Peete throws Ravens into a time warp

With Weinke benched, Panthers' veteran QB gets first start since '98

`I have football cards of him'

Young Ravens defense also is in transition before opener thanks to injuries

September 03, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

To scout Rodney Peete, it sounds like the Ravens will be calling ESPN Classic for some film.

In what will be a battle of youth against wisdom, the Ravens will open the season Sunday against the Carolina Panthers and Peete, their new yet old quarterback. The Panthers officially benched a struggling Chris Weinke yesterday and named Peete as their starter just six days before the opener.

While Peete, 36, is a 14-year veteran, few Ravens even knew he was still an NFL quarterback. It's a natural assumption since none of the Ravens' starters on defense were in the NFL in 1995, the last time Peete was a full-time starter.

"I actually have some football cards of him," Ravens inside linebacker Ed Hartwell said. "I knew back in the day that he was a real nice quarterback. That's all I really know about Rodney Peete."

The Carolina coaches didn't think Weinke, a starter as a rookie last season, had a grasp of new coordinator Dan Henning's offense, so they decided to go with Peete, who has not attempted a pass in two seasons or started a game since 1998. Because of a strained knee and a death in the family, Peete played just two quarters in the preseason, completing nine of 19 passes for 68 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.

So, does cornerback Chris McAlister, the 25-year-old leader of the Ravens' secondary, remember Peete?

"Yeah, when I was a little kid growing up," McAlister said. "I didn't know he was still out there playing. I don't know much about him."

The Ravens have a similar unknown quality on defense.

Playing without four injured starters - ends Michael Mc- Crary (knee) and Tony Weaver (ankle), outside linebacker Peter Boulware (ankle) and cornerback Gary Baxter (hamstring) - for most of the preseason, the team is unsure of its chemistry.

Ravens coach Brian Billick said putting together a defense is like assembling an orchestra.

"You can take an all-star at every single instrument and throw them together without preparation, I'm sure it'll sound fine," Billick said. "But to the fine-tuned ear, it's not going to be the same."

Boulware is expected to play the entire game, though Mc- Crary, Weaver and Baxter are going to be limited. Strong safety Will Demps is out with a dislocated elbow and will be replaced by Anthony Mitchell.

Because of injuries, the Ravens' starting front three will be Adalius Thomas and Marques Douglas at the ends and Kelly Gregg at nose tackle. Weaver, who practiced for the first time in nearly a month, is scheduled for 20 to 25 snaps, and McCrary will play exclusively on pass-rushing situations.

The Ravens are catching a break by going through these adjustments against the Panthers, who had the second-worst offense in the league last season.

"It's going to be a challenge, but compared to the team we'll see possibly the next week against Tampa - possibly the most talented team in the NFL, along with Denver, a team that's been together awhile - yeah, there's a world of difference there," Billick said.

Baxter has an outside chance of starting, but it's more likely his time will be reduced to playing nickel back (the fifth defensive back who covers the slot receiver). If Baxter cannot start, Alvin Porter will replace him.

Trying to make the transition from safety to cornerback, Baxter has had his education slowed by a nagging strained hamstring.

"It's very frustrating," Baxter said. "You do everything you can, but the only thing that can heal a hamstring is time. One day, you feel good and try to do some things. The next day, it's sore and hurting. It's nerve-racking to me. I can't rush that injury playing cornerback. It will hurt me the whole season."

If the Ravens can get their defense healthy, their biggest concern will be getting a bead on Peete.

The last time a Ravens opponent had a quarterback change before the season opener was 1999, when the St. Louis Rams went with an unknown Kurt Warner to replace an injured Trent Green. Warner burned the Ravens for 316 yards that game and the rest is NFL history.

Although Peete is certainly no Warner, he may be an upgrade over Weinke.

"He's been in the league that long, he's done something right," Gregg said. "He's a crafty veteran, so we really have to step up our game.

"With a young guy like Weinke, you could rattle a guy like that. With Rodney Peete, there's no rattling him."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Carolina Panthers in season opener for both teams

Site: Ericsson Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 2

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