Offensive line tenuously holds together

August 24, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

DESPITE RAVENS coach Brian Billick's laid-back training camp approach, the latest injury to starting center Mike Flynn is a cause for concern because of the lack of depth on the offensive line.

Flynn is expected to miss six to eight weeks after suffering a broken clavicle yesterday, but that may not include the time it will take for him to regain full strength as well as his physical conditioning.

The Ravens have a more-than-adequate replacement in fourth-year player Casey Rabach, who was involved in an intense competition with Bennie Anderson for the starting right guard spot. Actually, Rabach is better at center than guard because his lack of size (301 pounds) creates a mismatch for bulky defensive tackles.

But the Ravens couldn't afford to move Flynn out and Rabach in because Flynn, a seven-year veteran, knows the offense too well and seldom makes a bad call when calling out the blocking assignments.

But if Rabach or starting tackles Jonathan Ogden or Orlando Brown get injured, the Ravens are in serious trouble. Third-year player Damion Cook, a converted tackle, is listed as the top reserve behind Rabach, and Ethan Brooks is the No. 1 backup to both Ogden and Brown.

Brooks, a favorite of Billick's, has played poorly in two preseason games, especially in pass blocking. In two previous seasons with the Ravens, Cook has played in only four games, all on special teams. He has slow feet, and will have problems working into the second level to cut off linebackers on running plays as well as getting in position to pass-block.

The call for excessive celebration against the Ravens in Friday night's game vs. the Philadelphia Eagles was bogus, but there was a precedent set.

It was good to see Billick get on Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis about his involvement, and that sideline move probably set a tone for the season.

In the past, Billick has been a little light on veteran players as far as discipline, particularly last season when he didn't jump on Brown after his unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty played a major part in the Ravens losing their opening-round playoff game to Tennessee.

Every once in a while, a coach has to get on the star just to let the others know that no one is above the rules. It's safe to assume that any possible Deion Sanders, Ed Reed and Lewis-choreographed touchdown dance has been canceled for the 2004 season.

You can see the disdain on linebacker Peter Boulware's face as he limps from field to field and drill to drill. He doesn't want to be standing on the sideline, but no one seems to know when he is coming off.

Boulware had off-season knee surgery, and has yet to practice with the team. There really is no timetable for his return.

"I'm getting there," said Boulware, one of the NFL's best pass rushers, who'll visit a specialist in Colorado at the end of this month to get another evaluation. "I'm jogging well, lifting well. But until the knee provides us with a definite answer, I can't say when I'll play again. There has been progress, but we can't risk going out there until I'm completely healthy."

The forgotten player at Ravens training camp seems to be linebacker Terrell Suggs. Remember him? The Ravens' No. 1 pick (10th overall) a year ago? The NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year?

Despite all the reports about the development of quarterback Kyle Boller and the possible loss of running back Jamal Lewis, Suggs is 11 pounds lighter than a year ago and playing with much more confidence.

"I've made up my mind that I'm a linebacker, and never going to be a defensive end again," said Suggs, who was not injured in a car accident yesterday, his second in less than a year. "I'm playing more at full speed because I know the scheme. I had to learn the whole mental part of the game, and it's much different from college, especially since I had never played linebacker.

"During the offseason, I really hit the gym hard, lost a lot of weight and took the playbook home where I would learn a piece of it every day. I was ready when I came to camp this time around, dropping to 254 pounds from 265."

Suggs certainly has impressed defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

"He still has a lot to learn because he is a young kid," Nolan said. "His offseason was very good; he came in much better shape, not only physically, but mentally. He knows what is going on, and when he makes a mistake, he knows what he did wrong. By midseason, he is really going to start to shine."

Boller's inconsistency is sending out a lot of mixed signals, but he appears more accurate throwing on the run than as a straight drop-back passer. Will the Ravens move Boller and the pocket around in the future?

"I don't mind throwing on the run," said Boller, who had his best day of throwing yesterday on the last day of training camp. "I moved around in college a lot. Once you get outside, your lanes are pretty clear. I think we moved the pocket a lot more in the second game [preseason] than in the first, and I think we'll continue to do that."

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