Graham hoping to stay in running

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Lack of playing time, competition threaten running back's future

Pro Football

June 13, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Will running back Jay Graham enter his fourth season with the Ravens, or is it fourth down?

A third-round draft pick in 1997, Graham has watched his playing time dwindle each year and didn't take one handoff last season.

Once again, he'll have to break into a crowded Ravens backfield before thinking about breaking tackles at PSINet Stadium. The team used the fifth pick in the draft to select running back Jamal Lewis out of Graham's alma mater, Tennessee, and have figured Priest Holmes prominently into the mix as well.

So, where does Graham fit in?

"I make it simple," Graham said. "I work on things I can control and let them do what they may. That's all I can do."

Said coach Brian Billick: "Every player that has someone new come in - either as a rookie or free agent - senses an urgency that, hey, I got to step this thing up. Not that they didn't before, but they've got to understand that it's my job to continually bring people in here to beat you out. It's nothing personal, you're just trying to upgrade the caliber of your team."

Graham created high expectations when he rushed for 299 yards as a rookie in 1997. But he received only 35 carries the next year and played in four games last season as part of special teams.

It's been a painful experience for Graham, who has battled knee and ankle injuries. In fact, this is his first healthy off-season as a Raven, and has been working out since the end of January.

"I'm not looking at it different than any other year," Graham said. "You've got to compete against guys, and it's going to be a tough situation. The thing is, you have to be ready."

Feeling the heat

The hottest day for a Ravens workout this year caused Billick to sweat in more ways than one. Unlike in their previous camps, the players looked unfocused at times, possibly showing the effects of the 95-degree heat.

"They were a little ragtag, but that's to be expected," Billick said. "We have to keep in mind that we're six weeks from training camp. I do have certain expectations, but by the same token, I want to make sure that everybody is at least heading in the right direction. And I think we are."

Who's the boss

During his down time, Shannon Sharpe chatted with team president David Modell and vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome while the rest of his teammates were gathered on the opposite sideline.

But Billick found a quick way to retrieve his new starting tight end.

"Get over here," Billick said, "unless you want to renegotiate."

Special time

The Ravens changed their routine in an attempt to change a trouble spot from last year.

They spent about 15 minutes working on punts and field-goal kicking, the only time this season they have devoted any part of a camp to special teams. The team ranked in the lower half of most AFC special-team categories last year.

End zone

Holmes signed a one-year tendered agreement believed to be worth $470,000. That leaves linebacker Jamie Sharper as the team's only remaining restricted free agent. ... The first day of veterans camp represented the first time this year that the Ravens had their entire roster present. ... Wearing a splint to protect his broken left ring finger, starting cornerback Duane Starks only participated in noncontact drills. ... The team unveiled a Ravens Wall of Honor along the corridor leading out to its practice fields. The wall features 15 plaques of all the Ravens' Pro Bowl performers.

Sun staff writer Ken Murray contributed to this article.

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