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Baltimore Ravens Team Store Pressbox

By Rachael Brandon,

INTRODUCING... 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.

IMPACT NEWCOMERS... 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 significantly.

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 go-to guy.

DON'T OVERLOOK... 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 Redman (3)

BREAKING THROUGH... 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.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING... 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.

CAN'T MISS... 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.

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