The Ravens' Ray Ethridge got the word just minutes before kickoff last night at Memorial Stadium.
Part of the news was expected. Wide receiver Michael Jackson, who had sat out practice for most of the week with a slight knee sprain, would not start against the Green Bay Packers. The other news came as a bit of a surprise.
Ethridge would be the starter in Jackson's place.
Then, Ethridge went out and played like a starter. He caught five passes for 68 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown from backup quarterback Eric Zeier with 1: 06 left that gave the Ravens a 15-14 lead they failed to hold.
The question is, did Ethridge do enough to hold onto his first NFL roster spot?
The Ravens must cut their roster to 60 by Tuesday afternoon, and on a team crowded with proven veterans at the receiver position, there might not be room for Ethridge, who is making his third run at an NFL job. At 27, he has yet to play a regular-season down in the league.
"I'm just going out there, playing my hardest, and trying to make it [the roster decision] hard on them," Ethridge said. "I don't know how it might come out. It's a big decision. I want to be a Raven. Tonight, I just did what I've been doing in practice. I'm just trying to be consistent from week to week."
After playing a fine second half last week against the New York Giants, when he returned a punt for a touchdown, Ethridge was consistent last night.
In the first quarter, he teamed up with quarterback Vinny Testaverde twice for first-down catches in third-down situations. His first catch went for 16 yards and got the Ravens to the Green Bay 32 before the Ravens' opening drive stalled.
"I got the jitters out and just relaxed after that. It's hard to convert on third down in the NFL, preseason or not," Ethridge said. "I think it gave Vinny confidence in me, because he came back to me a second time."
Testaverde knows plenty about Ethridge. He threw to him throughout training camp last year, and they have worked together this summer. Last week, with Jackson and Calvin Williams -- who each played sparingly last night -- sitting out, Ethridge worked plenty with the first receiving group.
"Ray's got great ability. He's got the talent, the speed, great hands," Testaverde said. "Tonight, he showed some people he can play in this league. Hopefully, he'll be with us."
Ethridge came back strong in the second half working with Zeier. On the Ravens' second possession, Ethridge made a diving catch over the middle for 24 yards. That set up Zeier's 2-yard touchdown pass to rookie James Roe, who appears to be battling Ethridge for the final receiver spot on the roster.
That touchdown cut the score to 14-9, and Ethridge took care of the next score. On fourth-and-11 from the Green Bay 12, Zeier called Ethridge's number. Ethridge, lined up wide left, sprinted into the end zone, cut inside to beat cornerback Carlos Yancy and caught a perfect strike from Zeier.
"We've got so many good receivers on this team that Ray gets overlooked," Zeier said.
Coach Ted Marchibroda noticed Ethridge, but his post-game comments did not exactly qualify as a ringing endorsement.
Asked whether Ethridge has proved he belongs, Marchibroda said: "It's a little hard to say. He took a big step forward today. He made a commitment today and he played with passion, and that's the way you have to play this game."
Pub Date: 8/18/96