Prize No. 2 officially in team's nest

Flight not smooth, but Searcy finally roosts as a Raven

Grbac: `It sends message'

Ex-Jaguar signs in, says, `I'm going to be there' for Ravens Searcy makes landing as a Raven

Pro Football

March 14, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The statement was clear, the final delivery complicated.

After nearly losing his contract in overnight mail, in addition to two flight delays, Leon Searcy finally landed at the Ravens' Owings Mills practice complex yesterday.

Searcy, perhaps the best right tackle in football, signed his six-year, $31.5 million contract at the Orlando, Fla., airport, then waited there for five hours until storms cleared.

But when the 320-pound veteran finally appeared in his size-56-long black suit and purple tie, he immediately made a sizable impression as the Ravens' latest free-agent prize.

"I've got a big smile on my face. The offense has just gotten a lot better," said quarterback Elvis Grbac, who, himself, signed with the Ravens only five days ago.

"I think it sends a message to everybody else in the NFL that we want to get better offensively and we want to do things to get back to the Super Bowl."

An offense that sat in the passenger seat for the Ravens' championship ride has been retooled the past week. Grbac provides a Pro Bowl arm and Searcy supplies a punch that had been lacking on the right side.

This aggressive approach to repeat as NFL champions won over Searcy during his Ravens visit last week.

"I just told my agent, make it happen," said Searcy, a salary cap casualty with the Jacksonville Jaguars. "It's just good to be in an environment where they got the job done and want to do it again."

Searcy became what the Ravens hope is the final piece in changing the team's approach from a deliberate game plan to a flexible attack.

Last year, the Ravens were restricted to working out of two-back or two tight-end formations, since the right side of the line constantly needed an extra blocker. Searcy, on the other hand, expects no help.

With Searcy and left tackle Jonathan Ogden sealing the edges alone, the Ravens have the freedom to split tight ends wide and use three- or four-receiver sets. Plus, they won't forget their success as the league's fifth-ranked rushing team.

"We're going to be able to do more what the offense was built to do when Brian [Billick] brought it here," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "We'll be a little more multi-dimensional on first and second down and a little less predictable.

"We got away with it for a year. But I think if a team spends a lot of time looking at us, that pretty soon more tendencies start showing up."

Searcy is accustomed to this philosophy.

In his four years starting for the Jaguars, Searcy was part of a wide-open offense that rarely offered any blocking support. Actually, he had more responsibility there protecting the blind side of left-handed quarterback Mark Brunell.

"I want to make sure I cover my end," Searcy said. "If you win a Super Bowl, you don't really need help. I'm not going to be the weak link.

"I take a great deal of pride in my position and I'm going to be there for them. I'm pretty sure they aren't going to have to worry about me. I've been in the pressure-type positions before."

As for the Ravens, they wanted to send a message. This they did by signing Searcy and Grbac - upgrading their offense as well as their chances of repeating.

"Without a doubt, those were our two priorities," Cavanaugh said. "If you look at the rest of the offense, I don't know if there are a whole lot of question marks. We knew if we could get that quarterback and tackle settled, we'd be in good shape. It worked out, we got a couple of good ones."

NOTES: The Ravens made two more cap-related moves with the Searcy signing, cutting special teamer Billy Davis and rescinding the qualifying offer to tight end Pedro Edison, an exclusive-rights free agent. Davis, a six-year veteran, finished fourth on the team in special teams tackles last season and could return to the Ravens later. ... Billick called the Searcy signing a double bonus. "This helps in two ways," he said. "It lifts our offense while taking a significant player away from Jacksonville." ... Priest Holmes, the Ravens' backup running back, took his second visit during the free agency period when he met with the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday. The Eagles are looking for a backup as well as insurance for Duce Staley, who is recovering from a foot injury that caused him to miss most of last season. ... Billick is scheduled to appear on ESPN's "Up Close" on Tuesday. He also will speak during a fund-raising event at his high school in Redlands, Calif., next week.

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