Brian Billick may have worked wonders with Minnesota's offense, but the Ravens' new coach has thrown up a caution sign to Baltimore fans expecting him to resuscitate its stagnant attack overnight.
Four weeks into his new job, Billick has reviewed enough of the team's 1998 performance on videotape to see that the Ravens' offense does not require dynamite as its first rebuilding tool. But the unit is in dire need of help-- personnel, coaching, game-planning, play-calling.
"If anybody looks at this offense and thinks it's just a player or two away from being productive, they would be mistaken," said Billick, who is less than thrilled by what he has seen from the quarterback, fullback, receiver, tight end and certain offensive line positions. "Can we get all of that addressed in the first year? We'll try. But this offense was 26th in the league [in yardage]. They earned that ranking."
The Ravens scored just 16.8 points a game. They ranked last in the NFL in first downs and red-zone offense. They were last in the AFC with an average of 281 yards a game. They lost four games in which their defense allowed fewer than 17 points.
The personnel subtraction already is under way. Center/guard Wally Williams has left for New Orleans. Right tackle Orlando Brown last night signed a six-year contract to return to Cleveland. Backup guard Ben Cavil was taken in the Browns' expansion draft. Wide receiver Michael Jackson's contract has been terminated.
The additions could begin this week, possibly with Scott Mitchell or Jeff George at quarterback now that Brad Johnson is headed to the Redskins.
The team also showed its dissatisfaction with fullback Roosevelt Potts by spending part of yesterday interviewing free-agent Vikings fullback Charles Evans, who could sign with the Ravens soon.
Evans, 6 feet 1, 243 pounds, a six-year veteran who has spent his entire career with the Vikings since they drafted him in the 11th round out of Clark Atlanta University, has made a career out of blocking for the likes of Robert Smith. He also has not missed a game since 1994.
"Clearly, productivity at the fullback position [is a priority]. Chuck Evans would be a great addition for us," Billick said. "He's a good blocker who can carry the ball, and he's an excellent receiver."
By tomorrow, free-agent tight end Greg DeLong could be stopping by the team's Owings Mills complex, also by way of Minnesota. Ravens tight end Eric Green, whose 1998 season was marred by injuries and a penchant for fumbles, visited the New York Jets yesterday.
"Eric has value. Is it an every-down value? I don't know. I'd like to have Eric Green back, but not at any price," Billick said. "The tight end position and the receiving corps need more consistency. There were a lot of dropped passes last year."
Billick reiterated his possible interest in having Errict Rhett return as a running back to compete with 1,000-yard rusher Priest Holmes and injury-prone Jay Graham.
While he wouldn't expect Rhett to gain 1,000 yards, as he did in his first two years (1994-95), Billick envisions Rhett playing a role similar to Leroy Hoard's with the Vikings. Rhett was barely used after the season's first two games. He finished with just 44 carries for 180 yards.
Billick is especially concerned with upgrading an offensive line that never played up to its lofty expectations in 1998. The team will use the free-agent market and the draft to replenish its talent.
"The offensive line has a great deal of potential. It's also a line that, for all of the talent it possessed, gave up 41 sacks [in 477 pass attempts]. That will not get it done," he said. "Without being critical of the talent, the effort or the coaching, that is unacceptable. We can be a lot better than that."
Several of the Ravens' offensive players have complained that Ted Marchibroda's offense lacked innovation and was too predictable, from its formations to its play selection, from week to week. Billick deflected the charge.
"I don't want to get into second-guessing play-calling and design of the offense," he said. "The players are making a mistake by dismissing [the problem] as we were overly conservative or didn't have good play-calling. The players have to share the responsibility."
NOTES: Ravens defensive tackle James Jones visited with the Detroit Lions yesterday and is expected to talk with Jacksonville today. Billick hopes Jones re-signs with the Ravens this week. "We'll extend ourselves [financially] to the utmost to get that done. James just brings too much value to this team, beyond his athletic ability," Billick said. Ravens safety Corey Harris, an unrestricted free agent, visited the Vikings yesterday. Harris, a fine kick return man, returned two kickoffs for touchdowns against Minnesota last Dec. 13. The Ravens could take a look at Miami safety Shawn Wooden as an upgrade in their defensive backfield. Wooden, 5-11, 205, a restricted free agent, missed the 1998 season with a knee injury.
Pub Date: 2/16/99