Ravens may again turn to backups

Grbac, Allen still hurt, but team has faith in Cunningham, Brookins

Starters are questionable

Decision on QB likely to depend on Grbac's practice time

October 30, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

For the second straight week, Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac and running back Terry Allen are listed as questionable.

But after Sunday's 18-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the defending Super Bowl champions have a newfound trust in their backup plan. In rallying the Ravens from an 11-point deficit, No. 2 quarterback Randall Cunningham connected on all seven of his fourth-quarter passes, and second-string running back Jason Brookins gained 77 of his 82 rushing yards in the second half.

Grbac, though, will take back his starting job once he can work through his rib injury. Yesterday, he estimated himself at 65 percent after lobbing a 6-ounce softball and a 9-ounce miniature football about 20 times to trainer Bill Tessendorf.

"I threw with really no pain," Grbac said. "We'll see what comes Tuesday and then Wednesday and Thursday to see how much work I can do. Can I throw the ball? That's what it comes down to."

The Ravens are growing confident that Grbac doesn't have a significant tear of cartilage near his sternum, believing the injury is just bruised ribs. Last week, he tossed the ball off to the side but couldn't use his natural motion without soreness.

Grbac hasn't thrown with authority since being injured Oct. 21 against the Cleveland Browns. His status likely will depend on if he can practice later in the week.

"Getting the reps is the thing," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You always worry about how far along Elvis will progress and whether he can get enough reps to go into the game and perform well enough. He may be healthy enough come Sunday, but if he's not healthy enough on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday to get the appropriate reps, then you probably need to go with Randall. So, yeah, it causes a bit of a balancing act, and we'll just have to monitor it as we go."

If Grbac needs another week to rest, the Ravens can fall back on Cunningham, a two-time league MVP, when they play at AFC Central-leading Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Cunningham finished with a 91.1 quarterback rating Sunday, completing 23 of 31 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown in winning his first start since Sept. 18, 2000.

"Every team would love to have that luxury of having that kind of presence and why you pay a premium price for it," Billick said. "We're thrilled and relieved that Randall was there for us."

Cunningham's mind-set during the week doesn't hinge on the availability of Grbac. He works throughout the week with the same mentality whatever the circumstances.

"That's how I prepare every week anyway," Cunningham said. "If it comes down to me starting, then I go out and do my job. But I don't try to get into any quarterback controversies. I'll just continue to work as if I'm playing."

While Grbac's job is secure, Billick hedged on who will be his starting running back, saying the spot could be determined by personnel rotation and the level of Allen's recovery from a sprained left ankle.

Brookins made a push for more playing time in his first NFL start Sunday, proving he can carry the bulk of the running game by averaging 5.1 yards on 15 second-half runs.

For the season, the rookie back has rushed 61 times for 268 yards (4.4 yards per attempt) and three touchdowns. Allen still leads the team with 358 yards on 99 carries, an average of 3.6 yards.

"If Terry is absolutely 100 percent healthy, he will probably start," Billick said. "The chances of Terry being 100 percent healthy at any point during this year at this point on is rather slim. I'm not going to get into who's starting and who isn't."

Like Grbac, Allen was injured in Cleveland on Oct. 21, leaving the game during the Ravens' opening series. But the Ravens are optimistic on his return since he is scheduled to begin running again today.

While Allen is recouping, Brookins is scouting. He intended to watch last night's Steelers-Tennessee Titans game after scoffing at the toughness of Pittsburgh's defense.

"I have never played against them, so I don't know if they're physical or not," Brookins said. "I'm going to go home to watch Monday Night Football to catch a couple of leaks and a couple of holes and see what I can do to get those guys rattled up there in Pittsburgh."

Billick could only cringe.

"I'm going to have to beat him down on a regular basis just so he doesn't get too full of himself," Billick said. "I'm only half-kidding on that. But the physical play and the emotion he plays with, he's showing that he help carry the load for us in that regard. Each week, he gets better, and we're going to need it."

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