M. Smith up for stepping in

Ravens notebook

He would be first option if J. Lewis misses time

Baxter `taking notes'

Pro Football

August 05, 2004|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Second-year running back Musa Smith has answered a lot of questions during training camp about his ability to take over for Jamal Lewis should Lewis have to step away in order to deal with federal drug charges.

Smith, 6 feet 1 and 232 pounds, played in 11 regular-season games last year after missing the first five games due to a knee injury suffered in training camp. Ravens coach Brian Billick had planned to use Smith in the second half of last season, but stayed with Lewis, who finished with 2,066 yards rushing.

There were questions about Smith's speed and breakaway ability. But in training camp, Smith has surprised some people with his quickness and burst to get outside.

He gives the Ravens confidence if Lewis can't play.

"He is more confident, gaining more knowledge about what we do," said running backs coach Matt Simon. "I think he is becoming a better pro runner, being patient instead of pressing the hole.

"He is really understanding where we are blocking so he can read and react," said Simon. "A real key for him is not playing some of these little schools Georgia [Smith's college team] kills on Saturdays, so the holes aren't quite as big so he has to learn to get into the cracks instead of looking for those big holes."

Smith appears to be the Ravens' running back of the future.

"He doesn't have the all-out speed Jamal has, but he has some real quickness," said Simon. "There are some days I'd like to see Jamal have some of that. He is a good receiver, a good route runner. But the key for him is consistency."

Baxter looks ahead

The Ravens will have several unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2004 season, among them linebacker Ed Hartwell, guard Casey Rabach and cornerback Gary Baxter. Baxter, who might be on the verge of a Pro Bowl season, has been keeping an eye on the negotiations between the team and fellow starting cornerback Chris McAlister.

McAlister, the team's designated franchise player, is in the eighth day of a camp holdout but is expected to report before the season starts. McAlister wants a multi-year contract including an $18 million signing bonus.

Baxter wouldn't command that much on the open market, but teams would spend a lot of money to sign him. Baxter wants to avoid any contract stalemates.

"Yeah, I'm taking notes," said Baxter. "I hope it doesn't come down to that for me. I'm hoping we can come to terms, that the Ravens come with a good deal and we sign and get things rolling, and keep it rolling."

But Baxter also understands the NFL is a business. Besides Rabach and Hartwell, the Ravens will sign Jamal Lewis to a new contract if he is found innocent, and inside linebacker Ray Lewis will demand an extension if he has an Most Valuable Player-type season. The Ravens also still have to deal with McAlister.

"I tell you what, Mr. Ozzie Newsome [Ravens general manager] is going to have a tough time," said Baxter. "My main thing is I can't even worry about that. I'm just going to go out and play, and put pressure on them to keep me. We got a lot of people we got to pay, and there are a lot of things the Ravens have to think about."

More shotgun

The Ravens are expected to be in the shotgun formation more, at least in the early part of the season. Billick has usually allowed his quarterbacks to make the decision on the formation, and starter Kyle Boller prefers it.

Boller and backup Kordell Stewart have been throwing out of the shotgun a lot in training camp.

"I really like it," said Boller. "I think you see the field real easy, you can see your hots and all that stuff. I did it a lot in high school and a little bit in college. We can't do it every play, but the more we do it, the more I love it.

"I really haven't talked to Coach Billick about it, but Coach Cavanaugh [offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh] told me that when I want to get in a shotgun, get in it. It's basically my call. They might eventually shoot it down, but for right now, it's my call."

Seeking a receiver

The Ravens are still searching for a No. 3 receiver from a list that includes Randy Hymes, Ron Johnson, Cecil Moore and rookie Devard Darling.

At times, they all have been impressive, but that apparently is not enough.

"They've make some big plays. They've been very productive," said Billick, who has Kevin Johnson and Travis Taylor as starters. "We're still waiting for someone to consistently step up on a regular basis to see who can fill that [No. 3] spot."

Camp update

Thumbs up: Twice in short-yardage situations, No. 2 quarterback Kordell Stewart dropped back, then ran up the middle for touchdowns. ... Rookies who have impressed the Ravens include linebacker Roderick Green, wide receiver Devard Darling, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards and running back B.J. Sams. ... Receiver Ron Johnson had two long catches in the morning session.

Thumbs down: Johnson's catches were at the expense of rookie cornerback Lance Frazier, including one on a carom off Frazier's hands. ... Receiver Travis Taylor's 18-yard hitch pass to running back Chester Taylor in the end zone should have been picked off by safety Ed Reed, who dropped it.

Quotable: "When I get ticked off, they [the offensive line] get ticked off. Sometimes I wish they'd all get ticked off and we just beat up everybody. But they say I can't be fighting around here like that anymore, getting somebody hurt or breaking my hand." - Offensive tackle Orlando Brown

Injuries: ILB Bart Scott (knee), OLB Peter Boulware (knee), ILB Ed Hartwell (quadriceps), QB Anthony Wright (shoulder), RB B.J. Sams (thumb), TE Trent Smith (leg), and CB Fred Weary (quadriceps) did not practice. CB Chris McAlister did not attend (contract dispute).

Today's schedule: Full-squad practice, 9:30 to 11:15 a.m. Special teams, 3 to 4 p.m.

Countdown to season opener: 38 days.

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