Green flying under the radar

Rarely in spotlight, Ravens fullback aims to get healthy, make his niche on special teams

September 06, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

The fullback position in professional football is often overlooked, wedged in a no-man's land between the quarterback and the featured running back in a team's offense.

As a result, fullbacks go relatively unnoticed by casual fans.

"There's a lot of work that's done that's not seen, but by the guys in the running back room," Ravens fullback Justin Green said. "You look at a guy like Ovie Mughelli or Lorenzo Neal [of the San Diego Chargers], they are really important to their team. I just try to model myself after guys like that."

Green will do more than model himself after Mughelli. Green, in his third season with the Ravens after being drafted in the fifth round in 2005 out of Montana, will take over as the starter for Mughelli, a free agent who signed with the Atlanta Falcons.

The biggest question is how much the Ravens will use a fullback this season because new running back Willis McGahee is said to be more comfortable in a one-back set, while former featured back Jamal Lewis preferred a two-back formation.

"Definitely there's opportunity because we're a multifront offense, as well as there's a big part to play on special teams," Green said last week. "With Ovie laying the foundation for me, along with Alan Ricard, for me to kind of learn what it is to be a fullback, I'm kind of getting my opportunity and running with it."

That Green is running at full speed is somewhat of a miracle. While playing on special teams last season, Green tore his anterior cruciate ligament while covering a punt in Cincinnati. He missed the last four regular-season games and the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

"I just stepped wrong," Green recalled. "I knew something was wrong. It didn't feel right. The next day you couldn't tell me I was hurt because I was lifting [weights]. For two weeks I was lifting before I had surgery. They didn't want me to do any running. But for me to do that, I didn't think there was anything wrong."

Told that it would likely take eight months to recover and that he could probably make it back for training camp, Green returned in six.

Green, who didn't get any carries last season but had four receptions for 17 yards, said that he is "still in the process" of rehabilitating with exercises to strengthen the knee and getting massages to eliminate soreness.

"I'm ahead of schedule in things you have to get back, knowing that you can plant on it and knowing it's not going to go anywhere, you tend to get a little better," said Green, 5 feet 11 and 251 pounds.

Said Ravens running backs coach Tony Nathan: "He's still got a little ways to go. With the weight thing, not being able to do as much running as he wanted to, he's got to get used to carrying it again."

Though the injury cut short his season, it didn't devastate Green.

"The biggest thing for me is that I can only control what happens to me; I can't worry about how early it is [in his career], I just have to get ready for next season," said Green, who made three starts last season. "The quicker I could do that, the quicker I could get back on the field and put it behind me."

Like other Ravens who initially made the roster on their ability to play special teams, Green has watched the way Gary Stills evolved from a linebacker and defensive end to one of the best special teams players in the league.

"The idea is to be first [team] in everything that you do," Green said. "Gary Stills is working toward being a starting linebacker. It's always that first, special teams second, or all on the same level. It's more of a backup plan. If you're good in special teams, it's hard to not put you in the lineup."

A running back at Montana, Green gained 1,784 yards and scored 22 touchdowns in two seasons at the school, and was given the team's Golden Helmet Award as its hardest hitter. Green, who grew up in San Diego idolizing Marcus Allen, knew early on that he wasn't going to make it to the NFL as a running back.

"When you've got guys running 4.4s and 4.3s [in the 40-yard dash], it kind of put me in the fullback position," Green said. "I consider myself a guy who likes to hit people; naturally fullback was kind of the best position for me. The fact that I can go out into the flat and catch a ball, and get a carry or two depending on the situation."

Though the Ravens drafted Le'Ron McClain in the fourth round as insurance in the event that Green's return from surgery took longer than expected, Ravens coach Brian Billick is pleased with the progress Green has made since coming back.

"Losing Justin last year was one of those subtle things that hurt us, because he's such a substantial [special] teamer for us, he's very versatile in the offense in what we can do with him," Billick said last week. "To have him back and playing well is good."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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