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Ravens' Staten gets start at free safety Second-year backup's 'range, height' cited; Harris is benched


The first time Ravens backup safety Ralph Staten got a chance to start, he tied a team record with two interceptions.

The Ravens would gladly take a repeat performance from Staten this week, since they have decided to bench veteran free safety Corey Harris and give Staten his first start of 1998 against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Staten, who has been used primarily as an extra defensive back in passing situations, no doubt will be keeping his eye on wide-out Randy Moss, the runaway leading candidate for Rookie of the Year and Minnesota's hottest, big-play threat.

"I'm not going in there to take over the defense. I'm just trying to add to it," said Staten, a seventh-round draft pick from 1997. "You have to favor his [Moss'] side. Mostly, you have to contain him, try to slow him down."

Coach Ted Marchibroda said the matchups the Vikings present -- though future Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter is questionable with a calf injury -- and simple athleticism played a role in his decision to start Staten.

"Ralph has done a good job where he's been, and we feel he has a little more range [than Harris]," Marchibroda said. "He's got the range and height to get there and make a play."

A strong finish by Staten, who has 20 tackles and ranks third on the team with three interceptions, would alter a year that has not exactly gone according to plan.

Staten, 6 feet 3, 205 pounds, started the final three games of the 1997 season and played well. He opened this season as a backup to strong safety Stevon Moore, then promptly got into off-the-field trouble.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 12, Staten was charged with drunken driving after his vehicle collided with another in the Randallstown area of Baltimore County. The team suspended Staten for the second game of the year.

Staten's play has been erratic throughout 1998. As a converted linebacker out of Alabama, he has not looked especially smooth in pass coverage.

Harris took the news in stride. He will continue to return kickoffs.

"I'm not surprised. There's two ways to look at it," said Harris, who recorded a game-high 15 tackles in Sunday's 16-14 loss to Tennessee. "I could be upset and question it. But I've been in the league long enough to understand that coaches call the plays, we run them.

"It's not going to change my work ethic. I'm a competitor and a professional. As a player, you don't control anything except how you prepare each week and how you play on Sunday."

Filling in on the line

The offensive line that took the field at yesterday's practice brought to mind the defining line from the movie, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

Who are those guys?

With injuries to tackles Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown, right guard Jeff Blackshear and center Wally Williams, the Ravens were left to work backups Mike Flynn and Spencer Folau at right guard and tackle, Jeff Mitchell at center, and Ben Cavil at left guard. James Atkins moved from left guard to left tackle.

Get this: The backup offensive line featured three defensive linemen -- Mike Frederick at right guard and rookies Chartric Darby and Larry Fitzpatrick at left guard and tackle. Darby and Fitzpatrick are part of the Ravens' practice squad.

"Everybody is going down, so somebody has got to do it. We have to fill in those practice spots," said Darby, who isn't particularly enjoying the change. "Offense is totally different. You can't free-lance at all on offense. I couldn't make it on the offensive side of the ball. I hate offense. But I'm just trying to help the team get a little bit better. All I want to do is win."

Blackshear participated only in yesterday's walk-through, while Williams, Ogden and Brown sat out. A bone scan on Ogden's damaged left ankle showed no fracture. An MRI revealed a trapezoid strain in Williams' neck. All four players are listed as questionable for Sunday's game.

Potts' struggles

Around midseason, the coaching staff seriously discussed the idea of benching fullback Roosevelt Potts, who was struggling badly at the time with his blocking and the remnants of a sore knee that bothered him throughout training camp.

Potts has gotten better physically, but his game has stagnated. He has averaged only 3.1 yards on 31 carries and 5.1 yards on 27 receptions. He has had trouble breaking tackles all year, and his blocking has remained suspect.

"He has had a couple of good games. He started out pretty good, but he has been inconsistent in his play," running backs coach Al Lavan said.

Marchibroda said, "He has pretty much done the job we expected him to do. Coming in, I think we thought he was going to run the ball more, but we haven't been able to run the ball as much as we expected."

Meanwhile, veteran fullback Sam Gash, whom the Ravens looked at last off-season and who had expressed an interest in playing in Baltimore, is helping the Buffalo Bills move toward a playoff berth.

Gash has not missed a game and has mainly opened holes for running backs Antowain Smith and Thurman Thomas with notable success. They have combined for 1,264 yards and eight touchdowns.

"If you can get yourself three or four or five guys like [Gash] and sprinkle them around the locker room, it's unbelievable for your chemistry," said A. J. Smith, Buffalo's director of pro personnel. "He's mature, he's tough, he's physical, he's unselfish. Everybody in the locker room sees that."

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: 12/10/98

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