The Ravens obviously have studied the Chargers' personnel closely this week in preparation for Sunday's game in San Diego, But the team also has one Chargers coach particularly in mind: offensive coordinator Mike Sheppard.
Sheppard spent last year as the receivers coach and play-caller for the Ravens, before taking the Chargers' job seven months ago. That's a built-in disadvantage the Ravens will have to overcome.
"Mike knows our offense, and that's a big concern to us," coach Ted Marchibroda said of Sheppard, who helped the Ravens create one of the NFL's most dangerous attacks in 1996.
"I hope I contributed," Sheppard said. "Ted set the direction, then gave all of the offensive coaches a chance to contribute. I just wish we could have won more. I felt confident that things were going in the right direction."
The change of scenery has not gone smoothly for Sheppard. He is presiding over the league's 29th-ranked offense, which is generating only 14.0 points and 254.3 yards per game behind Stan Humpries, the AFC's lowest-rated quarterback (57.7). The success of the Ravens' offense (27.5 points a game) still has brought some enjoyment to Sheppard.
"I'm happy for those guys. We were able to put together some good performances last year. We weren't able to get a touchdown or a first down when we really needed it to win some games. [The Ravens] are doing that this year, and that's the difference.
"I'm especially happy for Marvin [Lewis, defensive coordinator] and that defense, with all they went through last year," Sheppard added. "After looking at that draft and the people they brought in [through free agency], it looks like Marvin got some help. Now, it's just a matter of age and experience, because they are going to grow."
Old special-teams friends will get acquainted Sunday. Ravens special-teams ace Bennie Thompson was a member of the Cleveland Browns' special teams when Eric Metcalf was the kickoff and punt returner.
Metcalf now performs similar duties with the Chargers and plays slot receiver. He has returned 10 kickoffs for 240 yards with a long of 63 yards. He also has returned nine punts for an average of 10.6.
Thompson leads the Ravens in special-teams tackles with eight.
"I owe him from Cleveland," Thompson said. "He said every time he returned one for a touchdown, he would give us $1,000. I think he returned three or four one year in Cleveland, and he never paid us.
"He can play, though. But you have to stop him before he gets going, neutralize him by forcing him to the inside because he doesn't like to run inside."
Not the retiring type?
Thompson, an eight-year veteran and one of the best special-teams players of this decade, said he will reconsider retiring at the end of the year.
In late June, Thompson said he would retire because he was no longer drawing double teams, had lost some zeal and was in the last year of his contract. But now he is having one of his best seasons.
"I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do right now," Thompson said. "The previous two years were miserable, but I'm having a lot of fun again out there."
Webster set to start
Defensive tackle Larry Webster, a former standout from the University of Maryland, will start in the place of Tony Siragusa on Sunday. Siragusa is out seven to 10 days because of an ankle injury.
Webster hasn't started a game since his second season in 1993. But after Siragusa went down with an injury early in the first quarter last Sunday in Tennessee, Webster finished with four tackles.
"You're always happy when you get a chance to start, but your preparation doesn't change," Webster said. "You prepare the same way for every game. I thought I played all right last week, graded out to about 80 percent. That was good, now I just have to build on it."
The Ravens signed former Indianapolis Colts cornerback Eugene Daniel on Sept. 17, but team officials are unsure how much he will play Sunday. Daniel, 36, isn't sure, either. "I'm getting there," he said. "I've been working with the strength coach and it's coming along. I guess it's pretty much week-to-week." The Chargers have two players on their roster who played for the Ravens last season: fullback Carwell Gardner and tight end Frank Hartley. The game will be blacked out in San Diego because some 14,550 tickets remained unsold by the 1 p.m. deadline yesterday. It will be San Diego's second straight home game kept off local TV. Before that, the Chargers had gone three years without a blackout.
Pub Date: 9/26/97