If the Baltimore Football Club's second-year defense is a work in progress, then the early summer reviews are nothing less than smashing.
Witness the tape of the three Ottawa quarterbacks who were nearly trampled by Baltimore's relentless pass rush in Saturday's exhibition opener.
Coach Don Matthews, a connoisseur of fine defense, called it a jail break. Rush end Elfrid Payton, a noted sack-master, called it a mismatch.
By any name, Baltimore's nine-sack, two-interception performance served as a warning for the rest of the Canadian Football League. The league's best defense down the stretch in 1994 figures to be even better in 1995.
"That confirmed our defense has a chance to be special," Matthews said of the 45-11 demolition of the Rough Riders. "One of our goals is to be the most dominating defense in the league."
Baltimore was well on its way to that goal last season, when it surrendered a total of four touchdowns in the final five games, including just two in the postseason.
To create a better pass rush this year, Matthews returned rush end O. J. Brigance to linebacker and moved Payton to Brigance's weak-side end. That means Brigance can line up almost anywhere along the defensive front as a fifth pass rusher, and Payton usually will be single-teamed.
"I'll get more one-on-ones with the tackle, and more times than not I'll win the battle," said Payton, who had three sacks tTC Saturday. "We have a chance to put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks and be really intense. With [tackles] Jearld [Baylis] and Pres [Robert Presbury] pushing up the middle, there will be a lot of sacks going on."
The critical move was putting Brigance back at linebacker, where he amassed 20 sacks two years ago for the B.C. Lions.
"O. J. at backer definitely helps our defensive front," said defensive line coach Marty Long, "but the major question is who will be the strong-side end."
Grant Carter and Jock Jones played well against Ottawa, and Greg Tucker, acquired in the Las Vegas dispersal draft, will get his shot in Saturday's exhibition against the Birmingham Barracudas.
"If we get someone established on the strong side, I think we'll be in the quarterback's lap a lot," Brigance said.
Ottawa countered the pass rush by going to a three-step drop and throw. Incredibly, the damage could have been worse. Long said he counted four sacks his defenders missed, or the total would have been 13. By comparison, Baltimore had 28 sacks in 18 regular-season games last year. Sacks, however, aren't the most important measuring stick for Baltimore's new defense.
"I want sacks and those other things, too," Matthews said. "But I want most to get the ball back for the offense. That's how the offense will get good."
NOTES: Matthews trimmed his roster to 53 yesterday when he traded quarterback Len Williams to Calgary for future considerations and released running back Willie Latta of Winston-Salem. Williams' departure gives Shawn Jones the backup job behind Tracy Ham and secures Dan Crowley's spot as third quarterback. "I've had three weeks of hard work, and I'm thrilled to be on the team," said Crowley (Towson State). "My job is to run the scout team and help the defense." . . . To enhance his chances of making the team, rookie running back Chris Wright will get a shot as a backup receiver and special-teamer. Matthews said, however, that Wright will work at tailback against Birmingham. . . . Matthews said he hopes to add receivers Mark Orlando (Towson State) and Tim McNair (Alcorn State and brother of quarterback Steve) to the practice roster after final cuts next week.