Ravens rookie quarterback Jon Stark has yet to take a snap in a pro game or practice, and until the NFL announced two days ago that it was investigating whether he associated with gamblers in violation of league policy, Stark was basically an afterthought at the team's football complex.
Stark, who has been placed on administrative leave with pay while the league conducts its gambling probe, was a topic of conversation yesterday in the Ravens' locker room, where players struggled to find words to describe a teammate they barely know.
Since injuring his throwing shoulder at a rookie minicamp in April -- an injury that required surgery in May -- Stark has spent most of his time rehabilitating the shoulder at the team's Owings Mills headquarters. But the seventh-round draft pick is still something of a mystery man.
"He's been cool with me. We say hi and I ask him how his shoulder is feeling, but I don't know him much beyond that," said rookie cornerback DeRon Jenkins, whose locker is next to Stark's.
One player who asked not to be identified described Stark as "distant." Another said, "He comes in to do his work, but it's like he's not really here."
When he heard about Stark's suspension, coach Ted Marchibroda said he was caught by surprise. Then, he added, "Because of the fact that he wasn't going to play this year, I haven't spent much time getting to know the kid."
The league's policy on gambling, which is posted in every NFL locker room, lists "associating with gamblers or with gambling activities in a manner tending to bring discredit to the NFL" among the types of conduct that call for serious penalties.
The policy states further that "any such conduct may result in tTC severe penalties, up to and including a fine and/or suspension from the NFL for life."
Stark's agent, Chicago-based Rick Smith, said he could not comment on the league's investigation, since he knows nothing about the case.
"We just have to wait for the commissioner to conclude his investigation and tell us why he is doing it," Smith said. "Jon and I are both confused and in the dark on this."
When the Ravens made Stark their last pick of the 1996 draft, they envisioned a No. 3 quarterback to develop. But shortly after the team's first minicamp began, Stark complained about soreness in his right shoulder. Two weeks later, the Ravens paid for his shoulder surgery, then placed him on the physically unable-to-perform list upon signing him just before training camp in July. Free agent Scott Otis eventually won the No. 3 job.
A source said, regardless of the investigation's outcome, Stark's days here are numbered. But Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, said Stark remains very much in the Ravens' plans for 1997, pending the results of the probe. Newsome would like Stark to battle Otis for the No. 3 quarterback job in training camp next year.
"We've invested money in him, and we think it is well-invested," said Newsome. "We'd like to find out if he's good enough to beat out Scott Otis."
Stark made three collegiate stops. He originally attended Liberty, before transferring to Florida State, where he played for two seasons as a backup, before finishing at Trinity International, where he earned Division II All-America third-team honors. He was suspended at Liberty for reasons that Bob Leahy, his old positions coach, declined to discuss.
"[Stark] was a fabulous kid and a tremendous talent," Leahy said. "He had a misunderstanding here, and it escalated possibly to the point where he had to transfer."
NOTE: Ravens wide receiver Derrick Alexander, who caught seven passes for a league-high 198 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 31-17 victory over Pittsburgh, will be named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week today.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals
Site: Cinergy Field, Cincinnati
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Last meeting: Bengals beat Ravens, 24-21, at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 3
The line: Bengals by 3
Pub Date: 12/04/96