While the Ravens wait to see how many of their wounded offensive linemen will be fit enough to perform this week, the season came to a premature end yesterday for a running back whose brief career has been haunted by injuries.
Second-year tailback Jay Graham, a third-round draft pick out of Tennessee who has shown flashes of brilliance, had arthroscopic knee surgery yesterday and is out for the remainder of the season. Graham probably will be placed on injured reserve this week.
Graham, 25, has been bothered for nearly two months with a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and has spent the last seven games on the inactive list. He was diagnosed in October with the ligament problem, which was repaired yesterday by Dr. Claude T. Moorman, the team physician.
The surgery also revealed Graham had been suffering from a torn lateral meniscus, which Moorman also repaired.
"We got to the point where the most definitive move was to look in and take a peek [via surgery]," said Bill Tessendorf, the team's head trainer. "Dr. Moorman thinks the reason this thing has been nagging Jay so much is because of the meniscus tear, which the [earlier] MRI did not show."
Graham could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The surgery marked the end of a frustrating year for Graham, who came to training camp as the No. 1 back on coach Ted Marchibroda's depth chart, only to lose his spot to Errict Rhett four days before the season opener, following an unimpressive preseason.
Graham only appeared in the first five games, starting the third contest in Jacksonville. He originally injured his knee against the New York Jets in Week 2, then re-aggravated it during pre-game warm-ups in Pittsburgh on Oct. 18. Graham has not played since Oct. 11, when he appeared only on special teams.
Graham, 5 feet 11, 220 pounds, finishes his second year with 109 yards rushing on 35 carries and no touchdowns. He also had five receptions for 41 yards.
The Ravens had hoped Graham would build on his promising rookie season, during which he rushed for 154 yards against Philadelphia on Nov. 16, 1997. Graham also suffered a severe ankle sprain that day, and never fully recovered for the rest of the season. He finished his rookie year with 299 yards on 81 carries.
"He's had some unfortunate setbacks. As I've said to [Graham], he's got to beat and conquer this injury bug he has," running backs coach Al Lavan said. "He should be OK physically. He's still young, and he hasn't been hit very much.
"He's got a pretty positive attitude toward what has to be done. He's been disappointed in his inability to play. He's not discouraged. There's no question that, after that Jets game, he played with pain to the point where he couldn't play. He's still a good young back. He just needs to have a healthy year."
tTC Tessendorf said Graham would begin rehabilitating the knee immediately.
"It will probably be two or three weeks before he will be ready to take the field at a good level of performance. Unfortunately, the calendar is working against us," said Tessendorf, alluding to the fact that only three games remain.
"If we were going to the playoffs, we'd be getting him back on the field. Strength isn't a problem [with the knee]. What will limit him more than anything will be inflammation and irritation."
Tessendorf added that Graham should be ready to assume a normal workload in the team's off-season conditioning program, which begins in March.
Tessendorf also declined to predict how many injured offensive linemen could return to action against Minnesota on Sunday.
Tackles Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown suffered severe ankle sprains against Tennessee on Sunday, and each was on crutches while wearing boot splints. Right guard Jeff Blackshear has an abdominal strain, while center Wally Williams has a cervical neck sprain. Each is questionable for Minnesota, and each is expected to miss today's practice.
"I would say that whoever plays out of that group on Sunday is going to have to do it without much practice this week," Tessendorf said.
NOTES: Wide receivers Jermaine Lewis (ankle sprain) and Michael Jackson (foot sprain) did some light running yesterday, increasing the chance they could be available against the Vikings. Both players reported soreness after their respective activities. They need to run at full speed and cut properly without pain in order to be cleared to practice. About 1,200 tickets remain for the regular-season finale against Detroit on Dec. 27. Running back Priest Holmes, the team's runaway rushing leader with 820 yards on 186 carries (4.4-yard average), has also taken over the team lead in receptions with 38.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Minnesota Vikings
Site: Ravens stadium
When: Sunday, 4: 15 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Tickets: Sold out
Line: Vikings by 10
Pub Date: 12/09/98