Ravens to add Lake to defense

Waived by Jaguars, 5-time Pro Bowl safety to sign deal today

September 11, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

When Minnesota Vikings receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss come to town Monday night, they will likely encounter a Ravens secondary with a little more Pro Bowl punch.

The Ravens agreed in principle yesterday with former Jacksonville Jaguars safety Carnell Lake and expect to sign him to a one-year contract pending a successful physical today. It is believed to be worth around the veteran minimum of $477,000.

According to team officials, the chances of the five-time Pro Bowl performer suiting up against the Vikings are "very good."

Lake, 34, will make an immediate impact as part of the Ravens' nickel and dime packages (the extra fifth and six defensive back on pass defense). But as the season progresses, the likely scenario has the 13-year veteran pressing starting strong safety Corey Harris for playing time although the team has stressed its satisfaction with Harris.

"This whole team is about role-playing," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "[Lake] is not to here to replace anybody. He's not here to do something that somebody else is doing right now. He makes our 53-man roster better."

The addition of Lake comes at an opportune time.

The Ravens make the first Monday Night Football appearance in franchise history next week against the league's premier receiving duo in Carter and Moss.

As Minnesota's offensive coordinator, Billick coached both of them in 1998, when the Vikings set the NFL scoring mark for a single season (556 points). He cannot overstate the task of going against the likes of Carter and Moss.

"I'm obviously biased, but there hadn't been a better tandem - in my opinion - ever," Billick said. "Cris Carter is approaching, if not at, the Jerry Rice level. And Randy has more potential than any receiver that has ever come in the history of this game. It's an amazing combination."

Although Ravens cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks will match up with Carter and Moss, Lake should play a key role in slowing down a Vikings offense that threw for 4,019 yards and 33 touchdowns last year.

Lake became available when the Jaguars released him on Sept. 2 in a salary cap move. Jacksonville saved $500,000 on this year's cap and $2.3 million in 2002 by cutting Lake and promoting rookie seventh-round draft pick Marlon McCree into the starting free safety spot.

Before his two seasons with the Jaguars, Lake started at strong safety with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1989 to 1998, averaging 74 tackles, two interceptions and two sacks each year. He signed with Jacksonville as a free agent in 1999 and recorded 71 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks. But he missed the entire 2000 season after having surgery on his foot.

"Anytime you can get a player of his stature that can add more depth and more experience to a defense, that's going to bode well for us," said Ravens free safety Rod Woodson, who was Lake's teammate on the Steelers for eight years. "It takes a player away from the opposition. Jacksonville's loss is our gain."

The potential to sign Lake only became viable after Wednesday's release of Cornell Brown, who was charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, freed up a chunk of cap space. The Ravens began talking with Lake on Saturday, when the Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions reportedly showed interest as well.

But Woodson, who speaks with Lake almost twice a week, said he didn't have to recruit Lake here. There were some questions about Billick's practice regimen, however, which may have been a swaying vote.

"I told him, `Hey, it's Club Med,'" Woodson said. "Compared to where he's coming from [under coach Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville], this is gravy. He's got boot camp all year over there. He's killing those guys down there. We take it easy up here."

The Ravens have expressed no concerns about Lake's foot injury

"I think he was pressed into getting out onto the field and wasn't quite 100 percent early in the preseason," said Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who was the Steelers' linebackers coach when Lake played there. "As the preseason went on, he got himself back healthy. Obviously, he's a couple weeks removed from that now."

There is speculation that rookie cornerback Reggie Waddell will be released to make room for Lake on the 53-man roster. By projecting Lake into the starting lineup, the Ravens envision more flexibility with their roster.

"That would give us more latitude with both Corey Harris and Anthony Mitchell," Billick said. "Right now, we're stretched on special teams with them because we're trying not to overuse them. But that would be a big presence for us."

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