Ravens take quiet run around Brookins

September 28, 2001|By Mike Preston

RAVENS SECOND-YEAR running back Jason Brookins is part of the problem with the team's running game, but he might also be part of the solution.

But right now, we don't know because coach Brian Billick refuses to play him.

Why?

No one knows for sure. It's a big secret. But we've checked to make sure he uses deodorant and mouthwash in the morning. He attends practices regularly. He doesn't have a rap sheet like Bam Morris.

So, what gives?

It's all about Brookins' inexperience, Billick's stubbornness and the coach's loyalty to starting running back Terry Allen. Brookins' absence from the lineup is a CD, coach's decision.

And a poor one.

No one is suggesting that Brookins replace Allen as the starter, but his play during the preseason and the Ravens' lack of a running game warrant at least a couple touches per game.

And if he doesn't pan out, then fine, continue with Allen and increase the workload of No. 2 running back Moe Williams.

But right now, the Ravens' running game is going south. It is located somewhere along the tip of Florida, and is now heading into Cuban airspace. Last year the Ravens had the No. 5 running game, and this year they're at No. 29.

That's not to suggest the problem is entirely Allen's fault. Oh no. That would be entirely unfair. Look at the offensive line. Last Sunday, the unit basically took the game off.

But Brookins would give the Ravens fresh legs and a change of pace. He gives them power in the red zone, and some elusiveness in the flats. He can pick up the same 2.6 yards per carry as Allen, plus 1 or 2 more just because of sheer body lean from a frame that is 27 pounds heavier than Allen's.

But we don't know. Billick won't play him. He gave Stoney Case and Justin Armour opportunities, but not Brookins. Billick said we would see more of Brookins in Cincinnati, but we actually saw less. He says Williams and Brookins will see more time Sunday against the Denver Broncos.

Who knows?

This team needs some juice in its running game, and it better find some within the next month or so.

"We've got to be able to run the football, or we're just going to get Elvis pummeled. He is not going to make it through the season," said Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe. "We have to get some kind of running game and make some kind of conscientious effort these next four or five weeks to run the football.

"And if they stop us, they stop us, but we can't afford to be in situations where it's third-and-11. If we get only 2 or 3 yards, then it's third-and-five, third-and-six and we've got something to work with."

And how about this Brookins fella?

"I don't know what else Brookins can do," Sharpe said. "He has done everything they asked him to do. They asked him to run against No. 1 competition against the Jets, and he ran exceptionally. They asked him to run against No. 2 and No. 3 competition against the Giants, and he ran exceptionally. Basically, it comes down to Brian and the other coaches on the offensive side of the ball.

"Obviously, they think what Terry does as far as picking up the blitz, catching balls out of the backfield and running the ball, he does very well," Sharpe said. "But you never know about Brian. This might be the week where Brian says, `Hey, Brookins, you're up.' "

There isn't much to dislike about Brookins. He had a tendency to let up after nice runs during the preseason, and he needs to become mentally tougher. But so do a lot of other second-year players in the NFL. That's common.

There could be other factors too, such as pass blocking and knowing assignments. But the biggest wall he has to break down is the Billick factor. Billick is just so stubborn. (By the way, where was the two-minute offense Sunday against the Bengals?) He has a loyalty to those who played for him in Minnesota, and Allen is just the latest.

He will not make any changes for Allen until absolutely necessary. Just like he wouldn't abandon the passing game for a running attack last season until losses to Miami and Washington and a five-game drought in which the team didn't score a touchdown.

Billick doesn't do it on purpose, he just has on blinders. If he didn't, he would still see Brookins running for 112 yards against the Giants in the final preseason game. He could see Brookins running for 8 yards on his only carry against the Bears this season, running with power and acceleration that Allen hasn't shown yet this season.

Brookins was excited. He got the offensive line jazzed. And then, poof, he was gone.

Everyone understands Billick's loyalty to Allen. He is the team's hired gun, but with only the impact of a BB pistol. He runs hard, but he hasn't endeared himself to many fans here with his surly attitude.

"Anybody who thinks they can do better, get back there and try it," Allen told The Sun recently.

Excuse me, but a year ago at this time wasn't Allen sitting in a rocking chair watching John Madden and Pat Summerall on Fox TV during Sundays in the fall?

There might even be a better player on the Ravens' roster. His name is Brookins. He might have gained 15 yards on that screen pass in the left flat in the second quarter instead of only 4. Allen hasn't eluded many tacklers one-on-one this season.

We'll never know. The season is young and maybe Billick will change his mind, just as he did last year when he started giving the ball to Jamal Lewis in the second half of the season. But Billick should give Brookins a taste now, and see if he can become a factor late in the season.

He won't hurt Allen's feelings. He could save those old legs some juice for late in the season.

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