Mix of relief, unease greets Billick news

Players cheer continuity, but realize changes are due

December 29, 2005|By BRENT JONES | BRENT JONES,SUN REPORTER

The news, from all accounts, was met with stony silence from the players.

But the quiet apparently was dictated more by the situation than honest reaction.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti gave a 10-minute address to the team yesterday morning in which he announced that coach Brian Billick would return for an eighth season, and because of Bisciotti's serious tone and mannerisms, any type of outward reaction from the personnel might have been viewed as disrespect.

But if the truth be told, a good number of players were whooping it up in their hearts, while letting out a silent breath.

"I think it was more relief than anything else," linebacker Peter Boulware said.

It was the first time this season Bisciotti had addressed the players at a team meeting.

"The tone that Bisciotti took was a very direct tone," said kicker Matt Stover, one of three players who has been with the franchise continuously since 1996. "He got right to business. I didn't know how to react, but I just knew that I was just glad Brian was staying.

"I've been very successful with Brian, both personally and professionally, and I think this team needs to keep him to move in the right direction."

As the players left the meeting and headed to practice, they did so with the knowledge that the primary question lingering over the franchise the past couple of months had been answered.

What it means for them remains to be seen.

Since the Ravens have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons, Billick has hinted at changing the way he handles the team. There could be a more physical training camp and perhaps added restrictions on player behavior.

"He might be a little more aggressive with us," running back Jamal Lewis said. "Just in training camp and practice, I think he's going to put his foot down a little more."

Lewis said he was in favor of Billick coming back, in part because he thinks everyone deserves a second chance.

"One person that knows that for sure is me," Lewis said. "When things go wrong and everybody wants to point the finger - if somebody knows that, that's me. I think that this is good of the organization to give him that chance, and I think we will regroup as a team. It's not just about one person."

A similar feeling was expressed by linebacker Bart Scott, who realized that if Billick had been fired, the whole organization would have been shaken. Many of the coaches on his staff would have been out of work, as well.

It is the domino effect that bothered Scott just as much.

"I've formed relationships with Coach [Jeff] FitzGerald, Coach [Dennis] Thurman, Bennie Thompson, Rex Ryan, the guy who gave me my chance," Scott said. "I was here last year and wasn't given an opportunity. The last thing I want to see is the guys who gave me an opportunity be unemployed."

Only one coach survived when the Ravens fired coach Ted Marchibroda after the 1998 season, when Billick was hired and retained defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.

Boulware was around when rumors about Marchibroda's job security surfaced toward the end of that year. The climate this time, according to Boulware, is not the same.

"With Ted, I don't think we were headed in the right direction," Boulware said. "And everybody knew we needed to go in another direction. With Brian, it just seems like we're headed in the right direction, but things just seem to not have happened for us."

Notes -- Linebacker Mike Smith (thigh) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (ankle) are doubtful for Sunday's game in Cleveland. Return specialist B.J. Sams (lower leg) did not practice yesterday and is questionable. Center Mike Flynn (ankle), guard Edwin Mulitalo (knee) and cornerback Chris McAlister (shoulder) are probable. ... Linebacker Ray Lewis attended the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday. Lewis was interviewed on the sideline while on crutches.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

2006 opponents

The Ravens' opponents next season are set because they are guaranteed of finishing third in the AFC North based on a better division record than Cleveland.

Home Away

Cincinnati Cincinnati

Cleveland Cleveland

Pittsburgh Pittsburgh

Oakland Denver

San Diego Kansas City

Atlanta New Orleans

Carolina Tampa Bay

Buffalo Tennessee

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