A defensive wall that's solid as a rock

After rough off-season, team's foundation looks smooth going into camp

July 21, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Although the Ravens have had to replace only two key figures on the NFL's second-ranked defense, they have had to deal with their share of absences.

During its off-season camps, the team had to adjust to having nearly half of its defensive starters out at different stages. So while the players lacked pads, they also lacked continuity.

But when the Ravens suit up Monday for their first training camp practice, they will stage a reunion of sorts. It will mark the closest version of their starting defensive unit since their season finale on Jan. 2.

The coaches, though, don't anticipate a long lapse before the players regain that same groove again.

"We got a few older guys, but these guys basically have grown from the ground up," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "And they have grown together. We got these young guys, some going into their fourth or fifth season, but they've all played together. That's a great thing. They know what to expect."

The Ravens expected to be without middle linebacker Ray Lewis during his murder trial and outside linebacker Peter Boulware until he fully recovered from shoulder surgery. What caught them off guard was tackle Tony Siragusa's missing the first minicamp as a holdout in addition to cornerback Duane Starks (broken finger) and tackle Sam Adams (knee contusion) going down with injuries.

Starks and Adams, both of whom had to sit out parts of last month's veterans camp, contacted team trainer Bill Tessendorf last week and said they will be ready once training camp begins. Starks, who wore a splint shield on his broken left ring finger, will undergo X-rays today and may play with a protective glove during training camp.

The only starter who is doubtful is Boulware, whose recovery from shoulder surgery was slowed by bicep tendinitis in his right arm. Boulware still complained of soreness as recently as Monday, yet the Ravens won't fully assess his status until his team physical Sunday.

"The biggest question right now is Peter," Tessendorf said. "If you asked me to commit now, he'll probably be limited in what he does based on the fact that was kind of our plan."

Despite Boulware's uncertainty, the Ravens are looking to take advantage of the small turnover on defense, concentrating more on refining the system than teaching it this training camp.

No rookie has to be nurtured into a starting role. No veteran has to learn a new position.

The Ravens had to perform minimal patchwork, replacing tackle Larry Webster and cornerback DeRon Jenkins with free agents Sam Adams and Robert Bailey.

But Bailey, who started 11 games last season for the Detroit Lions, said the Ravens' approach can even make a 31-year-old veteran feel like a rookie at times.

"This defense is a little more complex," said Bailey, who is slated as the Ravens' third cover man in their nickel unit. "Detroit's defense was a little more simplistic. Everybody has to work together here. If everybody works together, it's like a safe - steel tight."

The Ravens finished second in the NFL in total yards allowed (263.9) and first in fewest yards given up per play (4.1). They were also the only team other than the Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams not to permit a 100-yard rusher.

With the defense basically intact, it's easy to assume similar results heading into training camp. In fact, the Ravens wouldn't want it any other way.

"It's going to be similar, but now the guys have played to their ability and have established a certain standard," Marvin Lewis said. "Anything less than that now is not going to be acceptable and won't be acceptable. They know what it looks like, they know what it's supposed to be, and they've worked hard to achieve that."

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