When Ravens rookie defensive tackle Martin Chase suits up for practice, he puts on more than pads and the tight-fitting jersey with No. 92 on his chest. He also stuffs an inhaler into his right sock.
Chase has had exercise-induced asthma since age 8.
"It's been with me for almost all my life," he said, referring to the inhaler. "I used to think it would hold me back. But I have changed my attitude. I just look at it as a way that God has blessed me to make a difference and be a role model for kids, show them that they can overcome it, too."
Even as a child growing up in Lawton, Okla., Chase was determined to overcome his ailment. While attending Eisenhower High School, he lettered in football, basketball and track, always with his inhaler right along with him.
"I've just kept playing. I never used it as an excuse," Chase said. "If I needed to, I'd just say, 'Coach, I need to sit out for a while,' then I'd be right back in."
By working to improve his overall condition, Chase has strengthened his lungs to the point where he usually only uses the inhaler once a day.
Chase, the Ravens' fifth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma, established himself as one of college football's premier pass rushers during his senior year. He now hopes to find a spot on a Ravens defensive line that ranked fifth in the AFC last year in rushing yards allowed and boasts quality pass rushers like end Michael McCrary (nine sacks in 1997), tackle James Jones (six) and end Rob Burnett (four). Chase said he is eager to learn from the veterans.
"I am excited, and I think I am in a good position here. It's already helped a lot, watching the veterans," Chase said. "I think I can take something from that and in the long run help this team a lot."
Out of college, Chase was touted for his explosive first step and excellent movement at getting inside his blocker for a man of his size, 6 feet 1, 293 pounds. But to be successful at the pro level, he must use his quickness to beat larger offensive linemen. Once he establishes that in practice, the Ravens say he can be a solid contributor on pass-rushing downs. Chase runs the 40-yard dash in 5.12 seconds.
"The one thing that stands out with Martin is his extraordinary quickness getting to the quarterback," said Ravens defensive line coach Jacob Burney. "But he's still got a lot of work to do."
During the first week of minicamp, the Ravens have put Chase at right defensive tackle, his position his senior year.
Last season, Chase set a single-season school record in sacks with 14, after recording 1.5 sacks his previous three years. He credits his improvement to Oklahoma coach John Blake, a former Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach.
"Coach Blake helped me out a lot with making me a better player, most importantly using my hands. He's worked with a lot of good linemen in the pros."
Ravens left guard Ben Cavil has seen a lot of Chase. Not only did the two match up in drills last week, but Cavil and Chase also were teammates at Oklahoma in 1994, when Cavil was a senior and Chase a freshman.
"He's gotten a lot better," Cavil said. "I remember him coming out of high school. He was a great athlete then, but now he's faster, his field vision is a lot better. He's definitely a good acquisition to this team.
"He's an athlete and a competitor," Cavil said. "Whether he's out there playing or getting the crowd into it on the sidelines, he was always a competitor at OU."
At minicamp, Chase is frequently encouraging teammates. Although he's just a week into his pro career, he has aspirations of being not only a contributor, but also a leader.
"I am still learning, and I have a great deal of respect for the vets," Chase said. "But eventually I want to be a leader on this team and help them win and get to the playoffs."
But for now, Chase is still getting used to the Ravens' defensive scheme and learning tactics that will help him against NFL offensive linemen.
"He's not used to the size, strength and speed of offensive linemen in this league," Burney said. "Right now we're working on his intensity and his durability on down-to-down play. But right now, he's progressing right where I want him to."
Pub Date: 6/07/98