Already forced to face the 1997 season without their starting center, the Ravens lost a backup at the same position yesterday when fifth-round draft pick Jeff Mitchell went down with a season-ending knee injury during the morning workout.
Mitchell suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee after a teammate rolled into the back of his legs during team drills.
Nearly three months ago, the Ravens lost starter Wally Williams for at least half the season when he ruptured an Achilles' tendon while working out at the team's Owings Mills facility.
The Ravens later installed veteran Quentin Neujahr as Williams' replacement and then listed Mitchell, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound rookie out of Florida, as Neujahr's backup.
"Looks like center is the [bad-luck] position this year, huh?" said coach Ted Marchibroda. "Last year, it was the defensive line. When you have injuries in training camp, it always seems like they hit one position.
"We thought Jeff was improving. He became a better player once he put the pads on. We had high expectations for him, and still do."
Mitchell's injury came only three days after the Ravens lost backup guard Sale Isaia for the year to the same type of knee injury.
"We hardly have any experienced backups left. It's just bad luck, one of the things that happens in camp," veteran offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said.
"We're doing a lot of hitting out there, but we can't think about getting hurt. We just have to go out and play."
Marchibroda said the contact that resulted in Mitchell's injury did not look severe. Mitchell went down during the last half-hour of the morning practice, and lay on the field for 10 minutes.
"My legs were pretty straight [when it happened]. They were tired," Mitchell said as he walked on crutches to a van that took him to Baltimore for the MRI exam that revealed the injury. "I've never had experience with this. I didn't feel or hear any distinctive pops, just kind of a general crunch."
The Ravens are now scrambling to replenish their offensive-line depth. Yesterday, they signed rookie center Matt Cravens (6-3, 280), just released by the Indianapolis Colts.
"I hate to see that kind of thing happen, but at the same time I have to take advantage of the opportunity," said Cravens.
"I'm still trying to learn what is going on, what is happening. It's a strange situation."
The Ravens also plan to look at two more recently released centers in Curtis Whitley (6-1, 295) and Cal Dixon (6-4, 302). Each is a six-year NFL veteran.
"We're going to put some serious attention into it now," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel.
"We'll go for the best player out there who can make us a better football team. There are players out there who have been out [of training camp] early. But when a player gets cut this early, you have to find out why."
Said offensive line coach Kirk Ferentz: "We just have to adjust, see what we can do. We're not in a position to take too many more body punches."
Pub Date: 7/23/97