Key matchup


Michael McCrary vs. Orlando Pace

Ravens right defensive end Michael McCrary has yet to run a play from scrimmage in 1999, and his first assignment of the year comes against possibly the biggest left tackle he has ever faced. St. Louis Rams left tackle Orlando Pace is all about big. He was the first player drafted in 1997, which is always a big deal. He rumbled into St. Louis out of Ohio State at a hefty 345 pounds, which made big news for the wrong reasons. And after going through his first full year as a starter with the Rams in 1998, St. Louis expects him to begin fulfilling his potential. In a big way.

McCrary faces an unusual situation in the season opener. Having just agreed to a contract extension that could keep him in Baltimore through 2004, McCrary goes to St. Louis with a coat of rust he needs to shed quickly.

He practiced in training camp on a limited basis and missed the first three preseason games on schedule, while he finished rehabilitating his right knee after having off-season arthroscopic surgery. Then, dissatisfied with the way contract talks were going at the end of camp, he left the team and missed the final preseason game in which he was originally scheduled to play.

And now, the 270-pound McCrary gets to tune up his pass rushing skills by going against a hulk who has been working constantly since late July.

"He's a big, athletic guy. I don't know if I've ever gone up against a tackle that big," McCrary said of Pace. "He has improved every year. He's finally realizing that he has what it takes to be great.

"But this works two ways. It inspires me to want to come back and show that I'm in form. He's going to try to use me to make a good impression. We'll see what happens."

It will be interesting to see how well McCrary handles the run blocking of Pace. Look for the Rams to run left to take advantage of McCrary's lack of size and his rust.

Rams coach Dick Vermeil likes where Pace is headed, starting with the fact that he has shed 25 pounds from his original weight of 345.

"Orlando has worked very hard in the off-season," Vermeil said. "He is unlimited in athletic talent. He's the most graceful, gifted athlete I've ever seen among offensive linemen. His temperament is becoming a little more nasty. The desire to become a great player is there. To me, he's a future Hall of Famer, barring injury."

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