Newcomers to watch

July 21, 2000|By Jamison Hensley

Newcomers to watch

Tight end Shannon Sharpe: Represents the biggest free-agent acquisition in Ravens history. Sharpe has the flashy charisma to lead in the locker room and the gaudy numbers to lead on the field. He has racked up seven Pro Bowl selections, 552 receptions, 6,983 yards, and more importantly, two Super Bowl championships in the past three years as part of the Denver Broncos. Sharpe uses his wide receiver-like speed to create mismatches against safeties and linebackers and provides a big target down the middle of the field that the team desperately needs. But he played a career-low five games last season because of a broken collarbone suffered Oct. 10, and it will be interesting to see how the 11-year veteran responds to the wear-and-tear this year.

Tight end Ben Coates: A late free-agent pickup, Coates potentially gives the Ravens the best tight end tandem in the league. In nine seasons with the New England Patriots, he caught 490 passes - fifth in NFL history - and scored 50 touchdowns. The 30-year-old veteran went to the Pro Bowl every year from 1994 to 1998 and had at least 50 catches in six seasons. His production dropped off last season, when he had only 32 receptions for 370 yards. There's some question whether he has the same quickness as in years past.

Running back Jamal Lewis: Viewed by some as a gamble as the draft's No. 5 pick overall, the 20-year-old rookie out of the University of Tennessee could become the team's franchise back, something the Ravens have lacked in their four seasons here. The major concern aboutLewis has been his health, after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in 1998. Critics say he hasn't been able to accelerate like he did before the injury, yet he still left a year early as the Volunteers' third-leading career rusher (2,677 yards). The Ravens couldn't resist Lewis' potential, ability to run over tacklers at 5 feet 11, 231 pounds, or versatility. Billed as the "whole package" by coach Brian Billick, Lewis displayed big-play speed and skillful hands during the off-season camps.

Defensive tackle Sam Adams: Regarded as the best defensive tackle in the free-agent pool. Adams is the only new face among the front seven on the second-best defense in the league last season and should be an upgrade to Larry Webster, who is being suspended at least half of the regular season for violation of the league's substance- and alcohol-abuse policy. The 26-year-old veteran is five years younger than Webster and has enough agility to stay on the field for passing downs, which the Ravens couldn't count on from Webster. Still, the former Seattle Seahawk has had a reputation for a questionable work ethic.

Quarterback Trent Dilfer: If starter Tony Banks struggles, the team can turn to a battle-tested backup in Dilfer, who started 76 games in six seasons with Tampa Bay. Although he has started in the playoffs and played in the Pro Bowl, the 28-year-old quarterback became the scapegoat when he struggled to adjust in the Buccaneers' conservative offense structured heavily around the running game. Dilfer, though, threw 21 touchdowns in both 1997 and '98 despite the system. Then again, he has 80 career interceptions.

Wide receiver Travis Taylor: Projected to eventually become the Ravens' go-to receiver. The University of Florida standout may have to pick his situations during his first year, complementing a possession receiver in Qadry Ismail and a downfield threat in Patrick Johnson. Taylor is known for showing no fear on patterns over the middle, a talent that could be highlighted in the red zone. He blends concentration, toughness and exceptional leaping ability to come down with the ball in traffic.

Quarterback Chris Redman: Nicknamed "Redneck" by his teammates, Redman has received red-hot marks by his coaches. Labeled the team's quarterback of the future, he has adjusted quite well to the present. The 6-foot-3 rookie has impressed with quick reads and an accurate arm and appears to be the Ravens' biggest steal of the draft. Redman finished his career at the University of Louisville as Division I's career completions leader (1,031) and a possible first-round pick, but he plummeted to the middle of the third round because of a slow 40 time at the NFL combine. Redman, though, will be tutored slowly.

Cornerback Robert Bailey: The Ravens' first choice to fill the void left by DeRon Jenkins, who left for the San Diego Chargers after not being re-signed by the Ravens. Bailey, a 10-year veteran, brings the flexibility of playing either on the inside or outside and experience. How much experience? He has played for more teams (six) than the combined seasons in the NFL (five) by starting cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks. Bailey is penciled in as the third cover man in the team's nickel package.

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