Time for Billick to take a stern approach

OWING MILLS - In the dictatorial province of football, Brian Billick doesn't exactly rule with an iron fist, or a velvet glove. The Baltimore Ravens coach falls somewhere in the middle of the NFL discipline scale. By nature, Billick's demeanor is intentionally in direct opposition to the extremely cold Tom Coughlin, the chief emulator of General George S. Patton or Vince Lombardi growling his way through the league today.

Through design, Billick isn't as prone to compliments or Cheshire cat grins as Steve Mariucci, the San Francisco 49ers' sunnier version of Mr. Rogers. Billick is forgiving enough of his players' shortcomings without totally coddling them. That's a major reason why the salary-cap ravaged and injury-riddled Ravens have managed a 6-7 mark and are still teetering on the brink of postseason extinction.

At some point, though, even Billick will draw a stern line. He has fired talent like Cornell Brown and Ralph Staten for off-field mischief before, bringing the reformed Brown back into the Ravens' fold this summer.

However, answers to a few deadly football sins escape Billick's logic. In response to repeated queries over burly running back Jamal Lewis' fumbling travails, Billick said overreacting to Lewis' seven fumbles this season would be like a policeman drawing his six-shooter on a jaywalker.

"Is he really going to use it?" Billick said. "What am I going to do? Threaten Jamal and tell him that he's not going to play? That's silly. He doesn't want to fumble. No one feels worse about the fumbles than Jamal."

Correct. Short of telling Lewis to handle the pigskin with proper care there isn't much the Ravens can do other than have him sleep with it.

As for cornerback Chris McAlister's attempt to turn tossing New Orleans Saints receiver Donte' Stallworth's helmet into an Olympic event, there's no excuse, or alibi that suffices. Not for Billick. Not for anyone. Especially not for McAlister, who has lofty Pro Bowl aspirations and millions of dollars at stake in an impending contract negotiation.

His 15-yard personal foul set up a touchdown. It could have gotten him booted from the contest, a 37-25 loss for the Ravens. This kind of misbehavior certainly isn't the ideal way to get paid, or earn the respect of his peers around the league.

"That's one of those bonehead things," Billick said. "When it's from a veteran, that's when you have to be a little bit upset and I'll communicate that to him the proper way. Penalties are murder."

Here's a novel approach for Billick: Tell McAlister that while the organization respects his skills that similar actions will cost him at the bargaining table. Try something with some teeth.

Since it's essentially a developmental season and many of his players are either unproven kids or journeymen ripe to be replaced by superior athletes this off-season, Billick's not inclined to humiliate them with public criticism.

 "What I like to do is win," Billick said. "Anytime you spend a lot of time and energy and when you see the athletic talent, and you know guys are capable of doing certain things, then it is frustrating when it doesn't happen. The unrealized potential is the type of thing that will irritate or set a coach off more than anything else."

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