Billick picks off Grbac criticism

Coach gives Ravens gag order to protect `my starting QB'

November 20, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Though Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac has taken a beating on the field, coach Brian Billick plans to limit the bashing off it.

A day after Grbac's four interceptions led to a 27-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Billick issued a gag order of sorts. In yesterday's team meeting, Billick ordered his players not to talk about their teammates to the media, looking to protect his maligned starter and team chemistry.

"We're not going to comment on another player's abilities or potentials," Billick said. "If the mentality wants to be us against them, then we're prepared for that. This team is not going to engage in any conversations, speculations and comments on another team member. They're simply going to dismiss themselves and assume the interview is over.

"It serves no purpose whatsoever. This team very much wants to stay together and not point fingers. And that's what they are going to do. Elvis Grbac is my starting quarterback. I don't foresee a change in that in the future. I have great faith in his abilities, and his teammates have great faith in his abilities. That's going to carry us through the second half."

The Ravens returned to PSINet Stadium for the first time in three weeks and Grbac was treated to a rude homecoming. After his third interception put the Ravens in a 17-0 hole in the second quarter, Grbac had to play through boos and chants for backup Randall Cunningham.

Then, after the game, tight end and team leader Shannon Sharpe came down hard on Grbac.

"He was brought here to do a job, and the job is not getting done," Sharpe said Sunday. "If Elvis is down, he can't get any lower. In all of my 12 years, I have never had someone cheer for my backup to come in the ballgame. I've always been positive. I don't know if he can be any lower."

When asked if yesterday's new rule was a result of Sharpe's comments, Billick indicated that his tight end's statements were misinterpreted.

"You probably need to visit with Shannon about what his frustrations are," Billick said. "Elvis Grbac has no stronger supporter on this team than Shannon Sharpe. I will personally guarantee you that. Certainly, he's frustrated about the turnovers, but no more than Elvis. Elvis is frustrated with them, I'm frustrated with them. But we all have a great deal of faith in Elvis."

Most of the players -- most notably Grbac and Sharpe -- were no-shows yesterday during the time in which the players usually talk to reporters.

While Billick is sticking with Grbac now, the Ravens will have to make a decision at season's end since his original five-year, $30 million contract could be just a one-year deal. The Ravens must pay the veteran quarterback a $6 million bonus at the end of this season to exercise their option on the final three years of the contract.

If they don't exercise the option on the final three years, they will likely cut Grbac at the end of this year and have a total payout of only $5.5 million.

In his eight starts, Grbac has a 4-4 record, throwing for 1,801 yards and nine touchdowns while getting intercepted 13 times. His quarterback rating of 69.5 is the lowest on the team, ranking below punter Kyle Richardson, who is 1-for-1 passing for minus-11 yards.

Grbac's biggest problem is protecting the ball, having a hand in 17 of the Ravens' 25 turnovers.

"Where I'm walking a thin line is I never want to tell a quarterback to be so conservative that he is then afraid to make some of the great throws he made in the game," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "What we've got to put our time into is when do I have the right to go ahead and take those shots? I think I need to explain to him a little bit better where we're at defensively now. We're improving, getting turnovers and winning the field-position game.

"He learned it the hard way. He went out there and tried to make a lot of plays himself, forced some things and it burned him. But he'll learn from it."

His four interceptions Sunday seemed to be a result of a bad read, a bad decision, and two bad throws.

The Ravens believe his struggles are more mental than physical. Even though Grbac has endured a concussion and bruised ribs, they don't see him rushing his mechanics.

"He continues to stay in there and throw the ball," Cavanaugh said. "He's not gun-shy. He's been hit enough his career. There's nothing in his throwing motion or his feet that really got him in trouble."

That's why the coaching staff thinks Grbac's mistakes can be corrected. That's why Billick isn't ready to replace Grbac as quickly as he did Scott Mitchell, Stoney Case and Tony Banks.

"Understand this, Randall Cunningham is here because I want Randall Cunningham here," Billick said. "Nobody in this organization appreciates his ability more than I do. That should be very evident. So, the level of my conviction on my trust in Elvis is magnified by the fact that I have that kind of respect for Randall Cunningham."

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