Billick names J. Lewis starter

Ravens still waiting on acquiring a QB

Ravens

March 28, 2006|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Providing some definition to his offense yesterday, Ravens coach Brian Billick officially named Jamal Lewis his starting running back and indicated the team could wait until the draft to add a veteran quarterback.

The Ravens have taken a slower-than-expected approach in finding a quarterback who could compete against Kyle Boller for the starting job. While a dozen free-agent quarterbacks have reached agreements with other teams, Billick explained that the Ravens have not engaged in serious contract negotiations for a reason.

"In my opinion, the category of `who is available' is not yet done," Billick said between sessions at the NFL owners meetings. "There is still some movement to be done in the league."

Billick declined to name the teams the Ravens are monitoring but speculated some might need to cut players to get more salary cap space for the draft (April 29-30). A league source said recently that the Ravens are waiting for quarterback Steve McNair, who could be released by the Tennessee Titans for salary cap reasons next month.

In choosing to wait, the Ravens run the risk of losing out on a dwindling number of quarterbacks who are available now. The most logical fit for the Ravens is Kerry Collins, but he's not a lock to go to the Ravens if they continue to delay.

Collins could draw interest from the Miami Dolphins, who are seeking insurance if Daunte Culpepper isn't fully recovered from a major knee injury. Collins' agent, David Dunn, is attending the meetings but said he hasn't spoken to the Ravens.

"Why jump the gun?" Billick said. "It's a fine line to walk in terms of guys you might covet who get signed up versus waiting to see if the landscape is going to change or not."

Because the Ravens have been prudent in their free-agent shopping, Billick said the team might be adding more than a quarterback if the right player becomes available.

"We're in great position right now to take advantage of it," Billick said.

While the quarterback position remains unsettled, Billick clarified the structure of his backfield.

He said that Lewis would remain the Ravens' featured running back "with the idea he returns to the form that we're familiar with."

There had been questions whether Lewis would enter training camp as the undisputed starter when the Ravens signed Mike Anderson. General manager Ozzie Newsome seemed to favor a competition between Lewis and Anderson but said the decision would be left to the coaching staff.

"You don't preclude Mike Anderson and the success he's had from forcing himself into that rotation or a primary role," Billick said. "One of the things about Mike Anderson is he'll do whatever you need him to do. He will be the consummate role player."

Although Anderson's disposition has never been a concern, the same cannot be said of Lewis. Over the past two seasons, Lewis has voiced displeasure over his number of carries, which had dipped below 20 a game.

Billick doesn't foresee that as a problem this season even with the addition of Anderson. He estimated that Lewis would receive about two-thirds of the carries.

"We don't want to put Jamal out there on a 350- to 380-carry year," Billick said. "That's not in his best interest. I think Jamal recognizes that. Every back wants the ball but by year's end, it's `Oh, I wish I didn't have this many.' Mike gives us the opportunity to roll him in because he does the same things Jamal does for us."

In handing the job to Lewis, Billick seemed confident that the franchise's leading rusher will bounce back from last season, when he gained a career-low 906 yards. He admitted to being "overly optimistic maybe to the point of being naive" that Lewis would have a strong season last year after having ankle surgery and spending four months in federal prison.

"I was probably as guilty of that as anybody," Billick said. "But we've been down this road before with Jamal. Whether it was college or the 2003 season, it's the second year after the injury when Jamal comes back."

NOTES -- The Ravens received an NFL-leading four compensatory draft picks, getting additional selections in the fourth (132nd overall), fifth (166) and sixth rounds (203 and 208). The Ravens were awarded those picks because they lost six unrestricted free agents in 2005 (Bennie Anderson, Gary Baxter, Marques Douglas, Ed Hartwell, Casey Rabach and Travis Taylor) and signed two (Tommy Polley and Keydrick Vincent). ... The Ravens are not expected to make any free-agent signings at the NFL owners meetings, which end tomorrow. ... Billick delivered high praise for defensive end Trevor Pryce, who signed with the Ravens earlier this month. "Trevor Pryce gives us an inside pass rush that we haven't had since I've been here," Billick said. ... It is believed that the Carolina Panthers are the front-runners to re-sign punter Jason Baker, who has drawn interest from the Ravens. Baker likely will make his decision by the end of the week.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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