Front and center: Flynn in position to take leading role

Ravens' former guard accepts responsibilities that go with new job

September 04, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

To ensure that he looks good this season after making the switch from guard to center, the Ravens' Mike Flynn plans to take care of the two guys next to him.

At least, that is what he is promising guards Edwin Mulitalo and Kipp Vickers.

"He's put a little incentive in," Mulitalo said. "If we help him, he'll put up a little bonus. He's throwing around numbers, but I told him, `No single-digit bonuses.' He said we will be financially compensated. He'd better pay up. After we give him the help, I'm going to step in and collect my money."

Flynn will likely need assistance early in Sunday's season opener against the Chicago Bears at PSINet Stadium. Flynn will draw mammoth Bears defensive tackle Ted Washington much of the afternoon and will likely need a hand from Vickers or Mulitalo to move the 330-pound lineman.

Washington was a two-time Pro Bowl player with the Buffalo Bills, gaining recognition as one of the league's premier run stoppers. But Flynn should be ready after becoming the Ravens' only starting offensive lineman to work at his position throughout training camp.

Tackle Jonathan Ogden went down with an ankle injury, forcing Vickers to left tackle for the second preseason game. Mulitalo also sat out that game with a knee injury, and right tackle Leon Searcy tore his triceps muscle early in training camp.

Before the season even starts, Flynn is already the iron man of the line.

"If you have to go with one guy, that's the one you want, because he's at the center," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Mike's demeanor at that position, his confidence in calling out the line schemes is a huge plus for us. I'm very pleased. He really is probably the strength of that line right now, in terms of his confidence and knowing what to do."

Those are some hefty words from Billick regarding Flynn, who signed with the Ravens as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Maine in 1997.

Flynn, 27, became the starter at right guard last season for the first time in his career. He did well enough that the team felt comfortable moving him to center in place of Jeff Mitchell, who signed with the Carolina Panthers as a free agent.

But it has not been a perfect preseason for Flynn. During a practice, he was beaten by defensive tackle Kelly Gregg on the play when Gregg slammed into Jamal Lewis' knee, ending the running back's season.

Flynn and the rest of the line also struggled creating holes for running backs during preseason games. He predicts things will get better as the regular season goes on.

"Last year was my first year starting, and I seemed to get better as the season went on," Flynn said. "It just seems like the first few weeks, everybody's feeling themselves out.

"I just want to improve at this position like I did last year at guard. I want to be consistent, and a mainstay at center on this line for years. ... I want to shoot high, be more physical. The key is to get better. I may struggle a little bit early, but I'll get better and adjust."

As for his transition, the coaches are pleased. Flynn already had experience at center, starting two games last season for an injured Mitchell.

"He's done really well," offensive line coach Jim Colletto said. "He's active and knows what's going on in there. He's become the leader of the group. He's got a fiery personality, which is what you want, and I think he'll have a really good season."

Flynn won't have to worry about shotgun snaps, which have all but been eliminated under new quarterback Elvis Grbac.

It was a consensus decision."[Flynn] doesn't particularly like doing it, and Elvis doesn't like it either. That's why we've stayed away from it," Colletto said.

The downside of the no-shotgun approach is that Grbac will need more time to set up to throw - becoming more dependent on his line.

And consequently, more dependent on Flynn. Because of his low-profile rise to the starting lineup, which includes time on practice squads of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a rookie and spot duty his first three seasons, the coaching staff says it can count on Flynn.

"He hung around and didn't get discouraged," Colletto said. "You have to have linemen who are tough guys, who are tenacious and won't give in. He hung in there, and the circumstances played his way. He caught your eye because he was that type of guy. Then, when he got the opportunity, a lot of people didn't think he could do it last year, but he did it. So now his confidence level is good. He's made himself into a player."

Next for Ravens

Regular-season opener

Opponent: Chicago Bears

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (105.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 10 1/2

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