Best plan: Make Lewis earn that starting job

April 01, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

When Ravens coach Brian Billick named Jamal Lewis the starting running back earlier this week, a lot of people wanted to know why he selected Lewis over Mike Anderson so soon. After all, only a couple of weeks ago, general manager Ozzie Newsome said the decision would be based on training camp and preseason performances.

What gives? Who knows? It was a somewhat strange move, but the Ravens have made quite a few this offseason, losing defensive linemen Maake Kemoeatu and Tony Weaver and running back Chester Taylor through free agency and then signing veterans past their primes, or making career backups starters.

Maybe Billick was trying to reconcile with Lewis after a season of differences in 2005. Lewis wanted more carries last season, and Billick had him splitting time with Taylor. Lewis thought the Ravens reneged on a multi-year contract offer that was supposed to be made in preseason and later admitted during the season he wasn't running as hard as in the past.

During the end of the season, Lewis seemed to have a weekly news conference that irritated not only Billick but also other members of the Ravens front-office staff.

So maybe this is Billick's attempt to patch things up with one of several disgruntled veterans. Maybe he is trying to improve the communication that owner Steve Bisciotti said was lacking within the entire organization at the end of last season. This move might head off any potential problem heading into training camp, or it might lure Lewis into the offseason minicamps.

I prefer the open competition between Lewis and Anderson going into training camp. That way, it ensures that both will come in at peak shape. Lewis didn't earn the right to start from last year's performance of 906 yards on 269 carries. There is still doubt about his ankle, and if he has enough left after gaining more than 2,000 yards in 2003. Just like Anderson, Lewis should have to prove himself to the Ravens.

There were some interesting tidbits in Bisciotti's recent interview with The Sun. He can speak the corporate lines, but for the most part, he is brutally honest.

He admitted to the frustrations of middle linebacker Ray Lewis despite recent denials from several members of his organization. But he did sound a little like Lewis when he said: "But Ray has every right to spend some time of his offseason thinking about Ray Lewis." Was this the owner or Lewis' news secretary? Bisciotti didn't pump up third-year quarterback Kyle Boller but said he believes that Boller could emerge as a "solid" starter in this league. It was funny when he said that the perception of Billick as a "lame duck" coach was out of his control, even though Bisciotti put him in that position with that public flogging at the end of the season.

My favorite quote, though, was this beauty: "For every person that has an opinion on talk radio, there is somebody driving along 695 totally disagreeing with him. The vocal minority is going to be out there saying Kyle isn't good enough to be a quarterback and Brian isn't good enough to be a coach."

The vocal minority? It's apparent that somebody needs to get out of the office a little more and onto the streets.

Maybe the price really wasn't right.

According to a highly respected AFC coach, the Ravens dramatically overpaid Denver Broncos defensive end Trevor Pryce when they signed him to a five-year, $25 million contract that included $10 million in guaranteed money.

We understand why the Ravens made the move. They had lost Weaver and needed a replacement. Also, according to a team source, the Ravens wanted to make two adjustments from previous years. The source said the team had come to conclusion that sometimes it held on to draft picks too long, and the Ravens wanted to go back to signing high-character guys with a strong work ethic.

Pryce certainly fits the mold as a high character, team-oriented player. In the past, those are the kind of guys Broncos coach Mike Shanahan kept in Denver and never allowed to get away.

But according to one coach, Pryce, 30, is only able to play at a high level for 10 to 15 plays a game. If that is the case, then Pryce is laughing all the way to the bank.

The Ravens might not have a selection in the top 10 of the April draft, but they're still in a pretty good position.

At No. 13 overall, they have enough ammunition to trade up for an impact player and maybe just enough to slide down if they want to get a couple of good offensive linemen in the first round.

Word has it that the Ravens are still waiting for the Tennessee Titans to cut veteran quarterback Steve McNair so they can bring him to Baltimore. Despite published reports, there is also word leaking out that the Atlanta Falcons might be willing to trade backup quarterback Matt Schaub on draft day if the price is right.

That one sounds a little far-fetched, but it's getting closer to draft day. The rumors get spicier by the day. If the Ravens had their choice, they'd probably take Kerry Collins over Schaub, but they want the old man from Tennessee.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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