Ravens regroup, move on

Brown's dismissal is taken in stride

September 07, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The shock from the unexpected dismissal of Cornell Brown began to wear off in the locker room yesterday, but the Ravens may still feel the jolt of his absence on special teams and a thinner linebacker corps in Sunday's season opener against the Chicago Bears.

Brown, who was in his fifth year with the Ravens, was cut by the team Wednesday after being charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia in Baltimore County District Court. A sixth-round draft pick by the Ravens in 1997, he was the primary backup at linebacker and averaged 11 special teams tackles over his career.

In the spirit of their appropriately named HBO show, the Ravens have taken this latest "hard knock" in stride as they continue preparation for Sunday.

"I was completely shocked," said fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, who played alongside Brown on special teams. "It kind of adds to the idea that this has been a weird training camp. So many things have happened before the season has started. ... I've never seen so much stuff come up in one time. We've worked through it. I really believe that Sunday once the whistle is blown, we're going to be focusing on football."

Brown's arrest has only extended an unexpected series of twists over the past five weeks.

On Aug. 3, the Ravens lost right tackle Leon Searcy for possibly half the season with a torn tendon in his left arm. Five days later, they watched star running back Jamal Lewis go down with a season-ending knee injury.

Although Brown has never impacted the game like Lewis or Searcy, he played a valuable role in the Ravens' Super Bowl run. On special teams, he was scheduled to play on every unit on Sunday - punt coverage, punt return, kickoff coverage and kickoff return - and made nine tackles last year.

"You can't say it doesn't affect us because it does," punter Kyle Richardson said.

Said special teams coach Russ Purnell: "He's not the only guy that can play the position. What it does mostly is affect our depth because there's going to be guys that were backups at some of the spots are now going to be starters. Whether the quality of play is affected, that's yet to be determined."

On defense, Brown was basically a part-time starter at strong-side linebacker for the Ravens when Peter Boulware was enduring shoulder problems in 1999. Brown made eight starts and recorded 32 tackles that season.

Right now, that insurance is gone behind Boulware, who will start his first regular season at full health since 1998. The plan is to use either Brad Jackson or rookie Ed Hartwell as the backup on the strong side.

The Ravens again declined to comment on the reason for Brown's release, but it is believed that the organization had enough of his continual run-ins with the law. Since 1997, he had been convicted of a misdemeanor assault and battery charge and a driving under the influence violation.

Releasing Brown came at a cost, but it would have been a bigger hit if the incident occurred next week.

The Ravens cut him a day after he received his first week's check worth $35,294. He also received a $100,000 signing bonus.

But as a vested veteran (four or more years experience in the league), Brown would have been guaranteed $600,000 - his full salary for the year - if he had been on the opening-day roster, which is officially finalized tomorrow.

In Wednesday's team meeting, Ravens coach Brian Billick spoke about conduct for 45 minutes. Publicly, he would not comment on Brown specifically.

"We are very vigilant with our players, as is the league, to make sure everybody understands their responsibilities as a player in the National Football League as best we can," Billick said. "At some point, individuals have to take accountability for their own actions."

If convicted of the marijuana charge, Brown would face enrollment in the NFL's substance abuse program before being allowed to re-enter the league. If found not guilty, there is speculation that he may file a grievance against the Ravens over his contract being terminated.

The first step in replacing Brown was taken yesterday, when seven linebackers worked out. Although the team brought back rookie Tim Johnson on Wednesday, he is only considered a stopgap until a veteran is signed.

The most notable invitees were: Eddie Mason, a surprise cut by the Washington Redskins; Ryan Phillips, who started 16 games last season for the New York Giants but was cut by the Oakland Raiders; Jeff Posey, who started 15 games in past two seasons with San Francisco 49ers yet got few chances before getting let go by Philadelphia Eagles; and Dwayne Gordon, who was cut by the New York Jets.

The Ravens won't sign any of these players until Monday at the earliest when they will not be locked into their salary for the whole year.

Sun staff writers Paul McMullen and Brent Jones contributed to this article.

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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