Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary isn't worried about Jacksonville's Tony Boselli or any of the other left tackles he might face this season.
His most dangerous opponent is Boss, his 150-pound Rottweiler puppy.
It was Boss who caused McCrary to injure his left knee. And it's Boss who keeps attacking the injured area like an NFL chop blocker.
Man's best friend?
Not this dog.
"He's bumped into it three times already," McCrary lamented yesterday. "He's so big, he doesn't realize what he's doing. He's big and uncoordinated. I had to punch him in his ribs the other day.
"I don't know what he's doing. Maybe he's trying to hurt me so I'll spend more time at home with him. I'll have to hit him in his knees, let him see how it feels, so he can't play. I should put him in a cast for a while."
The animal activists can relax -- McCrary was just kidding. But thanks to Boss, he may not play in Sunday's season opener against Jacksonville. Thanks to Boss, the Ravens' pass rush may not be all it can be.
That's right, the season's first scapegoat is a dog.
George Steinbrenner used to be the most feared Boss in Baltimore.
"I can't be mad at him," McCrary explained. "He doesn't know better. It was my fault. He didn't pull me. I was running after him going down the steps, and hyper-extended it. Then he wants to lick me like it's all right."
The injury occurred in early July, but McCrary thought the problem had been resolved by the time the training camp started. Then the swelling started, followed by intense pain. On Aug. 7, McCrary underwent arthroscopic surgery.
The Ravens need the fifth-year veteran Sunday, need him to chase Mark Brunell's replacement, Rob Johnson, who finished the preseason with the highest quarterback rating in the NFL.
McCrary almost certainly will be ready for Week 2, but he had three sacks against Jacksonville last season while playing for the Seattle Seahawks.
Two of those sacks came against Boselli, a Pro Bowl left tackle. At least that's how McCrary remembers it. He played the second half with a mild concussion.
"He certainly matches up better than anybody we had against Boselli a year ago," Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "We'd like to get that matchup."
"I don't know," McCrary said. "It's up to the doctors, whatever they say."
McCrary underwent the most difficult test of his rehabilitation yesterday, changing directions, hitting blocking dummies, pushing back trainer Bill Tessendorf.
He looked agile, looked good.
"I felt it, though," McCrary said. "I felt little tweaks in there."
The question now is how his knee will respond. He could practice tomorrow if it gives him no trouble. Or his Ravens debut might be postponed until the following week against Cincinnati.
Coach Ted Marchibroda said that it will be a game-day decision. If McCrary can't play, third-year defensive end Mike Frederick will start in his place.
"He would help, there's no question," Marchibroda said of McCrary, who tied for the AFC lead with 13 1/2 sacks last season. "He wouldn't play the entire game. But if he can just spell, it would help."
McCrary, Rob Burnett, Peter Boulware, even Jamie Sharper -- those are four more legitimate pass rushers than the Ravens had most of last season, when Burnett was injured, McCrary was in Seattle and Boulware and Sharper were in college.
Still, this has been a confusing, frustrating time for McCrary. This is his first major injury. The Ravens' medical staff doesn't know him. Heck, when it comes to rehabilitation, McCrary doesn't even know himself.
"It's hard," he said. "I don't know if I'm hurting myself when I'm running. I don't know what kind of pain to be looking for -- hurting pain or rehab pain.
"Usually, I'm ready to go for the first game. Now I haven't done anything. I'm trying to squeeze four weeks of preseason into four hours, over two days.
"I'm trying to just look at the positive side -- maybe my legs will be fresher. I don't try to look at the negative part. Then I'd really be messed up in the head."
And if he can't play?
"It'll be upsetting," McCrary said. "I want to play. I definitely need to play. But you have to do what you have to do."
"I think I'm just going to sit in the crowd during the game, then sneak up when Jacksonville starts passing and jump in there," he said.
The Ravens, he joked, have their own plan.
"They said they might just play me at tight end," McCrary said. "They said they're going to make me earn my money."
Oh, the Ravens still expect a significant return on the three-year, $6 million contract they awarded McCrary. It just may not come Sunday.
"I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready," McCrary said. "Those guys are having fun out there. I can't let them go into the season having fun without me."
If it happens, blame Boss -- the dog who put his master on a leash.
Pub Date: 8/26/97