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Six who must perform


QB Tony Banks

Banks has the size, the intelligence and the ability to become a Pro Bowl quarterback. Execution and consistency are what stop him from reaching that level. This season, his second under Brian Billick, there are no excuses left. It's time for him to take a major step forward.

He's got a great arm, a nice touch on the deep ball and, minus about 10 pounds, he can elude the pass rush better this season. He had 11 fumbles in 10 starts last season, a figure that must improve. His understanding of the offense is better. His reads are more decisive. And he's accepted the challenge of leadership in the huddle and in the locker room.

All indicators are, if Banks is ever going to ascend to the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, this is the year he makes the move.

PR-WR Jermaine Lewis

Lewis was a major disappointment in 1999, both as a receiver and a punt returner. His 25 receptions were a drop-off of 16 from 1998. His combined touchdowns plummeted from eight to two. His punt return average fell from 12.7 yards to 7.9, a four-year low.

On a team that struggled on offense -- that started three different quarterbacks in the first half of the season -- Lewis made no impact, either in field position or pass receiving. But he dedicated himself in the off-season to regaining his Pro Bowl form of 1998, and a 30-yard punt return in the final preseason game was an indication it paid off. The Ravens badly need him to produce some big plays in the return game.

TE Shannon Sharpe

Sharpe was the All-Decade tight end of the 1990s, with 552 receptions for 6,983 yards and 44 touchdowns. That helped produce two Super Bowl victories for the Denver Broncos. Now, the Ravens want some of Sharpe's work ethic and big-play production to rub off on a young, still-developing offense.

He is expected to give the Ravens an intermediate passing presence, and, beyond that, a big target in the red zone. Although he played in only five games last season because of a fractured collarbone, Sharpe is fanatical about his conditioning and always ran extra sprints in training camp. It's hard to imagine that Sharpe won't deliver.

OLB Peter Boulware

Presumably healthy after a long rehabilitation from shoulder surgery, Boulware had just two weeks of practice before the season opener. But as evidenced last year, he doesn't need a lot of work to get ready to play. Playing one-armed in 1999 while wearing a restrictive harness on his right shoulder, Boulware bagged 10 sacks and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl as strictly a pass rusher.

If he has anything to prove, it's only what kind of all-around player he can become when he has two arms and is pain-free. What that means to the defense is provocative. If the opposing offense has to use more blockers to tie up Boulware, who gets less attention? And where? The Ravens have enough weapons on defense to find the weak spot in any offense and capitalize.

OGs Edwin Mulitalo and Mike Flynn

The Ravens have shown great confidence in their two young guards. Instead of going after big-name linemen in the off-season, they opted for backup types to reinforce what they already had. And through the preseason, Billick continued to voice confidence in the offensive line.

The regular season will show the wisdom of the Ravens' strategy, because those guards will be tested early with blitzes and various pressures. How they survive that will dictate how the offense goes in the early stages of the season.

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