Ravens teammates and coaches said they will support Bam Morris, but few were surprised by his latest actions and the four-game suspension handed down by the NFL to the star running back yesterday for violating the league's policy on substance and alcohol abuse.
The league announced yesterday that Morris' suspension begins in the first week leading into the regular season, and he would be permitted to return on Sept. 22 and play against the San Diego Chargers for game No. 5 six days later.
This is the second suspension for Morris. The league suspended him after a drug-related violation of the law (possession of 6 pounds of marijuana) in the spring of 1996. Morris failed a urine test earlier this year, then received a suspension after an appeal to the league was denied in March.
"No, I can't say I'm really surprised," said Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde. "But I'm disappointed and the team has been let down. During the off-season, there was a lot of talk about having him around for a full season from Game 1. Now this.
"I love Bam, he is a good guy to have in the locker room, but until he shows otherwise, you can't count on him. Until he returns, I won't count on him. If there is a problem, he needs to address it. He has to realize the things he does reflects on his team, family and self. If he hears or sees the comments people say about him, I hope he uses them as a motivating force, not as a deterrent."
The Ravens had counted on the 6-foot, 240-pound Morris to be the feature back in the team's one-back set formation. Morris, signed by the team last Sept. 22 to a two-year contract worth $1.8 million, rushed for 618 yards in the team's last seven games, second only to Barry Sanders' 756 yards for the Detroit Lions during the same time period.
Besides the suspension and appeal in March, the Ravens saw another warning light from Morris in June when he reported to mini-camp nearly 25 pounds overweight.
Some of the Ravens never saw a consistent pattern of behavior or desire that eased their concern about Morris.
"I don't think it was a shock," said Ravens kicker Matt Stover. "It's not like Vinny Testaverde got busted. That would be a shock."
"You're always wondering," said Al Lavan, the Ravens' running backs coach. "He has to show you he is taking the right steps in his preparation, and he has to do it over a long period of time. Until that happens, you're always holding your breath, wishing, hoping, cajoling. You're never lulled to sleep thinking that it's going to change unless you absolutely see a change over a long period of time."
Ravens veteran running back Earnest Byner, 34, who will replace Morris as the feature back, agreed with Lavan. Byner is usually the role model for every young running back the Ravens sign.
"Bam knows he let us down. He has to learn from this. He has to grow up as an individual," said Byner. "We have to let Bam know that we care about him, but respect has to be earned. We want him to be the man that I've been throughout my career, as far as being counted on on the field. People don't just give you that.
"He has the capabilities to be a player we can count on. Personally, he has to make that commitment," he said.
Stover said: "Not one person is going to make or break this team, but I want him on this team."
Morris worked out with the team yesterday amid one of the largest spectator and media turnouts at the Western Maryland College training camp this summer.
Morris apologized to his teammates Tuesday night, and then met with the media yesterday.
"First of all I want to start and say that I'm sorry for my behavior with the team," said Morris. "I talked to Mr. [Art] Modell, Ozzie [Newsome] and coach [Ted] Marchibroda. They're behind me and it was a bad mistake on my part. I let my teammates down. I let my mom down. I left my wife down. I let everybody down. I let the fans down.
"I'm sorry from the deepest. I'm still out here working hard and I know the four weeks that I'm going to be gone, I'm still going to be with team at heart. But I've just got to go home to Texas and continue to work out and come back in shape like I am now and deal with it like that."
Morris said he wasn't suspended for alcohol or drug use, and wouldn't elaborate. But Ravens owner Modell strongly suggested it was alcohol related as previously reported.
Modell said Morris would fly home to Texas when his suspension begins, and he would allow Morris to return only if he met certain requirements.
"I like Bam personally, but he needs direction, self discipline obviously," said Modell. "There is still great hope for him this year, but before he returns he has to be clear of mind, clear of body and in proper condition. We will not waste two months getting him into proper shape."
Both Modell and Marchibroda said they were not concerned about the fallout from Morris' suspension. Modell said the team did not make an announcement about Morris' suspension because it had to come from the league.
"The suspensions are for regular-season games and it would have been announced the week before the season opened, that's policy," said Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the league. "We only made the announcement because it had become known."
Modell said: "Bam's suspension certainly isn't a positive, but our organization and players are more concerned with Bam the human being than Bam the player."
Ravens players seemed to experience the full gamut of emotions yesterday. But there seemed to be an honest concern for Morris' well being and a consensus that his first step is to get over any period of denial.
One player who plans to meet with Morris is Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster. Webster has violated the league's substance and alcohol abuse policy three times, and was allowed to join the team this season after a one-year suspension.
Players and coaches have noticed a major difference in Webster.
"You have to learn and listen from this," said Webster. "The best way is just to follow directions. It's easier said than done, but it can be accomplished. This is a good time for a person to learn about himself.
"You have to learn about what you're doing now and what you're missing. I've done it. I owe it to him to get in my two cents."
Ravens roll call
Highlights: Has started 64 consecutive games entering this season and has totaled 537 tackles over that span. Was Cleveland's second-leading tackler in 1995 with 143. Was a vital part of the Cleveland defense in 1994 that allowed just 13 touchdowns. Has two fumble recoveries for touchdowns, including a 73-yarder in 1992 against Houston that was the second longest in Browns' history.
Favorite food: Chicken
Favorite music: R&B;
Favorite movie star: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Most memorable game: Beating Dallas, 19-14, in 1994, as Browns advanced to the playoffs.
Since Bam Morris was suspended for four games a year ago, the NFL has suspended players for four games, five games, six games and the entire season for violations of the league's substance-abuse policy:
Date .. .. .. ..Player, team .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Length of suspension
July 15, 1996 ..Bam Morris, Steelers .. .. .. .. .four games
July 22, 1996 ..Roosevelt Potts, Colts .. .. .. ..four games
July 24, 1996 ..Michael Irvin, Cowboys .. .. .. ..five games
Aug. 9, 1996.. .Shane Carver, Cowboys .. .. .. .. six games
Aug. 20, 1996 ..Potts .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .extended to one year
Aug. 21, 1996...Larry Webster, Ravens .. .. .. ...one year
Sept. 4, 1996 ..Darren Mickell, Saints .. .. .. ..four games
Sept. 7, 1996 ..Jesse James, Rams .. .. .. .. ....four games
Oct. 30, 1996 ..Curtis Whitley, Panthers .. .. ...four games
Dec. 3, 1996.. .Leon Lett, Cowboys .. .. .. .. ...one year
July 12, 1997 ..Shawn King, Panthers .. .. .. .. .six games
July 19, 1997 ..Kendrick Benton, Oilers .. .. .. .one year
Aug. 6, 1997.. .Bam Morris, Ravens .. .. .. .. ...four games
Pub Date: 8/07/97