Billick made the right call by not calling out players

On the Ravens

October 15, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

For all the criticism coach Brian Billick took last week, he made a good decision.

What he didn't do was sell out his players, even though they acted like morons a week ago. The team is at the juncture where the players are either going to rally around him, or do just enough to get by for the season.

If Billick had started fining and suspending players, he would have no chance of regaining control of this team. It would have gone against his soft style and player-friendly approach, showing desperation and that he had given up.

Instead, he increased the slim hope of turning this team around. It's all part of the head games Billick loves to play.

Where he loses this team sometimes, though, is delivering the message. They're too long, too boring and at times insensitive. While addressing the Ravens recently, Billick told the players that regardless of how they played, if he were fired, he would still walk away with $20 million in his pocket.

Ouch.

That statement irritated a lot of players, as well as others in the front office. Maybe that's why Monday, according to a team source, a top player turned his back on Billick while he was addressing the team.

Billick said something to the player, who acknowledged Billick, but then turned his back on him again as he continued to dig into his locker.

Maybe it was all part of the emotionally draining episode Sunday. Maybe all has been forgiven. We'll know a little bit more tomorrow. But this is a great time for the coach to come in with the "us against the world" theme because there were a lot of angry Baltimore fans last week.

To introduce Trent Dilfer, or not introduce him?

If the Ravens do so at the beginning of the game, he'll get a long applause, maybe a standing ovation for being the starter on the team that won the January 2001 Super Bowl.

But during the following offseason, the Ravens decided to sign Elvis Grbac, and not Dilfer.

Part of any prolonged cheering would be a slap at the Ravens, who have yet to develop a quarterback since coming to Baltimore from Cleveland in 1995.

Dilfer wasn't great. In fact, the team won despite him, but he was tough and made occasional big plays in his only season here.

The Ravens made the right decision in not re-signing him. His arm was dead near the end of that season, and the Ravens even had to cut short Super Bowl practices because his passes were often short, easily getting intercepted by defensive backs.

If running back Jamal Lewis and right offensive tackle Leon Searcy hadn't gotten injured in the first week of training camp and missed the entire season, the Ravens might have won a second title with Grbac as the starter.

Regardless, it would be nice to see Dilfer get his proper respect tomorrow.

Maybe quarterback Anthony Wright has a fumbling problem and has been told not to run, but there is some yardage to be gained if he were to take off.

Several times in the past two games, it appeared as though Wright didn't want to run. He reminds you of the Titans' Steve McNair, who has been injured so often that he refuses to go beyond the line of scrimmage.

But Wright's ability to move adds a dimension to his struggling game. In the first half against Detroit last week, if he had taken off, run and slid, he might have gotten a first down on a third-down play. If not, the Ravens at least would have gotten a field-goal attempt.

Instead, he drifted, waited and then tried to force a pass to Randy Hymes in the end zone that was intercepted. In this offense, there are few opportunities to score, but at this point it's better to take a chance with Wright's legs than his arm.

Safer, too.

As expected, there is speculation about Jim Fassel replacing Billick with the team off to a slow start.

But according to a Ravens team source, the worst-case scenario would be Fassel replacing Billick during the season.

It would be unfair to both. Despite the slow start, Billick has won a lot of games in Baltimore and deserves time to straighten this team out. Secondly, it would be unfair to Fassel to come in during a bad season and then get judged by fans and others when he has had little to do with shaping this team.

Unless the team has more games like the poor effort in Tennessee and the embarrassing episode in Detroit, the Ravens shouldn't make any changes until the season is over so they can do a complete evaluation, possibly starting a rebuilding process.

Former Ravens defensive back Gary Baxter will be starting for the Browns. There were some in the Ravens' organization who thought he was part of the locker room problem a year ago because he was too concerned with contract negotiations.

The Ravens didn't re-sign Baxter, defensive tackle Marques Douglas and linebacker Ed Hartwell, among several other of the team's free agents. Hartwell had major problems with the clique of superstar players and felt he was overshadowed by Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ray Lewis, criticizing Lewis' dancing and claiming that team officials cheated him out of tackles and added them to Lewis' statistics.

Baxter had no such feelings.

"It was just my time to move on," Baxter said. "This game is going to be exciting and fun, it will be a different feeling being on the other side in another uniform. The best thing about going to Cleveland is that I have maintained my friendships in Baltimore, and I met a lot of quality people there."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Browns@Ravens

Tomorrow, 1 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Ravens by 6

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