||AFC CENTRAL NEWS
BALTIMORE RAVENS TEAM PREVIEW
By Rachael Brandon, NFL.com
Tight ends Shannon Sharpe and Ben Coates are arguably Baltimore's biggest
offseason acquisitions, coming over from the Denver Broncos and the New
England Patriots, respectively. The two figure to come up big for
quarterback Tony Banks, particularly in clutch situations.
Sharpe has had three 1,000-yard receiving seasons, more than any other
tight end in history (including Ravens vice president and Hall of Famer
Ozzie Newsome). Coates is a reliable veteran who has started at least 14
games each of the past five seasons for the Patriots, but will serve as a
backup to Sharpe this season.
"I'm intrigued with the possibility of having Ben and Shannon on the field
at the same time," Ravens head coach Brian Billick said. "Shannon is the
starter, but Ben can spell Shannon at times, plus winning teams have
quality depth. Ben is of the highest quality."
NFL INSIDER POWER RATINGS
Ratings based on analysis of 1999 team and individual statistics,
offseason personnel moves and feedback from respected experts (from NFL
Insider's Season Preview issue) Rushing offense: 8.5 Passing offense: 9.5
Rushing defense: 9.4 Passing defense: 9.4 Special teams: 8.0 Coaching: 7.9
Intangibles: 8.3 TOTAL: 61.0 Scale of 1-10; Perfect score=70
ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL...
Jermaine Lewis went to the Pro Bowl in 1998, but started only six games
last year, catching only 25 passes for 281 yards. Some of that, however,
can be credited to Qadry Ismail's emergence as a 1,000-yard receiver. But
Lewis has shown signs of returning to his 1998 form in practice this
season, just not in games. Having rookie Travis Taylor competing with him
for a starting slot should motivate him plenty.
The Ravens spent their two first-round draft picks on running back Jamal
Lewis and wide receiver Travis Taylor. Though Lewis dislocated his elbow
during a preseason meeting with the Washington Redskins and Taylor missed
the first part of camp holding out, both should help Baltimore
At running back, Priest Holmes is currently No. 1 on the depth chart, but
Lewis displayed speed and skillful hands during minicamps and he figures
to split time, at least in the early going. It might be slightly tougher
for Taylor to make his mark since Sharpe will be getting so many
opportunities, but the former Florida star has the potential to become the
Anthony Mitchell, a member of the practice squad in 1999, is No. 2 behind
Rod Woodson on the depth chart at free safety. He finished his collegiate
career at Tuskegee (Ala.) University with 251 tackles, four interceptions,
nine sacks, eight forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries.
RAVENS AT A GLANCE
Head coach: Brian Billick (second year with Baltimore) 1999 record: 8-8
(third in AFC Central) 1999 rankings: Offense - 24th overall (298.6
yards/game), 16th run (109.6), 25th pass (189) Defense - 2nd overall
(263.9 yards/game), 2nd run (76.9), 6th pass (186.9)
KEY COMINGS DT Sam Adams (Seahawks) CB Robert Bailey (Lions) OL Orlando
Bobo (Browns) TE Ben Coates (Patriots) QB Trent Dilfer (Buccaneers) FB Sam
Gash (Bills) TE Shannon Sharpe (Broncos) LB Dennis Stallings (Titans)
KEY GOINGS OL James Atkins (Lions) G Jeff Blackshear (Chiefs) QB Stoney
Case (Lions) CB DeRon Jenkins (Chargers) OL Everett Lindsay (Browns) QB
Scott Mitchell (Bengals) S Stevon Moore RB Errict Rhett (Browns) DE
Fernando Smith (Vikings)
TOP DRAFT CHOICES RB Jamal Lewis (1st round) WR Travis Taylor (1) QB Chris
Chris McAlister had a good season last year - 12 starts, five
interceptions for 28 yards and 47 tackles. This year, however, McAlister
has shown more confidence in his play. In fact, he had no returns for a
touchdown last season, but he led the Ravens to a 10-0 preseason win over
the Jets on Aug. 12 with a 33-yard interception return.
The Ravens were known for their slow starts last season. In all but three
games, their first drive ended in a punt or an interception. ... On
offense, the Ravens had six games in which an individual rushed for 100
yards or more. On defense, the most yards they gave up was 74, by Corey
Dillon. ... Banks led the Ravens to victories in five of their last seven
games last season.
AFC Central champion Jacksonville comes town on Sept. 10. The Jaguars beat
the Ravens twice last year, but both were close games: 6-3 and 30-23.
An air war will take place on Sept. 24 when the Bengals visit. Who will
fare better? Banks throwing to Taylor or Akili Smith throwing to rookie
wideout Peter Warrick?
TO BE ANSWERED...
How do you say Obafemi Ayanbadejo and why do you care?
Repeat after us: "oh-bah-FEH-mee eye-yon-bah-DAY-joe." He is the Ravens
new starting fullback, a former rookie free agent charged with the
responsibility of blocking for Lewis and Holmes.
Will there be enough balls to go around for the tight ends and receivers?
Well, if that's the Ravens' biggest problem, they should consider
themselves lucky. But it will be a challenge to keep Sharpe, Coates,
Ismail, Jermaine Lewis and Taylor all content.