go with black shorts and shoes. ... Dan Robinson, a 6-foot-4 rookie out of Hawaii, had his first full workout yesterday, giving the Ravens four quarterbacks and leaving no room for last year's backup, unrestricted free-agent Stoney Case. "There may be some other places that show more potential for the numbers for him to get a chance to come in as a backup," Billick said.

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