The way veteran defensive end Rob Burnett sees it, the Ravens' defense simply needs to assume its form of two years ago. In 1994, the Cleveland Browns led the NFL in scoring defense, propelling them to an 11-5 record.
"The same core of that defense is still here, and there's no reason why we can't play like we did in 1994," Burnett said.
Actually, only four players who will start in tomorrow's regular-season opener against the Oakland Raiders started on that 1994 defense, and two of them form the bookends on the defensive line -- left end Burnett and fellow veteran Anthony Pleasant.
Burnett and Pleasant, each entering his seventh season, might be the NFL's most underrated tandem. They bring quickness, run-stopping toughness and pass-rushing ability to the field, and they spearhead the most experienced group on the roster. Tackles Tim Goad (nine-year veteran) Dan Footman (four) and James Jones (six) will get the bulk of the playing time inside.
Burnett, who has started 64 straight games dating to 1992, was tops among linemen last year with 85 tackles and 7 1/2 sacks. Pleasant, who had 79 tackles and a team-high eight sacks last season, has started 27 consecutive games dating to 1994.
"With Burnett and A. P. [Pleasant], it's been a normal and natural progression," said defensive line coach Jacob Burney. "The years, number of plays, different situations, they teach you a tremendous amount about football. They don't miss practices, they show up on Sunday. Young players look up at that. They're students of the game now."
Inside, Goad is still quick enough to blow through a gap, strong enough to take on most linemen and remains dependable against the run. Footman, who moved inside from end last year, is an outstanding athlete who is gaining more command of the inside with each week. He has been impressive as a pass rusher.
And the signing of Jones, originally drafted by the Browns in 1991 before he played last year with the Denver Broncos, bolsters the depth up front and takes some of the pressure off Mike Frederick and Rick Lyle, who have come on strong after missing training camp time with hamstring injuries.
"Goad gives up 35 or 40 pounds every week on the line. He's done it his whole career," Burney said. "Footman has so much mobility. The difference between now and the way he performed in the middle last season is night and day."
Strengths: Rob Burnett and Anthony Pleasant are steady and strong at the end positions.
Weaknesses: If one of them goes down with an injury, third-year player Rick Lyle or second-year man Elliott Fortune would be pressed into more service.
Key to success: Burnett and Pleasant need to keep their consecutive-game streaks going.
Pub Date: 8/31/96