Elvis Grbac knew he was stepping into an enviable but dicey
situation when he became the first man in NFL history to replace
a still-active incumbent Super Bowl-winning quarterback. But two
things made him feel secure during the first Ravens minicamp of
the off-season: Tony Siragusa's needle ("We won the Super Bowl
without you, so don't screw it up," the Goose told Grbac) and
coach Brian Billick's faith. When two downfield receivers were
covered on a third-down play during practice, Grbac threw to a
back in the flat and came up short of a first down. "Perfect!"
Billick hollered. Grbac realized then that Billick trusted him to
know when to take the safe and unproductive completion--and turn
things over to Baltimore's piranha of a defense to do its thing.
The Ravens won last year in spite of Trent Dilfer, and though
they marched through the playoffs unscathed, Billick knew that
Dilfer's popgun performance--he completed only 48% of his passes
in the playoffs and looked like Rick Ankiel in the Super
Bowl--would eventually cost Baltimore. Grbac threw for 4,169 yards
with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while completing 59.6% of
his passes for the otherwise toothless Chiefs last year. The
quarterback switch was a no-brainer.
Accuracy is vital to the precision attack that Billick runs, and
he thinks Grbac can once again be the 67% passer he was in three
seasons of spot duty with the 49ers early in his career. "The
difference between leading the league in passing and being
mediocre is microscopic," says Billick. "Teams throw about 500
passes a year. The difference between a 65 percent passer and a
55 percent passer is 50 completions. That's three a game. I think
Elvis can give us those three throws."
He'll have to. During a training-camp rushing drill on Aug. 8,
scrub defensive lineman Kelly Gregg fell across the left knee of
running back Jamal Lewis (1,364 yards as a rookie last year),
severing the left anterior cruciate ligament. Instant crisis:
Baltimore had to replace one of its three indispensable players
(the others are Grbac and Super Bowl MVP linebacker Ray Lewis),
and veteran running back Terry Allen isn't likely to take up much
of the slack. Jamal's mishap followed an injury to right tackle
Leon Searcy, who will be out until October with a torn left
triceps. Suddenly one of the 10 best running games in football
looks like one of the 10 worst.
Last year Lewis pulled the Baltimore offense out of an October
swoon. The Ravens won their final 11 games (including playoffs),
and Lewis averaged 107 yards over that span. Lewis's injury made
the Ravens, says Billick, "significantly more thankful that we
signed Elvis. This will change how we play offense, because we
wanted to build 10-, 14- and 17-point leads and then count on
Jamal to run out the clock. Now our five-yard runs might have to
become five-yard completions." With Lewis gone, the offense's two
new playmakers--Grbac and a rookie tight end with great hands,
Todd Heap--become much higher Fantasy Football draft choices. Look
for Grbac, a master of the fake, to make a living on play-action
passes, even with a mediocre running back behind him.
The question about Grbac is his leadership. When he invited a
select group of Kansas City players to a party at his house early
last season, some of the uninvited bristled. When he tried to
make amends by inviting everyone to another party at his home,
all but a handful of players stayed away. "The defense hated
Elvis," says a source close to the Chiefs, "and he didn't have
the personality to win them back. He's pretty much a loner."
In fairness, recent K.C. teams flunked chemistry class, and Grbac
should fit better with the we-are-family Ravens. Any defense that
keeps a lid on its anger when the offense goes a month without
scoring, as Baltimore's attack did last October, has the team
concept figured out.
Thirteen of the 14 players who logged the most minutes on the
Ravens' defense last year are back this season, so Baltimore
should win 17-14 games if the offense struggles. That's assuming,
of course, that the Ravens, who were unusually healthy last year,
stay that way. If so, Baltimore will continue to fly under
Football America's radar. And win. "I get the feeling that the
country's still trying to figure out who we are and where we came
from," says left tackle Jonathan Ogden. "We snuck up so fast. Are
we a one-year wonder? A fluke?"
If attendance in the training room stays low, the Ravens will be
playing January football. Of course, with Searcy and Jamal Lewis
entering sick bay in one bad August week, that's a very big
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN The Ravens hope Ray Lewis and the defense will spend less time on the field this year.
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN ADAMS
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Ravens Everyone in
"Everyone in football knows that the Ravens have to stay healthy
to repeat because they have no depth. Losing Leon Searcy and
especially Jamal Lewis drives home that point. How in the world
did a smart front office have no insurance for Lewis, with his
injury history in college at Tennessee?...Picking Elvis Grbac
over Trent Dilfer was like picking Barry Bonds over Troy
O'Leary....Todd Heap can't block his sister, but he's one of the
best receiving tight ends to come out of the draft in years....
The offensive line is just O.K. I'm concerned about the
inexperience of Mike Flynn at center....The defense has no
relief for its two outstanding run-stoppers, which is dangerous.
Tony Siragusa isn't exactly Jack LaLanne about staying in shape.
Neither is Sam Adams....Ray Lewis is a one-man gang, and Peter
Boulware came into his own last season, rushing the passer and
playing great sideline to sideline....Duane Starks and Chris
McAlister at corner won't get beat more than once a game for a
completion of any distance. McAlister is the game's next top
cornerback. Great cover player. He's been unnoticed with all
those stars in front of him....Corey Harris is pretty soft for a
safety, especially in a defense like the Ravens'. He's a
terrific athlete who doesn't know how to play the game very
well....One thing you can't predict with a Super Bowl team is
how it'll fall prey to distractions. Among NFL owners only Al
Davis gives his team more distractions than Art Modell."
Sept. 9 CHICAGO
17 MINNESOTA (Mon.)
23 at Cincinnati
30 at Denver
Oct. 7 TENNESSEE
14 at Green Bay
21 at Cleveland
Nov. 4 at Pittsburgh
12 at Tennessee (Mon.)
25 at Jacksonville
Dec. 2 INDIANAPOLIS
9 Open date
29 at Tampa Bay (Sat.)
2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 13 (tie)
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .500
Games against playoff teams: 6
with 2000 statistics
COACH: Brian Billick; third season with Baltimore (20-12 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 12-4 (second in AFC Central)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 5/22/16; defense 1/8/2
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Elvis Grbac[N] 34 547 att. 326 comp. 59.6% 4,169 yds.
28 TDs 14 int. 89.9 rtg.
RB Terry Allen[N] 68 46 att. 179 yds. 3.9 avg. 1 rec.
7 yds. 7.0 avg. 2 TDs
RB Jason Brookins 102 137 att. 696 yds. 5.1 avg. 21 rec.
[N] 284 yds. 13.5 avg. 5 TDs
FB Sam Gash 350 2 att. 2 yds. 1.0 avg. 6 rec.
30 yds. 5.0 avg. 1 TD
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Qadry Ismail 106 49 rec. 655 yds. 5 TDs
WR Brandon Stokley 189 11 rec. 184 yds. 2 TDs
WR Travis Taylor 211 28 rec. 276 yds. 3 TDs
TE Shannon Sharpe 70 67 rec. 810 yds. 5 TDs
K Matt Stover 126 30/30 XPs 35/39 FGs 135 pts.
PR Jermaine Lewis 221 36 ret. 16.1 avg. 2 TDs
KR Jermaine Lewis 221 1 ret. 23.0 avg. 0 TDs
LT Jonathan Ogden 6'8" 340 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
LG Kipp Vickers 6'2" 300 lbs. 11 games 2 starts
C Mike Flynn 6'3" 300 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Edwin Mulitalo 6'3" 340 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Sammy Williams 6'5" 318 lbs. 1 game 0 starts
LE Rob Burnett 48 tackles 10 1/2 sacks
LT Sam Adams 27 tackles 2 sacks
RT Tony Siragusa 27 tackles 0 sacks
RE Michael McCrary 43 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
OLB Peter Boulware 38 tackles 7 sacks
MLB Ray Lewis 137 tackles 3 sacks
OLB Jamie Sharper 71 tackles 1 int.
CB Duane Starks 49 tackles 6 int.
SS Corey Harris 49 tackles 2 int.
FS Rod Woodson 75 tackles 4 int.
CB Chris McAlister 41 tackles 4 int.
P Kyle Richardson 86 punts 40.2 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
1999 college statistics
"Siragusa isn't exactly Jack LaLanne about staying in shape.
Neither is Adams."