Ravens' minds still on ground

Despite changes, balance is target

September 06, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

On the day star running back Jamal Lewis underwent successful knee surgery, the Ravens are still mending offensively.

The team has expressed confidence in its running back by committee - Terry Allen, Jason Brookins and Moe Williams - but there is an alternative heading into Sunday's regular-season opener against the Chicago Bears.

"We don't want to get to a point where in a game we have to start throwing the ball all over the place," quarterback Elvis Grbac said. "I don't think we'll have to, but if it dictates that way, then I think we can do that. And it'll be a good test for us.

"I think it's more of a statement game for our offense to see what we can do."

The Ravens want that statement to signify a balanced attack.

Last season, they were more deliberate, with a run-oriented game plan behind Lewis. They passed only 55 percent of the time. This preseason, they hit their projections by throwing 60 percent of the time and they didn't waver from a struggling ground game.

"I hope I'm not fooling myself, but I'm really trying to establish a running game as if nothing had changed," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "We're not going to call different runs. We're not going to abandon something just because there's a new back there.

"The dimension that Jamal gave us was a little more power and [he] could get himself through some holes that were a little smaller. Now, whether we can get that out of these guys or not, we'll find out. I'm going to try to be very patient with it. I don't want people to force us to do anything."

The debut of Allen will factor heavily into the balance.

The 11-year veteran has run for 7,956 yards and scored 76 touchdowns, but admitted to being rusty in the preseason. Allen is confident he'll be able to carry the load despite some skepticism.

"I always want to get off to a good start," he said. "Apparently, I have a lot to prove to people that really don't know me. From that standpoint, I'm going to go out and do my job. If they don't like it, you can write about ... all you want to. But I'm going to go out and do my job, and if that's not good enough, then I don't need to be here."

Allen hasn't taken kindly to those questioning his effectiveness since signing with the Ravens on Aug. 11. In two preseason games, he rushed 16 times for 37 yards, an average of 2.3 yards a carry.

"Two games of playing very little don't tell you very much," Allen said. "From that standpoint, if those guys can do it better than me, then maybe they should come in. Otherwise, they can keep their comments to themselves. They being anybody that said something about us not having capable backs here to replace Jamal."

The only concern with Allen during his NFL career has been his health.

In his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings, 1990, he was sidelined the entire year after injuring his left knee in the preseason. Three years later, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during training camp and missed that entire season, as well.

His claim to fame is becoming the first tailback in league history to return to active duty after reconstructive surgery on both knees - a situation now facing Lewis.

The Ravens have chosen to take a group approach to filling Lewis' void, partly to save wear and tear on Allen.

"With the exception of maybe Eddie George or Edgerrin James or [Jerome] Bettis, you're not going to have a guy in this league who's consistently going to carry the ball 25, 30 times a game," tight end Shannon Sharpe said.

"But I think we've got enough of a running game where we can go play-action, do enough things to let Elvis [Grbac] throw the ball downfield. We've got a quality back in Terry Allen. We've got a lot of confidence in the guys we have."

The Ravens are open to how they are going to handle their running back situation.

Right now, it's going to be a rotation that starts with Allen and then shifts to Brookins later in the game. Williams will ease into some third-down packages in his first week with the team before getting more time carrying the ball.

But that strategy could change if either Allen, Brookins or Williams assumes control.

"Ideally, you'd like to have one guy do it," Cavanaugh said. "If a guy is running the ball well, I don't know if we're going to yank them."

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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