Return teams get new looks

Ravens weigh options with Je. Lewis likely sidelined tomorrow

September 22, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

A strained hamstring has Jermaine Lewis, the Ravens' star return specialist, listed as doubtful for tomorrow's game at Cincinnati.

Coach Brian Billick would not discuss contingencies, but Chris McAlister, Duane Starks and Brandon Stokley are ready to bring back punts and Corey Harris will probably resume the kickoff return role he held down the past three seasons.

Lewis underwent an MRI yesterday.

"It didn't reveal any significant tear," trainer Bill Tessendorf said. "If we had to rate the trauma, it's not as bad as we thought it might have been."

The addition of veteran Carnell Lake should free Harris, the starting strong safety, to return kickoffs. The picture is more fuzzy on punt returns, where McAlister is more eager than Stokley, who shared reps at the start of practice yesterday.

"I'll be happy if they put me in," said McAlister, the seventh player in NCAA history to return a punt, a kickoff and an interception for touchdowns in the same season. "You never know in this league. I could be the No. 1 guy on the list, then come game time, the whole thing could flip around. I remember when Jermaine got hurt once, they threw Rod [Woodson] back there, and he never practiced."

McAlister has never returned a punt in the NFL. Stokley did so in the 2000 preseason.

"I'm going to get my mind right, regardless if I'm back there or not," Stokley said. "That's not my most comfortable position back there. It's different catching a punt than catching a pass."

Starks had nine returns for a solid 15.0-yard average last season, but he hasn't played since Aug. 18, when he injured a knee in a preseason game against the Jets. He first needs to relocate a comfort level at the cornerback spot opposite McAlister. His 2001 debut was further delayed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which led the NFL to postpone the Week 2 schedule.

"This is the latest I've ever started a season," Starks said. "I was in high school [in Miami Beach] when Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, and that delayed our season a bit, but nothing like this."

Hot spot

Jonathan Ogden and Michael McCrary will challenge some of the Bengals' new additions.

Seven-time Pro Bowler Richmond Webb was brought in at left tackle last April, a few days after the Bengals spent the fourth selection in the draft on Missouri's Justin Smith, a speed rusher who will line up on the open side of the field. After a 51-day contract holdout, Smith will spend much of his NFL debut dealing with Ogden, the All-Pro left tackle. When the Bengals have the ball, that spot will send Webb against McCrary.

Webb had spent his entire career with the Dolphins, who reached the playoffs in six of his 11 seasons there. His rookie season, 1990, was the last time the Bengals participated in the postseason, and Webb has solidified an offense that was the third-worst in the NFL last season.

"We haven't played against each other that many times, but he won't be fooled by anything," McCrary said. "He's been around, and seen it all. You can see that their offensive line seems more stable than it was a year ago. Anytime you bring in someone that good and experienced, he's going to make the people around him better."

The Bengals thought they had another sure thing in Smith, but he didn't sign a contract until the day before Cincinnati's opener, a 23-17 win over New England. Whereas McCrary has film to get a feel for Webb, Ogden - and right tackle Sammy Williams - don't know what to expect from Smith, who will experience his first NFL action of any kind.

"It's different," Ogden said. "I know he was the fourth pick and he's supposed to be all right."

Momentous week

Reserve guard Bennie Anderson experienced a wide range of emotions last week.

The 24-year-old from Tennessee State made his NFL debut in the season-opening win over the Chicago Bears, but that's not why he'll remember Sept. 9. At 12:42 a.m., his first child, Bennie Jr., was born in his hometown of St. Louis. Anderson got that news via telephone at the team's hotel, then tried to get some rest.

Anderson saw some special teams duty against the Bears, then hitched a ride to BWI Airport with replacement officials. After two nights with his wife, Salena, and their newborn son, Anderson was supposed to return to Baltimore on Sept. 11, but when terrorist attacks halted air travel in the U.S., the Ravens arranged for ground transportation that got Anderson out of St. Louis on Wednesday.

"My first NFL game came on the same day my son is born," Anderson said. "As happy as I was, the world kind of changed two days later. That's a pretty big emotional swing. You always want to protect your children, and these aren't normal times. You just pray for the best."

Et cetera

Mark Duffner, who became a Bengals assistant after he was fired by Maryland after the 1996 season, this season was promoted to defensive coordinator. Kevin Coyle, who worked that job for Duffner in College Park, joined the Cincinnati staff as cornerbacks coach. He spent the last four seasons helping turn around Fresno State. ... Defensive back Gary Baxter (knee) remains questionable, and Billick said his status could hinge on tactical matters. ... Sam Adams (leg), Qadry Ismail (hip) and Tony Siragusa (knee) remain on the injury report, but all are probable.

Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals

Site: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 7

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