EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Ravens' first offense played almost 16 minutes last night and came away with only three points, but it was still a fairly impressive performance by a group that is going to be much maligned this preseason.
Overall, it was an ugly performance by the Ravens in their 16-3 loss to the New York Jets at Giants Stadium. But you might have to get used to that this preseason. The Ravens have invested most of their salary cap in starters, so there isn't much depth. In the preseason, the Ravens will get what they paid for after they pull the starters.
And so, what's to get excited about for a starting unit that scored only three points? Oh, a number of things.
First of all, X-rays on Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden's sprained right ankle were negative after he suffered the injury on the Ravens' first offensive series. If you thought the Ravens' offense had problems without running back Jamal Lewis (out for the season with a knee injury) and right offensive tackle Leon Searcy (out until midseason with an arm injury), imagine quarterback Elvis Grbac without a tackle protecting his blind side.
But even without Ogden, the Ravens still moved the ball. The first unit had 66 yards of total offense in two series, but was hurt by penalties by inexperienced players. They are correctable. More importantly, the Ravens had to be delighted with the debut of Grbac, second-year running back Jason Brookins, right offensive tackle Sammy Williams and rookie right guard Bennie Anderson.
Let's start with Grbac.
He completed five of eight passes for 62 yards, under some duress. But he didn't panic and didn't have a turnover. He also found a comfort zone with tight end Shannon Sharpe, who caught a 20-yard pass over the middle in the first series, and with third-year wide-out Brandon Stokley, who had two catches for 20 yards in the first half.
By the way, wasn't it nice to see a quarterback who could throw a 5-yard out pattern to the wide side of the field without it floating end over end and taking a dive before it reached the receiver (see Trent Dilfer)? Or having a quarterback who could throw a pass with touch instead of it blistering a hole in a receiver's chest (see Tony Banks)?
Clearly, though, Grbac needs more time. On a second-and-10 from the Jets' 26 with 5:22 left in the first quarter, he threw a 5-yard pass to Brookins when rookie tight end Todd Heap was open across the middle at the 10.
On the next play, Grbac locked onto Stokley, who was covered on the right sideline. Brookins, meanwhile, was uncovered in the middle of the field for a first down. Those things, though, happen in the first preseason game.
"We did some good things," said Grbac. "Obviously, we had to get some rust off and we did. You can see our potential. We were able to mix it up with different personnel and had some success. After Jonathan Ogden got injured, the O-line did a pretty good job of moving the ball, but we had to settle for three instead of seven."
Brookins was successful in his debut. He was tentative at first, slow hitting holes, but he had 37 yards on nine carries in the first half. The Lane College product picked up the pace later in the first quarter. He showed some toughness on inside runs, and made two or three nifty cutback moves.
But more importantly, Brookins caught the ball coming out of the backfield (three receptions, 28 yards), a major necessity in coach Brian Billick's offense. Brookins won't remind anyone of Jamal Lewis anytime soon, but at least there is potential.
The injury to Ogden forced the Ravens to make some surprising moves. Billick moved right guard Kipp Vickers to left offensive tackle and Anderson, of Tennessee State, to Vickers' spot. The Ravens were trying to keep a couple of offensive linemen under wraps this season, but there can be no more secrets about Anderson.
The Ravens were probably going to cut him, and wanted to sneak him through waivers and then sign him to a developmental contract. But once he played in the first quarter, he'll probably make the roster to start the season.
Anderson is big and imposing at 6 feet 5 and 305 pounds, but extremely agile. One team official described him as an athletic Jeff Blackshear. That's quite a compliment. Anderson might be the latest offensive lineman the team develops in a list that has included starting left guard Edwin Mulitalo and former starters such as Jeff Mitchell, Wally Williams and Orlando Brown.
And now there is Sammy Williams.
When Searcy went down in an intrasquad scrimmage, there was near panic among some Ravens supporters. But Williams, in his third year out of Oklahoma, has made the most improvement of any player on the roster from a year ago. That includes Stokley and second-year receiver Travis Taylor
When Williams came to the Ravens three years ago, he was a big softie. Since then, he has remolded his body. Unlike a lot of right tackles, he is fast enough to get into the second level to make blocks.