Injuries are at center of team's line problems Goeas succeeds Neujahr; fifth center in six months

The sight of center Quentin Neujahr hobbling on a sprained ankle reminds Ravens offensive line coach Kirk Ferentz of a disturbing trend in Baltimore. The Ravens can't seem to keep a center in the lineup for long.

After they lost veteran Steve Everitt through free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles in March, the Ravens confidently plugged in Wally Williams as his replacement. In late April, Williams ruptured his Achilles' tendon. Williams is on schedule to return next month.


In the meantime, rookie center Jeff Mitchell was lost with a torn anterior cruciate ligament early in training camp. Then, Neujahr, Williams' replacement, sprained an ankle against Cincinnati last week -- he did not practice yesterday and is doubtful for Sunday's game at the New York Giants -- leaving the position to veteran Leo Goeas, who moves from left guard.

"We're working with our fifth center in the last six months. As a coach, that's hard to deal with. The bottom line is you have to progress and move forward," Ferentz said. "We've decided not to call anyone a center around here anymore. We now have three guards and two tackles."


And a virtual revolving door on the line. Besides the dropping centers, the Ravens have lost reserve guard Sale Isaia (knee) for the season, and recent acquisition John Elmore, a center-guard, is doubtful for Sunday.

That leaves the Ravens with two backups in center-guard Spencer Folau and recently acquired tackle Bernard Dafney, who joined the team less than three weeks ago with guard Ben Cavil.

Cavil has been an especially pleasant surprise. He will start in Goeas' normal spot.

"It's disruptive, but there's nothing you can about it," Ferentz said. "You take what you have and you do what you can with it. Cavil and Dafney were two fine acquisitions. We got two players for a seventh-round draft pick. [Ravens pro personnel director] James Harris and Ozzie [Newsome, vice president of player personnel] did a great job getting them here."

Thanks for the help

Executing a game plan never hurts a team's chances to win football games. A little luck always helps.

Take the Ravens' 23-10 victory over the Bengals. Although the Ravens clearly outplayed Cincinnati, they also got an assist from Bengals kicker Doug Pelfrey, who entered the contest with the highest accuracy in league history among kickers who had made at least 100 field goals.

Pelfrey promptly missed three of four attempts at Memorial Stadium.


"One of the things I noticed last year is that everybody was making everything against us. That certainly didn't help us," coach Ted Marchibroda said.

Pelfrey's three misses equaled the number of errant field-goal attempts attempts against the Ravens in all of 1996. Opposing kickers went 28-for-31.

Hold the celebrations

Some of the veterans sent words of caution to their younger teammates yesterday. A victory against New York would mark the first road win and first two-game winning streak in team history.

Safety Bennie Thompson, observing a group of younger players laughing in the locker room between meetings, said, "Hey, we didn't win the Super Bowl last week. We only beat the Cincinnati Bengals."

Added quarterback Vinny Testaverde: "I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon. I'm not going overboard. We've only won one game. We don't need to get our heads stuck in the door. We've got to keep the blinders on and stay focused."


Ah, New York

Giants coach Jim Fassel has a keen understanding of New York football fans. He knows they aren't crazy about quarterback Dave Brown, which is fine by him.

And, after suffering a 40-13 thrashing at Jacksonville last week, Fassel was reminded of how tough life can be on the road.

On the fans: "They don't really boo. It's more of a loud, deep breath, if you will. We prepare for our silent snap count [typically to counter boisterous crowds on the road] at our own stadium, in case things aren't going well and the fans are getting on us."

On the fans' displeasure toward Brown: "I know the fans are down on him. But I've been to a lot of cities, and most fans are down on their quarterbacks. The only ones the fans are up on are the ones who won last week, or the ones who are playing well right now."

On the road: "The road is very difficult in the NFL. Statistics show that it's very hard to win on the road. When you make plays and your crowd gets into it, you get a lift and feel the excitement. If you make plays on the road, the only people cheering are on your sidelines. You can say what you want, but over the span of the game, that has an effect on you."


Et cetera

The Giants are the NFL's youngest team with an average age of 25.1. Twelve rookies and first-year players made the opening-game roster, including seven of the club's eight draft picks. The Ravens have listed wide receivers Ray Ethridge (ankle) and Jermaine Lewis (knee) and safeties Rondell Jones (knee) and Stevon Moore (knee) as questionable for Sunday. Moore did not practice yesterday, Lewis worked lightly and Jones slightly aggravated his injury in an abbreviated workout.

Pub Date: 9/11/97