Gash has Ravens in running order

Fullback's blocks aid nicked line, backs

September 03, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

A season-ending injury to the star running back and a succession of nicks on the offensive line have led to hand-wringing and hair-pulling among Ravens fans. Forgotten in the consternation over a seemingly fragile ground game, however, is that the blocking schemes include Sam Gash.

Gash is the veteran fullback who has two carries to show for the past two seasons. Minuscule production on statistical summaries made him No. 350 among the 500 players Sports Illustrated rated on its Player Value Rankings at the offensive skill positions, but Gash's game isn't about touches. It's about the contact he creates against men who often outweigh him by 100 pounds.

Is there a better blocking fullback in football? Did anyone pay attention to the Ravens' rushing numbers in 2000, which ballooned after two younger fullbacks went down with injuries and Gash was plugged in? Is it a coincidence that Gash's abilities as a lead blocker helped Jamal Lewis set a Ravens' rushing record last season and Curtis Martin do the same for the New England Patriots in 1995?

Does Gash care if he goes unnoticed? "It's unappreciated only if you expect to be appreciated," he said. "I really don't care or get into who looks at my position. My thing is to make sure my tailback does well. I don't care if people acknowledge it or not, as long as I feel I'm doing a good job and my tailback feels I'm doing a good job. Is it appreciated or unappreciated? It depends on who you ask."

From New England to Buffalo to Baltimore, teams that included Gash have been to the playoffs five straight years.

The 10th-year pro out of Penn State signed a one-year deal with the Ravens last year, after Chuck Evans went down with a triceps injury in August. When Obafemi Ayanbadejo came down with turf toe in November, Gash was inserted and a grind-it-out identity was sealed.

Tennessee was interested, but the Ravens re-signed Gash to a three-year deal June 11. The addition of Elvis Grbac and the subtraction of Lewis altered the dynamics, but whoever is at quarterback or running back, he won't get anywhere without Gash.

"Teams don't become good because of their most talented players," running backs coach Matt Simon said. "They become good because of unselfish characters who are willing to do the grunt work, the Sam Gash philosophy, so to speak. If it's a dirty job, Sam can get it done. Not everybody can be a superstar, and he's critical from that aspect. In some ways, he truly is the sixth offensive lineman.

"He's got some special characteristics, some fast-twitch fibers that give him the ability to explode or throw his body at another body. You can go years and years looking for a fullback and not find a guy like him. It's not a natural thing to run into collisions at full speed, throw your body into another human being and do it with your eyes open. You tell Sam to block a 340-pound nose tackle, and he'll do it."

Which raises the question of Gash's weight. In a game obsessed with quantification, Gash is listed at 240 pounds. Please. While the millennium's model fullback is Tampa Bay's Mike Alstott at 6 feet 1, 248 pounds, Gash, 6-0, appears closer to 220.

"I know his true weight," Ayanbadejo said, "and I'm not saying."

Thanks to Gash, 32, Ayanbadejo has a better grasp on the duties of a blocking fullback, a specialty that nearly became obsolete with the advent of spread offenses and one-back sets.

"You hear about players who are like coaches," Ayanbadejo said. "Sam is truly like that. He goes out of his way to share what he knows. He's specific on the details, with your hand placement, head position, pad level, how to bring your hips into a block. He's honest with you, too. He's not going to tell you something to make you feel good."

Gash, who has 169 career receptions compared with 118 carries, will pop into the classroom where the offensive linemen study film and compare notes. They have common goals: to create the time and space that puts someone else in the end zone and to create a 1,000-yard rusher, whether his name is Terry Allen, Jason Brookins or to be announced.

"I always want to block for a 1,000-yard rusher," Gash said. "That's my objective every year."

Next for Ravens

Regular-season opener

Opponent: Chicago Bears

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (105.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 10 1/2

Inside

Roster cuts: Fifth-round pick Chris Barnes is among final cuts by Ravens, who may look to pick up ex-Viking Moe Williams. [Page 8d]

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