Billick's cap filled with optimism


INDIANAPOLIS - The last time Brian Billick faced this mob, the Ravens coach careened through Super Bowl week in a running battle with the national media.

Two years later, a kinder, gentler Billick renewed acquaintances at the NFL's scouting combine. This time, there were no lectures, no courtroom oratory about his star middle linebacker, Ray Lewis, and no animosity. Just football.

"Let's see if I can [tick] fewer people off," Billick said yesterday. "Last time I did this, I seemed to make you all mad. So I'll just answer your questions this time."

Billick, at his engaging best, answered questions for 30-plus minutes on a wide array of subjects. Among other things, he said that he held no strong conviction about proposals to change the overtime format, and that drafting a quarterback in the first round was little more than a "crapshoot."

As for the Ravens, he reiterated his optimism the team will be able to re-sign veteran free-agent quarterback Jeff Blake and said he was hopeful Chris Redman would make a complete comeback from back surgery.

The good news of the day for the Ravens, though, was that they won the coin toss to break a tie with the Seattle Seahawks for the 10th pick in the April 26-27 draft. Actually, they won two coin tosses. The first, called by general manager Ozzie Newsome, was to determine which team called the toss. The second, by newly appointed director of pro personnel George Kokinis, earned the higher pick.

Billick said Kokinis was selected for the duty because the team's coaches "are the worst coin-flipping decision-makers in the NFL. I don't think we won one last year. So I told the coaches, 'I don't want you near it; I don't want you talking to George.' George has done this a couple times, so he's our ace in the hole."

Kokinis' call? Heads. "Now I feel like I'm involved in the draft," he said.

After enduring one of the roughest offseasons one could imagine a year ago, the Ravens are poised to celebrate a turnaround. They have more than $25 million in salary cap space and a firm handle on their future.

"It's amazing the difference a year can make," Billick said. "Last year, the hard thing was ... after our last game, you just kept waiting for that next bit of bad news to come down the pike - who we couldn't sign, who we couldn't go after, who wasn't going to get [a contract] redone.

"It's 180 degrees different now. ... We're not only in good cap shape this year, but we'll be in even better cap shape next year. So it's an exciting time for us right now."

Exciting, but uncertain. While the Ravens decide whom to take with the 10th pick - a wide receiver or an offensive tackle, perhaps - they also must come to terms with Blake and wait out Redman's rehabilitation from back surgery.

Billick said the Ravens remain in "constant" communication with Blake's agent, Ralph Cindrich, attempting to hammer out a new incentive-laden, multi-year contract. Billick was noncommittal when asked if he expected Blake to test the free-agent market that opens Friday.

"That's up to he and Ralph," Billick said. "I think Jeff genuinely wants to be back. I think he sees our situation as probably his best interest. We've told him we want him back. But again, when you're talking about money and agents and the whole business aspect of it, you've got to quantify it."

As for Redman, Billick said, "The prognosis for Chris is very good. But until I see him out there throwing the ball on a consistent basis, taking the hit, I'm actually going to worry about that."

With those contingencies, the Ravens may wade into the free-agent pool in search of a quarterback, or they may draft one, Billick allowed.

Meanwhile, the rumored return of former Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac to the league was nipped in the bud yesterday. Grbac's agent, Jim Steiner, announced the quarterback would remain retired.

"I like Elvis; he's a good man," Billick said. "I think he's a good quarterback, and I think he belongs in the league."

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