When the Ravens open a three-day minicamp Friday at the team's training facility in Owings Mills, the team will definitely be without starting middle linebacker Ray Lewis, defensive tackle Larry Webster and possibly starting defensive tackle Tony Siragusa.
Lewis will miss the five total practices because he is preparing for his defense against two murder charges stemming from the deaths of two men outside an Atlanta night club in the early morning after Super Bowl XXXIV. Siragusa has one year left on his contract, but is involved in negotiations for an extension, while Webster has been suspended pending an appeal for violating the league's substance- and alcohol-abuse policy.
The Ravens are expected to have two practices a day Friday and Saturday, and one Sunday. Siragusa is expected to be fined if he misses the mandatory practices.
"Ray has an excused absence," coach Brian Billick said. "He is obviously involved in serious matters outside the Ravens and he needs to focus on those. Frankly, with the way Ray has been working, he needs this minicamp less than most others."
Fourth-year player Cornell Brown is expected to start for Lewis at the minicamp. In his previous three seasons, Brown, 6 feet and 240 pounds, has worked almost exclusively on the outside backing up strong-side linebacker Peter Boulware.
Brown, a sixth-round draft pick out of Virginia Tech, had 32 tackles last season, including a sack. He also had 15 tackles on special teams. Billick also said starting weak-side linebacker Jamie Sharper and Dennis Stallings, a recently obtained fourth-year free agent from Tennessee, would get some work to replace Lewis, who had 198 tackles in 1999, his fourth straight season as the team's leading tackler.
"We'll work Cornell in there," Billick said. "We'll rotate, probably try to get Jamie a certain comfort zone with it. There are some different things to do right now. It will be a good chance for Cornell to get a jump on it, a feel for it over an extended period of time before we get into training camp and into the season when we have Ray back, hopefully.
"We were concerned last year about our depth at linebacker and it was difficult for Cornell to get some work behind Ray because of Peter's bad arm. Now with Peter coming back to full strength, Cornell can get more work behind Ray."
Siragusa, who turns 33 next month, is expected to make $1.5 million next season. He played well last season and was sixth on the team in tackles with 68, including 3.5 sacks.
Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden is also having talks with the team about a contract extension, but he is expected to attend the minicamp. Ogden is considered a bigger priority than Siragusa.
When asked if Siragusa would attend minicamp, one of his two representatives said, "The answer is, we'll find out Friday."
"It doesn't appear that he is going to be here," said Baltimore-based Terry Lavenstein, who along with agent Gus Sunseri represents Siragusa. "We haven't reached terms on a contract. We understand that we have a present contract but we're in a good position to renegotiate a new one. We have exchanged numbers with the team. We haven't formally rejected them, but we have rejected them."
With Webster and Siragusa out, newly acquired defensive tackle Sam Adams, Lional Dalton and Martin Chase are expected to get most of the work. The Ravens recently recalled Chase from an NFL Europe roster.
"He is supposed to be here. We'll deal with it the way we have with it in the past," Billick said about Siragusa's possible holdout. "We're talking to Tony, we'd like to have an extension for Tony but he is under contract. Jonathan Ogden is under contract; we talking to him about renegotiating his contract. He will be here. I don't know why Tony wouldn't be here. It's mandatory. We've made it very clear last preseason that we're not going to negotiate with anyone not in camp."
The Ravens could add two more players to the roster before Sunday. The team is involved in negotiations with receiver Justin Armour and special teams player Bennie Thompson. Armour finished second on the team with a career-high 37 catches for 538 yards and four touchdowns last season after catching just one pass in 1998 and none in 1996 or 1997.
Thompson led the team for the third time in four years with 24 special teams tackles. Lavenstein said Thompson will probably sign and attend minicamp on Saturday morning.
"Ozzie Newsome [Ravens vice-president of player personnel] has assured me that Bennie Thompson is an important part of this team, and he can come in Saturday and sign his contract," Lavenstein said. "Taking Ozzie at his word, Bennie will be at practice Saturday morning and he will end his career in Baltimore as planned."
NOTES: Ravens owner Art Modell had a hip replacement last Tuesday and is recovering well at Sinai Hospital. ... Starting strong safety Kim Herring, a restricted free agent, has agreed and signed his tender to play here next season.