Receivers say Ravens' Grbac is a real catch

New QB earns praise for accuracy, strength

May 22, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

For the past two seasons, Ravens receivers lived with uncertainty. Not only weren't they sure where the ball would be, but they also weren't sure from game to game who would be throwing it to them.

Though Elvis Grbac is their fifth starting quarterback in a little more than two years, he's made a favorable first impression -- and, so far, it's sticking.

After wrapping up the team's second off-season camp last week, the receivers are praising their new stability and Grbac's versatility. Although the familiarity with his teammates is far from complete, Grbac has impressed them with his arm strength, accuracy, footwork and communication.

"From Day One, I know I've harped on trust, anticipation and touch with Tony Banks and even for the most part trying that with Trent Dilfer," receiver Qadry Ismail said. "But you don't have to say anything now. With Elvis, it's just there.

"What I think we as a receiving corps are loving about Elvis is he has a little bit of Tony, Trent, Stoney [Case] and Scott [Mitchell]. What each of them did well, he does them very well. He's not limited."

There's already a comfort zone developing with Grbac.

During minicamp three weeks ago, Ismail instinctively ran a route deeper than designed and found a tight-spiraled pass landing in his hands. Dedicated to studying his receiver's tendencies, Grbac had anticipated where Ismail was headed and delivered a deep strike.

With Grbac, the Ravens have more freedom to become more aggressive, because his physical tools tower over his predecessors'.

"Tony had a very pretty ball, but it sometimes could be a little inaccurate and hard. Trent had a very hard ball that, at times, was sporadic, but it was effective for what it had to do," Ismail said. "Whereas Elvis is at a point that he throws what he needs to throw. Every one of them is the same. He just throws a very catchable ball.

"That's all you can ask for as a receiver."

Grbac also can give them a better chance to make plays.

On curl patterns, the receivers now expect the ball to be there when they turn out of the break, because he doesn't have a hitch in his throwing motion. On deep routes, they don't have to wait on passes because of his arm strength.

"He throws a great deep ball," receiver Brandon Stokley said. "He gets the ball out of his hands quick. I guess that's the West Coast thing. But you have to get your head around, and you've got to be ready for it. At first, it takes you by surprise."

It's a drastic change from last season's practices, when Dilfer struggled to execute plays. The Ravens don't expect to narrow the playbook with Grbac.

"It's fun to watch when you can see the ball being put where it is and by design," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He has a very fluid throwing action. Some guys are more fluid than others. He has a very natural, fluid throwing action that you can readily see."

Grbac's footwork further separates him from Dilfer and Banks. He prefers to change his dropback as needed, but Dilfer and Banks were more locked into their styles.

Dilfer took shorter, choppier steps, a style more suitable for intermediate passes to the tight end. Banks had a longer stride because he favored the vertical game.

"Both of them had their strong points and weak points that teams can defend against," Ismail said.

For Grbac, it's a good start in what he anticipates will be a better finish.

"I feel comfortable where I'm at right now," Grbac said. "The introductory phase is over. Now it's time to focus more on what you're doing. The two weeks [in June] will be very critical. But I think we're right where we want to be."

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