Without healthy knee, Green is a non-starter

Fullback candidate on mend for Ravens

April 20, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

With each passing day, Justin Green's surgically repaired right knee is improving. So, too, are his chances of becoming the Ravens' starting fullback this season.

With the free-agent departures of Ovie Mughelli (Atlanta Falcons) and Nick Luchey (unsigned), Green remains the only fullback on the Ravens' roster.

And with a draft class that lacks a standout player at the position, Green is likely to start next to running back Willis McGahee when the Ravens open the regular season against the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sept. 10.

But the 5-foot-11, 251-pound Green acknowledged that the biggest obstacle to that goal is his knee.

"We still have the draft, and I'm sure we'll pick up some free agents, but the biggest thing for me is to concentrate on being healthy," said Green, 24, who made three starts last year before tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament against the Bengals on Nov. 30. "If I'm not healthy, I'm no longer the leading candidate."

The loss of Mughelli, who parlayed a bruising blocking style and two receiving touchdowns in seven starts last season into a six-year, $18 million deal with the Falcons, would seem to suggest that the Ravens are looking for a fullback in the coming draft.

Although the team invited Ohio State's Stan White Jr. to a workout recently, the level of fullback talent in this year's class is thin, with only one or two projected to be selected in all seven rounds. The top fullback prospect, Cory Anderson of Tennessee, isn't expected to go until the sixth round or later. Someone will probably acquire White as an undrafted free agent.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said the lack of depth among fullbacks is a reflection of a shift in coaching philosophies at the college level.

"This is not a big year for fullbacks because colleges don't use them as much," said Newsome, who has drafted only two fullbacks in his 11 years coordinating the team's draft. "They spend more time in four-wides [wide-receiver sets]. Yeah, we would like to be able to draft a fullback, but I'm not going to overdraft one."

The other factor is McGahee's experience in lining up in a single running back set, a formation in which former featured back Jamal Lewis seemed to struggle.

"Now we can put [tight ends] Quinn [Sypniewski] and Todd [Heap] on the field, or Todd and [Daniel] Wilcox. Or, we can put [wide receiver] Demetrius [Williams] on the field with Derrick [Mason] and Mark [Clayton]," Newsome said. "So what it does is give [coach] Brian [Billick] some flexibility in his personnel group."

Still, there will be occasions when McGahee will need a blocker with him in the backfield, and that's where Green comes in.

Green, a fifth-round pick in 2005, acknowledged that he might not have the brute strength that the 6-1, 255-pound Mughelli used to overpower would-be tacklers. But Green hopes his experience as the tailback at Montana will help him decipher where the holes will open.

"I think the idea is to have me read the holes like a running back, to see the holes that Willis is seeing and make those same moves against the defender," Green said.

"I'm not going to overpower the guy. I have to be a technician and play from a technical point of view."

But before he can do that, Green must continue to rehabilitate his knee. Since undergoing surgery in December, Green has been working out at the team's complex in Owings Mills four days a week, completing squats and jogging.

While the goal is to be fully healthy when training camp opens in late July, Green said he would like to be able to participate in the team's final minicamp in June.

"I want to run and be out there," he said. "But I have to be healthy. Everything else will play itself out."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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