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After three days of rookie minicamp, Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said he was pleased with the athleticism of this group, especially Tennessee running back Jay Graham, the team's third-round draft pick and the 64th player chosen overall.

Overall, all four rookie running backs -- Graham, Texas' Priest Holmes, fullbacks Steve Lee of Indiana and Kenyon Cotton of Southwest Louisiana -- were impressive, but Graham lighted up the practice field in the first 10 minutes of the opening practice Friday while returning kickoffs.

"It's hard to evaluate defensive guys, especially without equipment, but at this point, Graham was the most impressive player on offense," Marchibroda said.

Graham, 5 feet 11 and 215 pounds, rushed for 797 yards on 179 attempts last season. Because of his 4.48 speed in the 40-yard dash, the Ravens originally were looking to Graham as an outside runner or passing threat out of the backfield.

But he may have changed some minds when he blazed by on a few runs at camp.

"There are no limitations on calling plays when he is in there," said running backs coach Al Lavan. "He also catches the ball outside, which is a tremendous plus in this type of offense. He is the type of runner that is much faster than he looks. He goes faster beyond 30 and 40 yards.

"I'm interested in seeing him going into minicamp," Lavan said. "I'm real excited about him."

Graham had a reputation of being a fumbler at Tennessee, but Lavan said that can be corrected. Graham doesn't fumble after collisions, but may have a technical problem in holding the ball. The Ravens are working on his grip.

Besides the running backs, Marchibroda said he was impressed with linebackers Peter Boulware of Florida State, Jamie Sharper of Virginia and Tyrus McCloud of Louisville, as well as Carson-Newman offensive tackle Richard Howard (6-7, 350 pounds).

Linebackers Bernard Russ from West Virginia and Richard Alvarado of Jackson State also had some impressive moments.

"You have to be impressed with the way Ozzie Newsome [vice president of player personnel] organized the draft and made the selections," Marchibroda said. "We're pleased with the sessions, and we got a lot of work accomplished. We had about 90 percent participation from the veterans, and they showed them how we work and what we want done."

Fullback solution?

Fullback Steve Lee, a sixth-round draft choice, looks like the team's solution to its search for a blocking back to replace Carwell Gardner. At 6-1, 260 pounds, and with his large calves, Lee certainly looks the part.

In three seasons as a starter at Indiana, Lee barely touched the ball. In 33 games, he had 44 carries and 20 receptions. The Ravens believe he can be an effective receiver. But they are eager to see him clear the way for running backs like Graham and Bam Morris.

"I like to catch the ball once in a while to keep people honest, but I'm really a semi-guard," Lee said. "I'm just looking for someone to hit and put on his back."

Said Marchibroda: "I told Tess [trainer Bill Tessendorf] that he knows what it's like to be a tree surgeon when he works on those legs."

Testaverde at work

Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde had a Pro Bowl season last year, when he threw for 4,177 yards and 33 touchdowns, and he showed this past weekend that he is willing to work hard toward another outstanding season.

Testaverde, along with a number of other veterans such as guards Wally Williams and Jeff Blackshear, offensive tackle Orlando Brown, defensive linemen James Jones and Mike Frederick and safety Bennie Thompson, participated in the minicamp.

Testaverde delivered a speech to the rookies Friday night, and suggested that the remaining 10 percent of the veterans who didn't participate needed to step forward, even though it was not mandatory for veterans to attend the camp.

"This is my team. Why should I stay home?" Testaverde said. "I don't want anybody stepping forward for me. I have to make that step myself and be a leader so we can get better. We had some injuries last year that made it tough, but I don't like to lose.

"My intention wasn't to come in and learn about every guy. This was a time to work. We have a lot of talent from the draft. If some of the younger guys see me here, then maybe they want to get better. We need more guys to step up.

"I told the rookies to study their plays, practice hard and listen. Come to training camp in shape and ready to play. With four preseason games, 16 regular-season and the postseason, that's 24 games to play if you reach the Super Bowl. It's much different than college."

Professor Lewis

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis has gone from rookie to teacher in less than a year. The Ravens' coaching staff is expecting Lewis to tutor Boulware and Sharper.

Lewis said he likes his new role.

"Those two are good guys, willing to work and have great work ethics," Lewis said. "It's a different role this season, but one that is natural for me. It's one thing to be a vocal leader and teacher on the field, but at the same time, you have to exhibit the same qualities in the weight room and off the field.

"It's a challenge, but from what I've seen from these guys in the last few days, everything is going to be all right."

Boulware said: "There is a lot to learn. The biggest difference in the college and pro games is speed. Here, everybody is big and fast. It wasn't that way in college, especially with the linemen. Everybody in the NFL is an athlete. There are no days off."

A rookie again

One veteran who feels like a rookie is Michael McCrary, the free-agent defensive end signed during the off-season. He participated in the minicamp, trying to get as many repetitions as possible.

"The techniques here are much different than they were in Seattle," McCrary said. "We were more of a gap team in Seattle, so I'm just trying to break old habits, a lot of instilled techniques. The new system will come through repetitions. I'm tuning up, trying to get a feel for things."

Welcome to the big time

Shawn Ward felt like a small fish among sharks when he reported to his first minicamp.

A three-year starter at Towson State, Ward caught 17 touchdown passes and averaged 17.4 yards a catch in his career. He earned a minicamp invitation after impressing the Ravens with his speed and hands at a local college workout two weeks ago at the team's Owings Mills facility.

"When guys were introducing themselves on the first day, everybody said their name and school. I'm hearing Alabama, Florida State, Virginia, Miami. It was a little overwhelming," Ward said. "I was real nervous coming in, and it was hard at first, figuring out exactly what to do. We put in eight or nine plays each day. It was a good experience."

Ward (5-8, 175), who probably will return for the team's full, two-week minicamp in June after graduating from Towson State with a law enforcement degree, holds school records in the 100-yard dash (10.5) and 200 (22.4).

"I missed the Penn Relays this week, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and you have to take advantage of it," Ward said.

Pub Date: 4/28/97

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