Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda yesterday benched rookie outside linebacker Jamie Sharper, one of the team's top draft picks, for another rookie, Cornell Brown, at the weak-side position for the team's game against the Miami Dolphins Sunday at Memorial Stadium.
Sharper, who missed several weeks of training camp as a contract holdout, was the team's top pick in the second round out of Virginia and, overall, was the 34th player selected in the NFL's annual draft.
He had started all six games for the Ravens this season and is ninth on the team in tackles with 24.
Marchibroda would not go into specifics about the change, but several high-ranking team officials said defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis had considered benching Sharper for weeks because of missed assignments.
Team officials said the coaching staff decided to make a move after Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart ran a fake reverse around left end 74 yards for a touchdown with 1: 47 left in the game to clinch a 42-34 win over the Ravens two weeks ago.
Sharper was supposed to have outside containment on the play, but went inside.
Lewis, whose defense is ranked last in the league, allowing 382.7 yards per game, declined to comment and referred all questions to Marchibroda.
"I don't want to get into specifics on why the change was made, but we believe it will help our football team," Marchibroda said.
"Jamie will still get some playing time. Cornell is a tough, strong guy who plays every play from sideline to sideline. He has been with us from the beginning of the season, so he knows exactly what we want."
Sharper and Virginia teammate James Farrior were the two highest-rated outside linebackers in the draft. The Ravens initially wanted Farrior, but the New York Jets selected him with their first-round pick.
According to a team source, the team's front office struggled with the selection of Sharper because some members of the coaching staff and scouts felt he was a project, while others thought he could contribute right away.
Sharper, 6 feet 3 and 240 pounds, was signed to a three-year contract worth $1.7 million on July 22. He seemed to be caught off guard by Marchibroda's move yesterday.
"I'm a little surprised he got most of the repetitions today," Sharper said of Brown. "I'll guess we'll find out who's starting Saturday.
"It's whatever the coaches want. They do whatever they want to do."
Brown, 6-0 and 240, started at strong-side outside linebacker for six weeks in place of fellow rookie Peter Boulware during Boulware's preseason holdout. But once Boulware reported to camp, he became the team's top reserve at linebacker.
According to a team official, Brown was told to begin studying the playbook at the weak-side position last week, and the actual move was made yesterday in practice.
Brown, out of Virginia Tech, was the second of two sixth-round draft picks by the Ravens. Like Boulware, he was a defensive end in college who had made the transition to strong-side outside linebacker. Now, he's going to the weak side.
"I don't know if I'm starting or not, but I'll feel pretty good if I'm the starter Sunday," said Brown, who has a total of six tackles, four on special teams.
"It might take a little adjusting, but I think I can handle it. Right now, I'm getting reps at both positions, so I'll be prepared either way."
Pub Date: 10/17/97