Ravens using same old lines to sell their brand new flash

On the Ravens

August 02, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

EVERYONE wants to put the pressure on Kyle Boller because he's the quarterback. He will play a major role this season, but a bigger key will be the play of the interior lines.

The Ravens got a lot of flash in the offseason. They added a big-play receiver in Derrick Mason and drafted another possible one in rookie Mark Clayton. They signed cornerback Samari Rolle to replace Gary Baxter, whom the Ravens allowed to slip away to Cleveland.

Are the Ravens better than a year ago?

There is no doubt. But once all the smoke clears from the offseason drama and the November and December cold has set in, the Ravens will only go as far as the offensive and defensive lines take them.

As the team opened training camp practices yesterday at McDaniel College, both units remained suspect, and it will be that way for the remainder of the season. The offensive line has some age and has been hit hard by injuries during the past two seasons.

The defensive line is light and has melted down in stretch runs in 2003 and 2004. Championships are won in the trenches. Just ask New England. The Patriots have quarterback Tom Brady, but they also control the pace of games because they dominate on both sides of the ball.

Or maybe you can talk to the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not a lot of flash there, either.

With the 2005 Ravens, we're just hoping that there is enough glue to hold the offensive line together and the defensive line stays on an eating binge for the next six months.

"We're like fine wine. We just get better with age," said Orlando Brown, the Ravens' right offensive tackle.

The Ravens like flash, and the lights, cameras and action that come with it. The Ravens wanted receivers Terrell Owens and then Randy Moss. They brought back "Prime Time" Deion Sanders even though he was Part Time in 2004.

You can't argue with their bringing in Mason and drafting Clayton. It gives the Ravens and Boller two more weapons. The additions should open up the middle of the field for tight end Todd Heap and the running game for halfback Jamal Lewis.

But if this offensive line can't get it done, then Boller can't pass, Mason can't catch and Lewis can't run. The Ravens upgraded at right guard by signing free agent Keydrick Vincent during the offseason, but that might not be enough.

This group has some age. Brown is 34 and both left tackle Jonathan Ogden and center Mike Flynn are 31. Left guard Edwin Mulitalo is 30. Brown and Mulitalo had offseason arthroscopic knee surgery. Flynn missed seven games last season with a broken collarbone, and Ogden missed four with various leg injuries. The offensive line could become a M*A*S*H unit.

"We addressed that when we drafted," said general manager Ozzie Newsome referring to rookie center Jason Brown and tackle Adam Terry in the April draft. "Offensive linemen are not like other skilled guys. They can play into their 34s and 35s."

But it's unlikely Brown or Terry could help the Ravens right away. Brown will be busy learning to play both center and guard. Terry is big and athletic, but neither could handle the physical pressures of playing right away.

But Orlando Brown says there is no reason to sweat. The Ravens have changed the blocking schemes where the guard and tackles double team more instead of the guard and center.

"We've also changed the cadence," Brown said. "For the last two or three years, everything has been on one. Other teams knew our snap count. That won't happen anymore. Also, now our tackles will just fire out because those guards will be on our hips both as far as running the ball and pass protection. We will be more aggressive, attack more."

The Ravens have youth on the defensive side of the ball, but not much size. In January 2004, the Titans ended the Ravens' season by rushing for 165 yards in an opening-round 20-17 playoff game loss at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens didn't even make the playoffs last season, losing four of their last six games. In four of those games, the Ravens allowed 144, 98, 183 and 97 yards rushing. The Ravens have gone to a 4-3 defense this season, but they haven't added any bulk up front. They really never got into the offseason free-agent sweepstakes for Buffalo tackle Pat Williams, who signed a three-year, $13 million contract ($6 million signing bonus) with Minnesota.

The Ravens agreed to a trade with the Eagles for tackle Corey Simon but backed away from it when Simon wanted a new contract, two new cars, a personal jet, keys to city hall, a new reality TV show and ...

It left Newsome with the same bunch from a year ago. Well, scratch that. Ravens starting defensive end Marques Douglas bolted for San Francisco during the offseason.

The undersized, interchangeable group of tackles and ends now consists of Kelly Gregg (310 pounds), Maake Kemoeatu (335), Tony Weaver (290), Terrell Suggs (260), Dwan Edwards (315), Aubrayo Franklin (320) and Jarret Johnson (285). Except for Kemoeatu, the heavyweights are backups.

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