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NFL '98
By the Numbers | Inside Slant | Lineup
Scouting Report

5 - Baltimore Ravens

Will a new-look backfield—featuring a man who's ready to throw his considerable weight around—plus a new offensive philosophy add up to more wins?

  Roosevelt Potts
If things go according to plan, Potts will shoulder an increasingly heavy load in the Ravens' revamped rushing attack.  (Al Tielemans)
Hanging from some monkey bars at the Ravens' training camp in Westminster, Md., is a tremendously large, blue tackling bag. It's called Big Brutus 01. In one of his first-day drills, coach Ted Marchibroda had his running backs ram into Brutus as if it were John Randle disguised as, well, a big blue bag.

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 Jim—he 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."

Schedule
Sept. 6 PITTSBURGH
13 at N.Y. Jets
20 at Jacksonville
27 CINCINNATI
Oct. 4 OPEN DATE
11 TENNESSEE
18 at Pittsburgh
25 at Green Bay
Nov. 1 JACKSONVILLE
8 OAKLAND
15 at San Diego
22 at Cincinnati
29 INDIANAPOLIS
Dec. 6 at Tennessee
13 MINNESOTA
20 at Chicago
27 DETROIT
 
Sure, Errict. Although Marchibroda promises Rhett will get his share of carries, the Ravens will operate with a backfield by committee. That means Graham, the stocky second-year pro from Tennessee, will start and Rhett will come off the bench, with each getting 10-20 touches a game. The biggest (and not just girthwise) addition-question mark is Potts. As an unheralded Colts rookie five years ago, he rushed for 711 punishing yards. The next April the Colts drafted Faulk, and Potts's yardage dropped to 336. In 1995 he ran for just 309 yards in 15 games. Despite the drop in workload, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry in his first three seasons. Then the bottom fell out. Potts failed a drug test and was suspended for the '96 season. Last year, after holding out until Aug. 11, he appeared in two games with the Colts before being released. He was picked up by the Dolphins and played in six more. He carried once for each team, for a total of four yards.

"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."

Jeff Pearlman

By the Numbers | Inside Slant | Lineup

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