They're no snap to stay at QB

Ravens' Grbac thrown by turnover woes

Jags' Brunell fights injuries

Ravens At Jaguars

Pro Football

November 25, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - One quarterback is hoping to come off the bench and the other is trying to avoid getting sent there.

As the Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars seek to regain control of their seasons today, uncertainty surrounds the Jaguars' Mark Brunell and the Ravens' Elvis Grbac.

While Brunell is fighting through a leg injury that sidelined him last week, Grbac is battling a brewing quarterback controversy that could put him on the sideline today. Heading into the stretch run, the desperate Jaguars need Brunell's arm and the wavering Ravens demand Grbac's focus.

A win by the Ravens (6-4) would keep them within striking distance of AFC Central-leading Pittsburgh and virtually eliminate Jacksonville (3-6) from the playoff picture. A loss by the Ravens could douse their chances at the division title and may eliminate Grbac from the starting lineup.

So, does Grbac feel he is playing with his job on the line today?

"No, I look at it as more like I've got to play better to help this team win," Grbac said. "If you ever get to that point where you're putting so much pressure on playing that way, then the pressure will get to you. I've got to play better and I know I can.

"If we can eliminate some of the mistakes that I had, we can be so much better. I think that is what's going to win the game. To get caught up into `Is my job on the line?' and really think about that, then I'm not going to be concentrating on what I need to do on the football field."

In losing three of his past four starts, Grbac has been intercepted nine times in 112 attempts, which is an average of one pick every 12 throws. He is still smarting from last Sunday's 27-17 loss to Cleveland in which he was intercepted four times, tying his career-worst total.

Grbac's 17 turnovers this season - which opponents have converted into 45 points - have bogged down the Ravens and stirred up sentiment for his removal.

Ravens coach Brian Billick has hedged all week on the questions concerning his $30 million starter. But his comments suggest that he may replace Grbac with backup Randall Cunningham (2-0 as a starter with the Ravens) if Grbac continues to struggle.

"If any player gets into a situation where he's having difficulty executing his job and is hurting his team, I have to make a change anywhere across the board," Billick said. "I'm not trying to dodge the question, but it's no different than any other position. But I expect Elvis Grbac to be my starting quarterback for a long time.

"But if you're asking me to absolutely eliminate any scenario in the world at which point I would put Randall in, of course that's not the case."

On Monday, Billick instructed his players not to talk about teammates to the media in an attempt to squash any finger-pointing at Grbac. That order didn't stop tight end Shannon Sharpe from confirming his support for Grbac only days after saying he hadn't gotten the job done.

"I still believe he's the real deal," Sharpe said. "I still believe this is the guy who can get us to the Super Bowl. No question about it. If I didn't feel that way, Brian can have a gag order and tape my mouth, and I'll write it on a piece of paper saying, `I don't believe in the guy.' But I believe the guy can get the job done. It's just a matter of us going out there, protecting him and him protecting the football. If we do that, we're going to be fine."

The Jaguars' quarterback situation is equally as unsettling but for different reasons.

Brunell, who has been limited in practice this week, is a game-time decision after missing last Sunday's game with a pulled leg muscle. If Brunell can't start, the Jaguars will turn to Jonathan Quinn, who cost them in last Sunday's 20-7 loss at Pittsburgh by fumbling three times in Steelers territory.

Considering the importance of this game, the Ravens expect to see Brunell, but maybe not the same one that created havoc against them last month. Brunell threw for 306 yards and led Jacksonville in rushing with 55 yards.

"That's the $64,000 question," said Billick when asked about Brunell's health. "He's a tough individual. You would think if the injury was indeed that serious that forced him out of the game last week that he might be a little hesitant to do those same types of things. But we'll still have to prepare for him."

There's no pity coming from a Ravens defense that has its own injury problems.

The Ravens will play without their starting ends Michael Mc- Crary and Rob Burnett and start middle linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Duane Starks despite neither being at full health. Their starting ends today will be Adalius Thomas and Peter Boulware, a Pro Bowl outside linebacker.

Boulware, who played defensive end at Florida State, always resisted being converted into a linebacker and welcomes his chance to return to his natural position at end. His starting spot at outside linebacker will be taken by Brad Jackson, a third-year reserve who will be making his first NFL start.

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