For Ravens, preseason more rerun than audition

September 01, 2001|By Mike Preston

THE PRESEASON IS over, thank goodness, and the new Ravens are the same as the old ones.

Ever since the Ravens blew up the New York Giants last year in the Super Bowl, 34-7, the only question has been can they repeat? No one really cares much about the preseason games, including the Ravens' 38-9 spanking of the Giants yesterday in the final exhibition contest at PSINet Stadium.

For a veteran team like the Ravens, there wasn't going to be much news coming out of training camp or preseason except for injuries. So now that the league has picked our pockets again by forcing these horrendous, ugly preseason games down our throats, the bottom line for the Ravens is that they are going to have to rely on a great defense and the kicking game, then hope the offense can find an identity midway to late in the season.

Doesn't this all sound familiar? Did we really need three preseason games to tell us this?

"Win or lose, the priorities are the same. As soon as that gun went off, now it's about getting ready for Chicago," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That's what this team will be about. We'll get together [today], take care of some necessary business, and move on to the task at hand, which is getting ready for the regular season. This team needs to get to the regular season."

Most of the questions heading into the Sept. 9 home opener won't get answered for some time. But Billick at least had one major concern addressed. Quarterback Elvis Grbac is the real deal.

When star running back Jamal Lewis went down with a season-ending knee injury on Aug. 8, fans wanted to know if Grbac could carry the offense. The answer has to be a resounding yes.

Yesterday, he made some fine touch passes that few quarterbacks in the league can make. He threw a wonderful, lofting pass between two defenders to tight end Shannon Sharpe with 6:50 left in the first period that Sharpe dropped, but it was still a great throw. He threw a dart between two defenders to receiver Travis Taylor for 18 yards with 27 seconds left in the quarter.

And how about how he led receiver Brandon Stokley for a 35-yard reception down the left sideline with 12:06 left in the half that eventually set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Terry Allen?

Now, if only the Ravens can protect him. And if their receivers can get open regularly, and if they can establish a running game. ...

Grbac completed only four of nine passes for 86 yards yesterday, but he had two more dropped. He also got dropped twice for sacks, and was hurried several other times. If that continues, Elvis will be all shook up with a rather inconsistent offense.

But that's not the team's most pressing problem.

The Ravens haven't been able to generate a running game. Billick entertained questions about second-year player Jason Brookins starting ahead of Allen in the opener after Brookins gained 112 yards on 10 carries yesterday, but he didn't hesitate saying Allen was still the starter.

It shouldn't even be discussed.

Even though Allen gained just 29 yards on 12 carries, he ran hard and exploded into holes when there was a hole. It was a solid effort by Allen even though he didn't get much support. Allen also ran against a good, solid first defensive unit. Brookins gained most of his against the second team.

The offensive line was questionable going into training camp, and just as questionable going into the regular season.

"The line has got to play better," Billick said.

The offensive line has potential. The Ravens made a good deal by signing Pro Bowl right tackle Erik Williams for one year and $500,000. He'll help in a week or two. By midseason, the group should at least be solid because injuries to right tackle Leon Searcy (arm), left tackle Jonathan Ogden (ankle) and left guard Edwin Muiltalo (knee) have slowed progress. The weaknesses remain at right guard and center.

As for receivers, Sharpe has proved again that he will be the go-to guy early, but young receivers like Patrick Johnson, Stokley and Taylor have to step up and play with more consistency.

Defensively, the Ravens just need to guard against complacency. The leadership role has shifted from the defensive line to the three young linebackers.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis and outside linebackers Jamie Sharper and Peter Boulware are playing with an edge. They have set the pace from the first day of training camp, and it won't be surprising to find two of them on the AFC Pro Bowl squad.

But if there is an area of concern, it's the defensive line. The unit has been the most laid back of any. Also, defensive end Rob Burnett and tackle Tony Siragusa have missed extensive playing time with injuries and illness. Besides being the NFL's newest media star, Siragusa also has missed time dealing with the birth of a new child.

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