He played surprisingly well Sunday, heard the same nagging questions Monday.
Can't make big plays.
Can't handle the workload.
Can't last as the Ravens' starting tight end.
"I don't think that comes from anyone on the staff," Brian Kinchen said. "I know the guys that coach me believe in me."
You listen to him, you sense his commitment, you recognize that his entire career has been an exercise in mind over matter.
You almost don't want to tell him what coach Ted Marchibroda said:
"He really had a fine ballgame. I don't think we could ask for anything more out of our tight end. The problem we run into with Kinchen, he's on an awful lot of special teams. We're concerned we'll wear him down a little bit.
"I hope, maybe I don't know myself, whether Kinchen can go downfield and make a big play for us. We feel we don't have that in our tight ends at this particular time. I hope I'm wrong about Kinchen."
Does that sound like a coach who believes in his player?
No, and Kinchen's response is just what you'd expect from a former 12th-round pick in his ninth NFL season.
Defensive. And defiant.
"He's not watching the same tape I'm watching," Kinchen said calmly. "I watched the fourth quarter of our game. I was beating men downfield. I know what I see. Everyone in the room saw it. The coaches saw it. Vinny [Testaverde] saw it. I can show you the tape."
It wouldn't matter.
Kinchen sees one thing. The Ravens see another.
Kinchen sees a player with terrific hands, excellent blocking technique and unmatched desire.
The Ravens see a player who can't beat linebackers one-on-one, can't stretch defenses downfield, can't prevent opponents from double-covering Michael Jackson.
Neither perception is wrong.
It's just that the Ravens see limitations, where Kinchen does not.
Can not. Will not.
Kinchen, 31, has to believe in himself, because no one else does.
"I was drafted in the 12th round, and it's going to stick with me from here to eternity," he said. "Most guys in the league are first-, second- and third-round guys making a ton of money. Everyone loves 'em. But there are not a lot of experts who can actually look at a game and see what's going on.
"So, you're labeled."
What else can he think? He caught four passes for 57 yards Sunday, and each was good for a first down. Still, the Ravens remain interested in signing Johnny Mitchell or Eric Green.
Familiar ghosts, for Brian Kinchen.
"They'd have to beat me out," he said, striking his usual pose. "These guys have been out of work. They're out of work for a reason. People say it's their salaries, [teams] can't afford them. I choose to look at it the other way -- [teams] may not want them."
In fact, his own team wants them. Harold Bishop barely played in the 19-14 victory over Oakland. Frank Hartley is out at least two more weeks after undergoing knee surgery.
Where is the big, rugged, play-making tight end?
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Kinchen is useful as a long snapper and special teams player, and he'll catch anything thrown to him. But he's considered too small to block effectively, and too slow to make big plays.
Kinchen has heard it all before.
And he bristles at each criticism.
Can't make big plays.
"What is that?" he asked. "You either win a game, or you lose a game. What's done in between is just a matter of doing your job.
"I can only do what's asked of me. If they choose not to ask, that's their prerogative. But I don't think there's anything they can ask me to do that I won't be able to."
He did it Sunday, didn't he?
"I could have swore a coach told me that one of the passes I caught was a big play," Kinchen said.
Can't handle the workload.
"Yeah, it's going to wear you down," Kinchen said. "But it's only gonna do it if you let it. Granted, it's a long season, and a lot of work. But I've done it before. I'll continue to do it as long as they let me."
Won't he get tired?
"We're human beings," Kinchen conceded. "It's normal that that is going to happen. But you can't let it. It doesn't mean you feel as good. But it doesn't mean you can't perform as good, either."
Can't last as the starting tight end.
"Anyone who wants to put me in a category, fine," Kinchen said. "I challenge them to put one guy in front of me I can't beat. I've watched the tapes. I've seen the first-rounders, the guys being paid all that money. I don't see it. If they see it, they've got a warped view of reality.
"If I'm put on an even scale with anybody, they're not going to outplay me. That's the problem I've had -- I'm never put on an equal scale. I've had to battle. That's made me the player I am now."
An NFL player.
A player who practices hard, plays harder and perseveres.
You root for Brian Kinchen.
And you think, if only he could will it, if only he could accomplish what others wanted, if only he could make the ghosts disappear.
Pub Date: 9/04/96