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Ravens feed Green's NFL appetite


He was Exhibit A in Jimmy Johnson's indictment of Don Shula's final days in Miami.

"We had a guy miss 39 practices last year -- that's the equivalent of 13 weeks!" Johnson said. "That ain't happening this year."

Yes, Johnson actually had the Dolphins' training staff calculate the number of practices Eric Green missed before deciding to release him.

And now, the Ravens are getting a two-time Pro Bowl tight end intent on making a comeback, not just professionally, but also financially.

On Tuesday, Green proclaimed himself the "hungriest man in America" upon signing his free-agent contract.

And yesterday, the 6-foot-5, 280-pound tight end still sounded like he hadn't eaten in days.

"Just a year ago, I was paid like the No. 1 tight end in this league," Green said. "It's not like that now. And I take offense to it."

Green, 29, went from a six-year, $12 million contract with the Dolphins to a one-year, $432,000 deal with the Ravens.

In fact, he might even get less, because the incentives in his contract are based on the number of games he plays.

Thus, motivation won't be a problem.

Green's left knee is the only issue now.

He underwent arthroscopic surgery last May 2, flunked his physical with the Ravens and could be out 2 to 8 more weeks, trainer Bill Tessendorf said.

Why such uncertainty?

Because as hard as Green plans to work, no one knows how his knee will respond.

Only one thing seems sure:

He won't miss 39 practices again.

"I think there are different circumstances," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "The biggest thing is, he has something to prove."

So there Green was at the team's Owings Mills training complex yesterday, testing his knee in a running harness strapped to his waist.

The idea was to create resistance and stress on the knee, and Green performed the drills diligently while the Ravens practiced on an adjoining field.

Later, he lifted weights and worked out on an exercise bike, stair-climbing machine and sliding board, with Tessendorf and strength coach Jerry Simmons monitoring his progress.

"I love those guys already," Green said. "They're going to be an asset to my career."

Does that sound like a man who is lazy?

No, and Green insists he wasn't lazy last season, either.

The way he explained it, the missed practices occurred because he rushed back to the Dolphins' lineup nine days after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Oct. 16.

"It probably was a mistake on my part," Green said. "I don't think I gave myself a chance to properly heal.

"If you want to fault a guy for wanting to be out there with the guys he worked so hard with in training camp, blame him.

"I know I gave it my all. I'm paying for it now. But I'll bounce back."

The question is, will his knee?

Right now, it can't withstand the stress of blocking linebackers or making open-field cuts. And the Ravens don't want to rush him.

"Once we put him out there, we want him to stay out there," Tessendorf said.

Given all that, perhaps the Ravens should have signed Johnny Mitchell, a free-agent tight end who could have played immediately.

But team officials believe Green is a better blocker than Mitchell, and more mature. Big, mobile tight ends are so rare, they're willing to wait.

If Green returns at full strength, he'll help both the running and passing games. With most tight ends, you get one or the other.

They don't make 'em like John Mackey anymore.

Or Kellen Winslow, for that matter.

Tight ends are as important as ever -- look at Dallas without Jay Novacek, or Indianapolis with Ken Dilger.

But tight ends have been out of vogue in the run-and-shoot offense and the one-back, three-receiver sets.

The entire position needs a comeback.

Winslow, Ozzie Newsome and Todd Christensen combined for eight of the 10 1,000-yard tight-end seasons in the 1980s.

There have been only two such seasons in the '90s -- by Denver's Shannon Sharpe and New England's Ben Coates in 1994.

Where are all the tight ends?

"They're in Division II basketball doing this," said Newsome, the Ravens vice president of player personnel, breaking into an imaginary dribble.

The Ravens were so desperate for one in the 1995 draft, they traded down after the New York Jets took Kyle Brady.

They later sent a second-round pick to Tampa Bay for Harold Bishop, a player they figure to release when Green is healthy.

hTC Green is one of only 11 NFL tight ends with at least one season of 50 or more receptions. Keith Jackson is the only tight end with more touchdown receptions in the '90s.

Jimmy Johnson made an example of him.

The Ravens took a chance on him.

Eric Green can make his former coach's hair stand up, if he gives his new team a leg to stand on.

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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