Ravens running out of running backs

Injuries take a toll

Billick praises Boller

Football

November 29, 2005|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

A day after the Ravens' troubling 42-29 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, coach Brian Billick said his primary concern rests at running back and not on highly scrutinized quarterback Kyle Boller.

A run of injuries has devastated the Ravens' backfield, leaving Jamal Lewis as the only healthy ball carrier heading into Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.

Backup Chester Taylor, a surprise late scratch Sunday with a foot injury, is considered questionable. Former third-round pick Musa Smith (leg) will be placed on injured reserve, which will end his season, and rookie Justin Green (wrist) could be headed there if it is decided this week that he needs surgery.

So a week after all the buzz surrounded the running back rotation, Lewis is once again being asked to carry the load.

He is coming off his best performance of the season, gaining 113 yards on 23 carries. It marked his first 100-yard game since last season's finale.

"I'm excited about the way Jamal ran," Billick said. "Jamal clearly had a rhythm and got stronger as he went. What that rotation is and how we go about it is going to be affected by Chester's situation."

With the only other back on the roster being blocking fullback Ovie Mughelli, the Ravens indicated they would explore a dried-up free-agent market for a possible No. 2 running back for Sunday. Two roster spots will open when Smith and safety Will Demps (knee) are put on injured reserve.

Among the veteran running backs available are Olandis Gary, Amos Zereoue and Jesse Chatman.

"It's very likely that one of these signings will be a running back," Billick said. "You can't go in with just one running back. I love Ovie, but I ain't going to hand him the ball."

While the questions continue to mount at running back, Billick said they are dwindling in regard to Boller.

Billick indicated that Boller proved his physical toughness in fighting through a back injury to help the Ravens to a 16-13 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 20.

Then, when Boller threw three touchdown passes after trailing 34-0 in Cincinnati, Billick said his young quarterback provided more answers.

"The way he came back and responded under those circumstances [Sunday], I don't know if anybody can question his mental toughness," Billick said. "Whether that all adds up to being a good quarterback, that's what we'll work through. If Kyle is or is not a good quarterback, it won't be because of a lack of those two things [physical and mental toughness]. Hopefully, we're going to answer some other questions over the next five games."

Boller's teammates were impressed with how he shook off a horrible start (4-for-15 for 37 yards and two interceptions) and put together an impressive finish (14-for-17 for 174 yards and three touchdowns).

"Anybody else would have just quit being down 34-0," receiver Derrick Mason said. "But he stayed poised and stayed with it. A guy like that, hands down, I would go to battle with him any day because I know no matter what the situation is, he's going to stay in there and help this team out."

Injuries have not helped the learning curve for Boller, who is the NFL's lowest-rated starting quarterback (60.5).

But Boller, a first-round pick in 2003, still has more career starts (29) than the Bengals' Carson Palmer (24), who is one of the league's highest-rated starters (107.1).

"We'll see how [Boller] finishes what amounts to his second year," Billick said. "And we'll know a lot."

At times in this 3-8 season, it appears as if Billick has taken as many hits as Boller.

His choice of quarterback is being criticized every week. His reputation is being marred with every setback. His job security is being questioned after every loss.

All that remains for the Ravens is five games - three against losing teams - with no hope of a winning season.

"Will I be sorry when this season is over? No," Billick said. "It's not been easy. It's not been easy on a lot of people, It's not been easy on my family.

"But I wouldn't miss these next five weeks to find out about myself, about these guys, about this organization. I'm energized by that. They have been too, so far."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Texans@Ravens Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Ravens by 7 1/2

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