3 Baltimore Ravens With more consistency from a talented offense, they could be a playoff team for the first time since the move from Cleveland

August 27, 2000

At training camp in Westminster, Md., one day in early August,
former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, on assignment for
ESPN, stepped onto the field for three throws during a
seven-on-seven drill. After watching Theismann hit wideouts
Qadry Ismail on a curl route and Billy Davis on a slant, one
spectator remarked, "Maybe we should get the pads back on Joe."

The Ravens hope they can move the ball as readily, because if the
offense clicks--Baltimore ranked 24th in the NFL in total yards
and last in third-down conversions, with a 28.4% success
rate--they believe they will be in the playoffs for the first time
since they were the Browns. Keeping that in mind, no team made
more off-season moves to boost its attack.

With the fifth and 10th selections in the draft, Baltimore picked
power runner Jamal Lewis of Tennessee and fleet wide receiver
Travis Taylor of Florida. Free agency delivered a pair of tight
ends who have 12 Pro Bowl appearances between them: Shannon
Sharpe and Ben Coates, late of the Broncos and the Patriots,
respectively. The only question is how all the pieces will fit
together.

As promising as the upgrades on offense appear, coach Brian
Billick has already faced some early challenges. Taylor was set
back by a nine-day holdout at the start of camp and has been
playing catch-up as he tries to learn the offense. The Ravens
also have been stung by the injury bug. Lewis dislocated his left
elbow on July 28 and may not be ready for the opener. Starting
wide receiver Patrick Johnson (broken right clavicle) won't be
available until Week 3, and Chuck Evans, the projected starting
fullback, may miss the season after tearing his left triceps on
Aug. 5.

Still, the Ravens believe they have enough depth at the skill
positions to overcome these setbacks. Priest Holmes averaged 5.7
yards a carry on 89 rushing attempts last season, and to replace
Evans, Baltimore signed free agent Sam Gash, the AFC Pro Bowl
starter at fullback the last two seasons while playing for the
Bills. The Ravens also believe that their productivity will
improve as they become more comfortable in Billick's aggressive
system. In 1999, Billick's first season in Baltimore, the Ravens
averaged only 13.6 points in limping to a 2-5 start. Then, over
their last nine games, they scored 25.4 points a game, running up
more than 30 points on five occasions, and won six times.

The key to the surge in the second half of the season was the
maturation of quarterback Tony Banks. After arriving from the
Rams in an April 1999 trade with a surprisingly cocky attitude
for a guy who had little to show for his first three NFL seasons,
Banks immediately got himself in Billick's doghouse by suggesting
that the coach was being too critical of his play. He was the
third-string signal-caller on opening day, behind Scott
Mitchell--whom Banks had predicted he'd beat out in the first week
of camp--and Stoney Case. After being put on the inactive list for
the first two games, Banks says he told Billick "that he was
going to need me to win football games. It was a bold statement,
but it worked out."

After Mitchell and Case faltered, Banks started the final 10
games and finished the season with an 81.2 rating, 17 touchdown
passes and only eight interceptions, all career bests. He also
learned how to prepare better for games and adjusted to Billick's
no-nonsense style. "The tension between us has been overplayed,"
Billick says. "Tony had always been coached with the big, warm,
fuzzy arm that said everything you do is all right because you're
young. But he reached the point where I had to draw the line in
the sand and tell him that if he wasn't getting it done, I was
going to make sure he knew that. It took him a while to
understand that, but now he does. In fact, he's told me to keep
doing it."

Billick shouldn't have to worry about what's happening on the
other side of the ball. Baltimore's defense ranked second in the
league last year and didn't allow a runner to rush for 100 yards
in a game. The unit returns virtually intact.

"We've had to be more cautious on defense in the past because we
were behind a lot," says Pro Bowl defensive end Michael McCrary.
"I'm tired of playing when we're down and the opposing team is
trying to run out the clock. Now it's time for the other teams to
try coming from behind and throwing those long balls, so we can
let our defense loose."

The Ravens believe that their time is now. Many of their younger
players, such as left tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebackers Ray
Lewis and Peter Boulware, have matured into stars, and with
leadership from veterans like Sharpe and free safety Rod Woodson,
Billick is convinced Baltimore has the right mix of talent and
experience. "We've set these expectations from the minute last
season ended," he says. "Now we plan on living up to them."

--J.C.

COLOR PHOTO: ROB BROWN/SPORTPICS BUILDING BLOCK The Ravens love to lean on Ogden (75), a three-time Pro Bowl starter who is just coming into his prime. COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 at Pittsburgh
10 JACKSONVILLE
17 at Miami
24 CINCINNATI

Oct. 1 at Cleveland
8 at Jacksonville
15 at Washington
22 TENNESSEE
29 PITTSBURGH

Nov. 5 at Cincinnati
12 at Tennessee
19 DALLAS
26 CLEVELAND

Dec. 3 Open date
10 SAN DIEGO
17 at Arizona
24 N.Y. JETS

FAST FACTS

1999 Record 8-8 (3rd in AFC Central)

NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 16/25/24; defense 2/6/2

2000 Schedule strength
NFL rank: 18
Opponents' 1999 winning percentage: .496
Games against playoff teams: 7

PLAYER TO WATCH

Once outside linebacker Jamie Sharper realized that talent alone
wouldn't make him an NFL star, he started performing like one.
Sharper had 95 tackles last season, showing why the Ravens had
made him a second-round pick in 1997. "Jamie used to think he
could get to Sunday and then turn it up the notch," says
defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, "but everyone turns it up a
notch on Sunday, so you had better make sure you're taking care
of things during the week." One person who helped Sharper grow up
is linebackers coach Jack Del Rio. He schooled Sharper on reading
keys and helped him worry less about making mistakes.

PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1999 STATISTICS

Coach: Brian Billick
Second season with Ravens (8-8 in NFL)

Offensive Backs PVR*

QB Tony Banks 81 320 att. 169 comp. 52.8% 2,136 yds.
17 TDs 8 int. 81.2 rtg.

RB Jamal Lewis (R)[1]72 182 att. 816 yds. 4.5 avg. 15 rec.
193 yds. 12.9 avg. 8 TDs

RB Priest Holmes 187 89 att. 506 yds. 5.7 avg. 13 rec.
104 yds. 8.0 avg. 2 TDs

FB Sam Gash[1] 308 0 att. 0 yds. no avg. 20 rec.
163 yds. 8.2 avg. 2 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

[PVR*]

WR Qadry Ismail 84 68 rec. 1,105 yds. 6 TDs
WR Travis Taylor (R)[1]130 34 rec. 463 yds. 6 TDs
WR Patrick Johnson 167 29 rec. 526 yds. 3 TDs
TE Shannon Sharpe[1] 54 23 rec. 224 yds. 0 TDs
K Matt Stover 139 32/32 XPs 28/33 FGs 116 pts.
PR Jermaine Lewis 209 57 ret. 7.9 avg. 0 TDs
KR Corey Harris 331 38 ret. 22.2 avg. 0 TDs

LT Jonathan Ogden 6'8" 340 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Edwin Mulitalo 6'3" 340 lbs. 10 games 8 starts
C Jeff Mitchell 6'4" 300 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Mike Flynn 6'3" 300 lbs. 12 games 0 starts
RT Harry Swayne 6'5" 300 lbs. 6 games 6 starts

Defense

LE Michael McCrary 58 tackles 11 1/2 sacks
LT Sam Adams[1] 38 tackles 1 sack
RT Lional Dalton 16 tackles 1 sack
RE Rob Burnett 54 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
OLB Peter Boulware 37 tackles 10 sacks
MLB Ray Lewis 167 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
OLB Jamie Sharper 95 tackles 4 sacks
CB Chris McAlister 47 tackles 5 int.
SS Kim Herring 66 tackles 0 int.
FS Rod Woodson 66 tackles 7 int.
CB Duane Starks 42 tackles 5 int.
P Kyle Richardson 103 punts 42.3 avg.

[1] New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)

THE BOOK an opposing team's scout sizes up the Ravens

"Defensively, they have stout players in the line, and they have
a lot of speed behind their front four. All three of the
linebackers have Pro Bowl ability, and the corners are talented
enough that they can be left on an island. They're tough against
the run, and even if you catch them in a blitz, their
linebackers are quick enough to recover. Look at Ray
Lewis--nobody gets to the ball like he does....Offensively, they
have a good system to create big plays. Brian Billick doesn't
want to grind it out, so he tries to spread the field and make
big guys cover little guys in space....Tony Banks has a lot to
prove. He has a nice arm, a smooth delivery and a lot of
athleticism, but he has to start making the right
decisions....Jamal Lewis is like [the Saints'] Ricky Williams,
except with more quickness and speed. He and [wideout] Travis
Taylor were two of the most explosive players in college last
season....Shannon Sharpe will help the intermediate passing
game, and the offensive line is solid....I don't see many holes.
They'll be tough to handle."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)