Starks sees redemption in patience

Cornerback vows to just do job, drop big-play mentality

Mistakes haunting him

Billick, Ravens hope he can take cue from 2000, bounce back

November 06, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Instead of playing corner, Duane Starks has felt like he has been boxed into one.

A day after reflecting on the Ravens' 13-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Starks chose to explain rather than defend the worst performance of his four-year career, saying his erratic play has been the result of pressure building off the field.

The kind of pressure that comes from knowing each game will make or break a former first-round pick who is a few months away from free agency. The type of pressure that comes from wanting to restore the trust of teammates after getting beat in consecutive weeks.

After declining questions on Sunday, Starks returned to the Ravens' practice facility yesterday with an answer. To raise his game, the cornerback intends to reduce his aggressiveness in the second half of the season.

"I feel like a champion boxer," Starks said. "I've lost the past few rounds, but I still got eight more rounds to go. I know that I'm going to come out on top because that's the way I am.

"I think it took that game for me to realize what the problem was. Here I am a corner in my last year [of his contract] wanting to make things happen. Now, I have to break away from wanting to make things happen to letting them happen naturally."

Pittsburgh targeted Starks from the start, throwing to his side on 16 of its first 17 throws, and picked on him shamelessly in the second half. And when the Steelers badly needed a score in the final minute of the first half, they went after Starks.

Anticipating that receiver Plaxico Burress would run a post pattern, Starks paid dearly for his gamble. Rather than running a route to the inside, the slower Burress ran past a flat-footed Starks down the sideline and caught a 21-yard touchdown pass as Starks trailed by three steps.

It was the fourth touchdown scored against Starks in the past four games, but this one cut deeper than the rest because it was the result of a mental lapse.

"I wanted to make something happen," Starks said. "I wanted to show my team that I'm here, that I'm the guy that you can count on. I went by doing it the wrong way. Instead of just playing what I was supposed to do, I got anxious and overaggressive and it cost me.

"That's what really [angered him] - that I made a mistake and it cost me. And every mistake I've made this year has cost me. That's why I was so frustrated with the way I've been playing because I know I'm much better than that. My talent speaks for it. The history speaks for it."

History, indeed, shows that Starks can dig out from a rut.

Last season, he was beaten for two long touchdown catches by Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith and carried a questionable reputation into the playoffs. But he was a major figure in the Ravens' championship run with three interceptions in the postseason, returning one 49 yards for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

A repeat performance wouldn't surprise the Ravens.

"Duane recognizes that if you can get back to those fundamentals, he's going to be okay," coach Brian Billick said. "So that's where we've got to help Duane. That happened in the second half of last year for Duane, and all of sudden he kind of took off. Pretty soon, teams paid a price for that [throwing at Starks]. Hopefully, that'll happen again."

Starks, though, has added incentive in shooting for a comeback this season. The 10th pick overall in the 1998 draft, he is in the final year of a four-year contract worth nearly $7 million.

"I'm not going to say the money part is affecting me. But being a corner, you wanted to be rated as one of the best corners in the league," Starks said. "The way the league works is if you're not making plays, you're not the best corner. No matter how many guys you shut down, it's still about making plays."

Lately for Starks, it's about forgetting plays.

In Green Bay, he gave up an eight-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman and later was flagged for pass interference in the end zone. In Cleveland, he was victimized as the Browns scored on passes of 28 and 36 yards in a two-minute span.

"As a corner, you have to have amnesia because you've got to put that in the past, but it hurts because you don't want to be the guy that gives up a touchdown," Starks said.

"You don't want to be that guy that lets your team down or have your team looking at you: `Oh God, here we go again.' That's the most disappointing feeling that any corner can have. But I know I'm much stronger than that and believe that I can bounce back."

Starks' teammates are still backing him.

"Me personally, I wouldn't want to play next to anybody else," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "I can't say there's a corner out there that I would rather play with right now. We'll never turn our backs on anybody like that."

Reversing his personal skid will start in the spotlight.

Starks will play in his first Monday Night Football game next week, looking to regain his touch against the Tennessee Titans. It was only a month ago that he had his best effort of the season in not allowing a catch to the Titans.

"I can't go in there being complacent, thinking I'm going to shut these guys down again," Starks said. "They learn from their mistakes as well as I learn from my mistakes. But it would be nice for the world to see that D. Starks is back and doing his thing. But I'm going to be more patient."

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