All eyes looking to see if Billick has team's ear

On the Ravens

October 01, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

When the Ravens play the New York Jets tomorrow at M&T Bank Stadium, there should be an answer to the most important question of the season: Has coach Brian Billick regained control of this football team?

After only two games, that's what 2005 is about. He lost it last year as the Ravens lost four of their last six games.

He thought he had gotten it back during training camp and the preseason, but so far it hasn't happened, which explains why Billick was so emotional after the Ravens lost to Tennessee, 25-10, two weeks ago, in one of the worst performances in team history.

The Jets' game will be telling. The Ravens (0-2) have had two weeks to prepare, and they've added a sense of urgency with more physical practices. They've loaded up to play power football again as opposed to being balanced and wanting to pass more.

The coaches have put in an incredible amount of time during the past two weeks trying to correct problems.

If the Ravens come out flat and play poorly like they did against the Titans, then there will be little else that Billick can do to motivate this team. He happens to be in that time frame (seven to 10 years) when a coach's message becomes stale, or he has to re-invent himself.

The early scuttlebutt around the NFL has Billick as a candidate for the Houston job if the Texans fire head coach Dom Capers at the end of the season.

We'll know more about the direction the Ravens might be headed after tomorrow's game.

No one expects Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden to retire at the end of the season, but it wouldn't be a surprise if he did.

Ogden, in his 10th season, wasn't happy when the team cut younger brother Marques, a guard, shortly before the regular season began. He also has been frustrated with the team's performance so far, and isn't thrilled about possibly being moved to right tackle in the future.

Of course, maybe the mood will change if the Ravens start winning some games. If Ogden retires at the end of the season, he would have to pay back part of the $20 million signing bonus he received on a contract extension he agreed to last season.

That wouldn't be difficult for Ogden. He recently proclaimed himself the "cheapest" player on the team, and has saved and invested wisely. When he does retire, there will be no grand ceremony. He'll just call the Ravens and say he's done.

"Jonathan always knew the NFL was a business, but it's more of a business than he realized," said a source within the family.

With three years left on his contract after this season, the Ravens will offer middle linebacker Ray Lewis a contract extension, and they'll probably pay him the final three years up front in a signing bonus ($18.5 million), and spread the new deal over four or five years.

Lewis is expected to make $5.5 million in 2006 and $6.5 million in 2007 and 2008. It would be a great gesture by the club, similar to the deal signed by Ogden last year and a fitting farewell present to a player who has been the franchise's featured player since its inception

If, for some reason, Lewis balks, the club probably will tell him goodbye and urge him to work out some sort of deal with another club.

It then will be a good time for him to really use Bubba Smith's lawyers.

Much has been said about Ravens safety Ed Reed moving his locker away from Lewis. Here's another one for you: Reed also hasn't been seated near Lewis as much on the plane for away games.

What does it all mean? Does Lewis have body odor?

Actually, Reed just seems to be developing as his own person and player. He certainly seems to be more comfortable and likable in the locker room these days, and has no animosity toward the media.

It seems like Reed is just putting his personal stamp on the team instead of trying to be like Lewis. It's a good thing.

No, he didn't.

`Tomorrow, we're going to take up a donation for the New York Jets' relief fund," said Billick, "because based on what I'm reading and hearing, I can't imagine these guys showing up. Good lord, I can't turn on the TV without seeing [hurricanes] Katrina, Rita, and oh my God, the Jets. I'm digging in my pockets for money."`

It confirms what we already knew. Computers really are insensitive.

The Jets don't have their No. 1 quarterback, and neither do the Ravens. New York has the NFL's No. 14-ranked defense, and the Ravens are at 18. The Jets are No. 27 in total offense, and the Ravens are at No. 26.

This game could have a baseball score: Ravens 3, Jets 2. It'll come down to special teams. If you're keeping score, the Jets have slightly better kickoff and kickoff receiving teams than the Ravens, and have a punter with a better average. The Ravens do a better job of returning and covering punts, and Jets kicker Mike Nugent has converted on three of four field goals - from 41, 35 and 25 yards. A 28-yard attempt was blocked. Meanwhile, the Ravens' Matt Stover missed on field goals of 38, 47 and 45 yards in the season opener, but converted one of 30 yards against Tennessee.

The Ravens tried to put running back Jamal Lewis on mute, but he couldn't help himself when discussing fullback Alan Ricard possibly returning to the lineup.

Ricard was mysteriously inactive for the first two games and is considered questionable for tomorrow's game against the Jets because of an injury to his right calf.

"A lot of people think he's just a fullback and I'm just a tailback," Lewis said. "It kind of works hand in hand in producing a good running game, which we've had since we've been here. Now, it seems like we're getting back to what we did best the last four or five years."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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