Beyond the anxiety that accompanies fringe players' quest to make this football team, the Ravens' preseason finale against the New York Giants carries additional meaning for a few prominent athletes with something to prove. Regardless of whether incumbent passer Chris Redman or rookie challenger Kyle Boller is chosen to start, someone has to lead an offense that's been limited to four touchdowns in a dozen quarters. "It was pretty ugly," Redman said of the Ravens' 24-3 loss Saturday night to the Washington Redskins. "Obviously, if you don't get the ball in the end zone it's not good. It's little things here and there and they add up. We're too far along to have those mental lapses."
While neither quarterback candidate has distinguished himself notably, the entire offense isn't fond of the statistical reflection. The running game ranks 30th in the league, averaging only 2.7 yards per carry. The offense is rated 16th overall, although fourth in passing yardage. "You don't want to force the ball because our defense is so good that sometimes a punt is a good thing," said Boller, who estimated he should have completed at least three more passes after going 14-for-20 against Washington. "Usually, it is. Maybe we need some extra film work."
In Suggs' case, he represents a slightly frustrated first-round draft pick. Suggs set an NCAA single-season mark with 24 sacks last fall at Arizona State. In a preseason that began with a brief contract holdout and was interrupted by a neck injury, Suggs has yet to hit an NFL quarterback in an actual game. "I'm not disappointed, but I know I can do better," said Suggs, who has four tackles. "I know there's a lot more to the game than just rushing the passer and stopping the run. It's pretty deep actually." Suggs, 20, admitted that he could have reported to camp in better condition, but believes he's in good shape now.
The nuances of redirecting his pass rush after blockers meet his initial charge is a large part of the equation for Suggs. Against the Redskins, Suggs struggled to escape from blockers' grasp and appeared to tire as the game progressed. "It's not coming along as fast as I wish it would," Suggs said. "Once I get it, I think I'm going to start playing like everyone expects me to."
A potential pass-rushing specialist role awaits Suggs as Adalius Thomas is excelling as a starter at left outside linebacker. "We're going to try to focus Terrell on some specific obligations and some specific things that he can do," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We've got to find some way to maximize what he does. He's got a long, long way to go." Meanwhile, Robinson has one reception for 13 yards and hasn't appeared to be in sync with the quarterbacks. He hasn't caught as pass since the Bills contest. The Ravens signed the former Chicago Bears' Pro Bowl alternate to a one-year deal hoping he would revitalize the offense by providing a tall, physical deep threat.
Robinson's initial assimilation has been a struggle marked by dropped passes, including a slant against Buffalo that caused an interception. "Oh, man, it's been terrible for me," said Robinson, who caught 84 passes for 1,400 yards and nine touchdowns in 1999. "This camp has not been good at all. I don't like the way I've played this camp and the preseason. "I've been through these times before and I know what I can do on the field. I just need to keep working hard." This development puts the coaching staff in the awkward position of having to trust that Robinson will snap out of this slump and perform better. "To a large degree, we're going to have to take that certain faith that he's got all of the things he had when he was a Pro Bowl player, which I think he does, and that will show up during the season," Billick said. Brightful fumbled away a punt in his first game back since hyperextending his right knee during camp.
Although the Ravens released rookie return specialist Hugh Smith on Monday, Brightful is aware that his 16.1 punt return average and 95-yard punt return for a score happened last season. "I still need to show the coaches a little something for a little bit of self-preservation," Brightful said. "It's easier to go from an F to an A than it is to keep an A. It's harder to keep your job than it is to earn it."
Aaron Wilson writes for The Carroll County Times