Newcomers

July 26, 2002|By Brent Jones

Jeff Blake

Since Brian Billick became the Ravens' coach, questions about who should be his quarterback have come up every year. With Blake, 31, in the fold, more questions are to be expected. What the former Pro Bowl player gives the team is a viable option.

If starter Chris Redman falters and Blake performs well, Billick would have to decide whether to stick with Red man, touted as the team's quarterback of the future, or try to salvage the sea son by switching to Blake, who signed a one-year contract.

Billick showed loyalty almost to a fault with Elvis Grbac last year, when many thought Randall Cunningham should have been given a chance. Cunningham didn't lobby for the position, and Blake probably won't, either. He behaved ad mirably as a backup to Aaron Brooks with the New Orleans Saints last year when that team fell apart in the final quarter of the season.

Blake, who led the Saints to a 7-4 re cord before breaking his left foot in the 2000 season, threw just one pass last year. But he has looked good in the off-season camps, showing great accuracy on deep throws, his forte.

Ed Reed

When the Miami Hurricanes needed someone to step up - either with a rousing halftime speech or a game-changing play - Reed always seemed to be that player. NFL teams generally don't use first-round picks on safeties, but the Ravens saw something special in Reed, what they called championship material.

Reed was a consensus first-team All-American and co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year last season after intercepting nine passes, including two returned for touchdowns.

With the departure of Rod Woodson, Reed will get a chance to start. It will be hard for Reed to duplicate his college success in his first season, especially without an on-field veteran available to turn to, as last year's No. 1 pick, tight end Todd Heap, had in Shannon Sharpe. Whether the safety was worth a first-round selection will be determined during the next few years.

Anthony Weaver

Weaver is in one of the most unenviable positions of any newcomer, trying to help fill a void left by the loss of defensive linemen Tony Siragusa, Lional Dal ton, Larry Webster and Rob Burnett. Weaver was good enough to start as a freshman at Notre Dame, but this chance will come out of necessity.

Weaver, at 300 pounds, has the size to hold up well as an end in the 3-4 alignment, containing offensive linemen while the linebackers make plays. His chal lenge will be having to battle with guards and tack les for 16 games without wearing down.

With Michael McCrary returning from injury and with few experienced backups on the roster, Weaver will have to play almost every down.

Ron Johnson

Like many receivers who get drafted lower than they expected, fourth-round selection Johnson is looking to make teams pay. Coach Brian Billick loves big receivers, and he got one in the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Johnson.

He will be the Ravens' third receiver, lining up mostly in the slot. But Johnson is likely to line up outside when the Ravens get into the red zone, be cause his size and good hands make him likely to get a fair amount of fade passes.

Johnson proved his durability in college, starting 46 straight games. He finished as Minnesota's all-time leading receiver with 198 catches for 3,039 yards and 31 touchdowns.

Dave Zastudil

He will come to camp as one of the Ravens' most potent weap ons, not just because of his leg, but also because of his arm. Zas tudil is a former quarterback who might end up using his skills from the punt formation, especially if the offense strug gles.

His primary role, though, will be to pin teams deep in their terri tory, something he did routinely at Ohio.

Zastudil averaged 45.6 yards a punt and even nailed one for 74 yards last year. He also averaged 4.2 seconds of hang time. He will have to keep teams backed up to justify having been drafted in the fourth round.

Chester Taylor

The Ravens find themselves in the same position as a year ago, looking for a suitable backup to running back Jamal Lewis. Last year's draft choice, Chris Barnes, was a failure. Taylor is the chosen one this season, and though he has looked decent thus far, training camp will show what he can do.

Taylor rushed for more than 4,700 yards in his career at Toledo. He caught 26 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns coming out of the backfield last year. If he can break a few tackles and continue to show strong hands, he could become the No. 2 back.

Javin Hunter

He did not return kickoffs last year for Notre Dame but was one of the pri mary returners during the Ravens' off-season camps.

Hunter likely will compete with La mont Brightful and Tellis Redmon to replace Jermaine Lewis as the kickoff returner.

Hunter also could be used as the fourth receiver. His college numbers do not amaze anyone (37 receptions for 387 yards and a touchdown last season), but he has a good work ethic and wants to show his worth as a return man, perhaps also on punts.

Nobody will match the explosiveness of Lewis, but Hunter seems to know how to get upfield.

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