Rhett to start, but Holmes not forgotten; Running backs to split time when healthy, Billick says

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Ravens coach Brian Billick has named Errict Rhett his starting running back for the third straight week, but he still envisions Rhett splitting time with former starter Priest Holmes, who has been out the past two weeks with a knee sprain.

Billick predicted earlier in the season that the two would get a combined 365 to 400 carries.

Holmes practiced for the second straight time yesterday and said his knee feels fine. He eagerly awaits the decision by Billick to see if he is on the 53-man roster for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons. Holmes had 54 yards on 13 carries in the season opener against the St. Louis Rams.

He injured the knee in the first half, but returned to play in the second as the Ravens lost, 27-10.

"The numbers that I gave you earlier will probably hold up," said Billick. "Then, it was with the perspective of Priest leading with Errict getting about 100 carries. The injury situation changes that. If Priest is able to come back and play, that will certainly be a nice one-two punch for us. But certainly, Errict Rhett, the way he is playing, his style is suited for us very well right now. Rhett is our starter and will remain the starter until his play dictates us not to play him."

Holmes wasn't bothered by Billick's comments yesterday.

"I have to find out what will take place this Sunday. They have to let me know," said Holmes. "I've done everything I could do. I practiced yesterday [Wednesday] and it felt good to fall down, run into some people and make some long runs."

Holmes also said he had no problems being replaced because of an injury. Rhett has rushed for 214 yards in the past two games.

"That's the thing about the NFL. So many things happen out there," said Holmes. "But I'm encouraged. I've done everything I could do. I went through my rehab, I studied film. Now we move into the physical part. I'm confident because my ability is still there. That hasn't gone away."

Falcons receivers capable

The Falcons may have lost deep-threat wide receiver Tony Martin to the Miami Dolphins during the off-season, but the Ravens still feel Atlanta has capable receivers. Ravens secondary coach Steve Shafer should know. He faced the Falcons twice last year as the defensive backs coach of the Carolina Panthers.

Atlanta's Chris Calloway has 10 receptions for 157 yards and one touchdown and Terance Mathis has 12 catches for 164 yards.

"Terance Mathis has really been effective for them at wide-out as a possession-type receiver," said Shafer. "Chris Calloway is productive, both short and deep, and their big tight end, O. J. Santiago at 6-7, and 264 pounds, is one of the best tight ends in the league."

Sharper off to good start

After three years in the league, Ravens weak-side linebacker Jamie Sharper is having his best season. Sharper, a second-round pick, is second on the team in tackles with 25, 19 behind leader Ray Lewis.

Sharper may have played his best consecutive games in the past two weeks, including a 10-tackle effort against the Cleveland Browns last week.

In the past, Sharper has had problems with consistency. The Ravens are hoping he is finally over the hump, which would give them one of the finest trio of linebackers in the league with Sharper, Lewis and strong-side linebacker Peter Boulware.

"No, consistency is no longer a problem," said Sharper. "I played well in training camp, preseason and it will continue through the season. Jack Del Rio [Ravens linebackers coach] has helped me out and I've been in the same system for three years. I'm going to keep getting better."

More time for Dalton, Chase

The Ravens' defensive tackles of the future will get their second opportunity of the season Sunday.

Ravens starting defensive tackle Tony Siragusa is expected to miss his second straight game after having arthroscopic surgery done on his left knee last Saturday. Siragusa could play next Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

That means second-year players Lional Dalton and Martin Chase will rotate at Siragusa's position along with veteran starter Larry Webster. The three players combined for three tackles last week and patrolled the middle well, but neither Chase or Martin were as effective as Siragusa.

"For my first game, I played all right," said Chase. "I can always play better. My job was to come off the bench and add some emotion to the game."

Dalton has family members who will be attending the game Sunday from Macon, Georgia.

"That will definitely be a motivating factor," said Chase. "You want your friends and family watching you play. A player who has really helped us has been Larry Webster. He has a strong work ethic and the little things he does works on you."

Dalton said: "I think we did all right. We held up our gaps and Pete and Ray took advantage of that. We need to get more pressure, pushing the pockets and setting up Mac [defensive end Michael McCrary] and Pete to do their things."

Right connections

It's not what you know, but who you know that keeps players around in the NFL.

The Ravens recently signed center Emmett Zitelli to their practice squad. He previously played on the Chicago Bears practice squad and later with the New York Giants. He was released by the Giants during their final roster cuts on Sept. 9.

He said having played for Ravens offensive line coach Jim Colletto in college, who was Purdue's head coach from 1991 through 1996, may have led to the Ravens signing him.

"I don't know how much he was involved and how much impact he has on the decision-making process," said Zitelli. "But I'm sure that's part of the reason I'm here.

"I just got my playbook last night and it's not too difficult to learn. All the offenses have basic concepts with some extra components. Obviously, it will take some time to pick things up, but once I get the basics down, I'll be all right."

Wounded Falcons

Atlanta running back Jamal Anderson is out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. And with an injury list this week that includes such key players as quarterback Chris Chandler (hamstring, doubtful), defensive tackle Shane Dronett (calf, doubtful) and wide receiver/kick returner Tim Dwight (hamstring, doubtful), the 0-3 Falcons appear vulnerable to say the least.

But don't bother selling that idea at the Ravens facility.

"For [Falcons coach] Dan Reeves to go 0-4, we have to go down there and realize that's not going to be easy. He is too good of a coach," Billick said.

Said McCrary: "[The Falcons] are a wounded animal, and anytime you have a wounded animal around, you know they're going to fight. They are a threat."

Ravens kicker Matt Stover will not be too sorry to see Dwight on the sideline and not returning kicks. Dwight, who sat out last week's game against St. Louis with a hamstring pull, is one of the league's most explosive return men.

"That guy is like Jermaine Lewis back there. You can't let him get outside," Stover said of Dwight. "He's so fast on his cuts. God willing, I won't have to make the tackle. Even his half speed is a lot faster than my [full] speed. Not having him in there will help our coverage team."

Sun staff writer Gary Lambrecht contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 10/01/99

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