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5 - Baltimore Ravens
Will a new-look backfieldfeaturing a man who's ready to throw his considerable weight aroundplus a new offensive philosophy add up to more wins?
First, Tony Vinson went thud!
Then Errict Rhett. Pop!
Then Jay Graham. Pow!
Finally, along came Roosevelt Potts, Baltimore's newly acquired 6-foot, 250-pound monster of a fullback: ka-BOOOOM! Big Brutus 01 swung high into the air. The monkey bars wobbled. The ground, onlookers swore, quaked.
Baltimore, meet Roosevelt.
"Rosie's a warrior," says Jim Harbaugh, the Ravens' new quarterback. "He's a dominant type of player, strong and fast. With that power, you don't want to mess with him."
AFC Central rivals will have no choice. After spending the past two years waiting for Vinny Testaverde's extremely strong, extremely erratic right arm to take them somewhere beyond the cellar (it never did), the Ravens have ripped apart the playbook and started anew. Remember those 50-yard hit-or-miss fly patterns to Jermaine Lewis? Forget 'em. Excited about Harbaugh's throwing the deep post to Michael Jackson? Don't hold your breath.
Marchibroda, tired of last year's flashy-but-ineffective attack (326 points, 11th in the AFC), brought in some horses to run behind one of the league's most physical offensive lines. The Ravens bid farewell to Bam Morris and Earnest Byner, who combined for 1,087 yards last year, and dealt a 1999 third-round draft pick to Tampa Bay for Rhett, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher who will complement Graham at tailback. The 27-year-old Potts, who signed as a free agent in February, was Marshall Faulk's road paver in Indianapolis before joining the Dolphins last season. And Harbaugh, 34 and a few years removed from the Captain Comeback tag, arrives by way of trade from the Colts to replace the released Testaverde. "I wanted to get some players who know what it's like to win," says Marchibroda, who as he begins his third season is already hearing rumors about his job security. "Rosie Potts was in the playoffs last year with Miami. Rhett was there with Tampa Bay. And Jimhe knows every method for pulling out a football game. That kind of stuff is contagious."
That sounds good; but now consider this: Last year at this time, Rhett's number 32 new-style Bucs jersey was selling for $45 in Foot Lockers nationwide. By last January, after a 31-carry season, the shirt could be had at Marshall's for eight bucks. This was the same player who, just two seasons earlier, had rumbled for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns. "Last year had nothing to do with talent and nothing to do with ability," says Rhett, who blames a contract dispute for his decreased playing time. "Now I'm ready to show what I've got again. I expect big things. Everyone goes for 1,000 yards. I want 2,000."
"This is my second chance," says Potts, whom Marchibroda coached for three years with the Colts. "The first time I was a second-round pick, and I had to do it all myself. Now I'm being treated like a first-rounder. Ted's told me that in Indianapolis, with Marshall around, he never really gave me a fair opportunity. Now he's giving it to me."
Marchibroda loves the way Potts blocks. He loves his soft hands (73 catches in three full seasons). Most of all, he loves the idea of taking a "what ever happened to...?" and turning him into an All-Pro. Graham and Rhett will get first shots, but Marchibroda sees Potts as his eventual go-to guy, a 1,000-yard, 30-40 catch player.
"I've had most of the last two seasons off," says Potts. "Some may see that as rust. Me? I think it's more about being fresh. This is my time." He pauses. "Again."
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