For Banks, finally no need to begin again

Ravens QB has, knows role already

May 16, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Always before, there was a new playbook to learn, a new coach to impress, a new starting point for Tony Banks.

Not this season. For the first time since Banks played at Hoover High in San Diego, the Ravens quarterback won't have to start anew. Neither will he have to climb from third on the depth chart to claim the starting job, as he did a year ago.

The job is already his, thanks in large part to a 4-0 December run and a retooled work ethic.

One year after he was unceremoniously demoted to third-team quarterback behind Scott Mitchell and Stoney Case, Banks seemingly has reinvented himself as a more conscientious, more dedicated player.

Is he, in effect, a different person?"Absolutely," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "He's more confident, more assured, more ready to take a leadership role."

It is the difference a year in Billick's system makes. For the first time in nine years - through four years of college ball and four more in the NFL - Banks doesn't have to adapt to a new system or a new coach.

"Any time you come into a new organization or a new coaching staff comes in, there are always those doubts," Banks said yesterday after the Ravens opened a four-day passing camp at Owings Mills. "You've got to prove yourself all over again.

"Now, I don't have that. A lot of times at my first minicamp, I got a new coach, and I was trying to unleash the arm, trying to throw it through everybody to let them know I have the best arm in the league. You always want to impress somebody."

Banks has achieved in Baltimore what he couldn't in three years with the St. Louis Rams - a comfort zone born of a new-found work ethic. When Billick determined Banks' work habits were lacking last summer, he demoted Banks to third string.

That was the latest new start for Banks.

"I went through transitions on and off the field," Banks said. "While I was third string, I struggled for answers. There weren't too many answers on the field for me."[But] it helped me know that I have to practice better, that I can't just show up on Sunday and let my arm speak for itself. I'm starting to see how much of an effect that has. I wasn't a real good practice player, because I didn't think it was that important."

Banks was handed the starting job in late October after Mitchell (two starts) and Case (four) played their way out of the lineup. The Ravens went 6-4 under Banks, and developed a big-play personality on offense along the way.

Last winter, he signed a four-year, $18.6 million contract.

Now, fortified with new weapons like tight end Shannon Sharpe and first-round draft picks Jamal Lewis at running back and Travis Taylor at wide receiver, the next step for Banks is to become a leader on offense.

"By nature, he's not a very vocal guy," said Matt Cavanaugh, Ravens offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "But I've been noticing little things. He'll make a comment after a route is run if it's just like he wanted or needs to be different. In practice, he's the guy who will call everybody up to get a break. Those are things he wasn't quite confident enough to do last year.

"Now he knows he's the starter, and this could very well be his team. He wants to play well and be the vocal leader of this team. ... We need somebody confident enough in what they do, and consistent enough in their play, who understands the whole picture, to be able to talk to the team in those terms."

Banks, who threw for a career-high 17 touchdown passes with a career-low eight interceptions last season, appears ready to meet the challenge.

"I haven't been this comfortable at any level, let alone the pro level," he said.

It's the difference a year makes.

NOTES: Sharpe and linebacker Peter Boulware are excused from the passing camp, and safety Rod Woodson sat out yesterday's session for personal reasons. Boulware is getting married this month, and Sharpe used his prerogative as a seven-time Pro Bowl player to miss the work. "We had the Cris Carter rule in Minnesota, and we've got the Shannon Sharpe rule here," Billick said. "Anybody who's got seven, eight Pro Bowls can opt to lay out as well." ... Rookies are expected to join the workouts this morning.

Ravens schedule

Date Opponent Time

9-3 at Pittsburgh 1 p.m.

9-10 Jacksonville 1 p.m.

9-17 at Miami 8:20 p.m.

9-24 Cincinnati 1 p.m.

10-1 at Cleveland 1 p.m.

10-8 at Jacksonville 8:20 p.m.

10-15 at Washington 1 p.m.

10-22 Tennessee 1 p.m.

10-29 Pittsburgh 1 p.m.

11-5 at Cincinnati 1 p.m.

11-12 at Tennessee 1 p.m.

11-19 Dallas 4:15 p.m.

11-26 Cleveland 1 p.m.

12-3 Open

12-10 San Diego 1 p.m.

12-17 at Arizona 4:15 p.m.

12-24 New York Jets 1 p.m.

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