He was good enough to be voted a first alternate to the Pro Bowl last February, tough enough to start 15 games despite the constant pain brought on by preseason knee surgery, relentless enough to collect 80 tackles and nine sacks, second-highest on the team.
In defensive end Michael McCrary's eyes, though, the 1997 season marked a rough start to his stay in Baltimore.
"I try not to think about last year, because that was such a messed-up season. I'm anxious to fix it up this year," said McCrary, alluding to the knee problems that hampered him throughout the season.
The pain persisted to the point where McCrary could not lift weights with his legs. His weight dropped to 248 pounds by season's end, after which he underwent another arthroscopy.
Following a productive off-season of weight training and conditioning, McCrary has added about 15 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame. His knee feels strong, although the Ravens plan to limit his work at this month's minicamp.
"Now it's time to get my legs ready for training camp," McCrary said.
McCrary heads into his sixth season with some lofty goals in mind. Although his nine sacks ranked eighth in the AFC last year, McCrary thinks he can record 16 sacks in 1998 -- an average of one per game. He has 20.5 sacks in his last 23 games dating to 1996, the last year he played for Seattle.
"I'm a team guy, not an individualist, but you've got to have some individual goals," he said.
McCrary then gestured with a grin toward second-year man Peter Boulware's locker. Boulware led the Ravens with 11.5 sacks as a rookie outside linebacker, earning Rookie Defensive Player of the Year honors.
"I can't let this young punk come in here and beat me again," he added.
A new man
Veteran tight end Eric Green is a changed man. Physically, that is.
Green, 6-5, spent a hard off-season in the weight room, where he trimmed down noticeably. Although he would not divulge his weight, Green hinted that he remains close to his listed weight of 285 pounds.
"The weight really isn't that different, it's just that I've replaced fat with muscle. This is the best shape I've been in since 1993," Green said. "At the end of last season, I wore size 46 pants. After three months, my waist was down to 40. [Linebackers coach] Maxie Baughan told me I should take off a few pounds per year to lengthen my career, and I thank him for that."
With Wally Williams not expected to attend the minicamp, backups Jeff Mitchell and Spencer Folau figure to see more time at center over the next two weeks.
This is an especially big summer for Mitchell, drafted last year in the fifth round. Mitchell failed to make it through the first week of training camp, before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and ending his season early.
"I'll get a lot of good reps. I hope to have some good practices," Mitchell said. "I think I know most of the offense with this two-back set. I've just got to get in there, recognize the defense, then make the [line] call. It's different this year. I'm not coming in as a rookie."
Folau has more experience, having played in 10 games last year. He heads into his third season with a chance to challenge Mitchell for the backup job.
"I know I'm behind Mitchell, but [offensive line coach Kirk] Ferentz told me a week ago I might play at center. I snapped here back in 1996 [when Folau was on the practice roster], so I'm familiar with the position."
The Ravens would like to add another veteran cornerback to their roster this month, and they could be interested in acquiring veteran Donnell Woolford, who was released by Pittsburgh yesterday. The Ravens will be without second-year quarterback Wally Richardson at their minicamp, since Richardson remains with the World League's London Monarchs.
Pub Date: 6/02/98