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5 BALTIMORE Ravens
Michael Silver
September 01, 1997
Given all the time and energy Art Modell has spent defending himself in the 19 months since he yanked his team out of Cleveland and moved to Baltimore, it's no surprise that the Ravens owner has spent a great deal of money on defense. This past off-season Modell acted out of necessity, coughing up cash for two free-agent linemen and a pair of highly drafted linebackers. Otherwise, the man who moved the Browns might have become as unpopular in Baltimore as he is in his former home.
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September 01, 1997

5 Baltimore Ravens

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1936 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record: 4-12 (fifth in AFC Central)

Rushing

Passing

Total

OFFENSE

109.1(14)

248.6(2)

357.7(3)

DEFENSE

120.0(23)

248.1(30)

368.1(30)

Given all the time and energy Art Modell has spent defending himself in the 19 months since he yanked his team out of Cleveland and moved to Baltimore, it's no surprise that the Ravens owner has spent a great deal of money on defense. This past off-season Modell acted out of necessity, coughing up cash for two free-agent linemen and a pair of highly drafted linebackers. Otherwise, the man who moved the Browns might have become as unpopular in Baltimore as he is in his former home.

Baltimore fans who had stopped paying close attention to football after the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 must have been perplexed during the Ravens' first season. Baltimore surrendered an NFL-high 368.1 yards per game and also finished at the bottom in pass defense, which tends to happen when a team is as weak in the secondary as the Ravens were last year.

Baltimore also put up a feeble front in '96. "I wouldn't care if we had four Deion Sanderses in the secondary," says defensive end Rob Burnett, an eight-year veteran who missed much of the '96 season after tearing ligaments in his right knee. "It's still up to us, the front seven, and last year we were in disarray." Injuries to Burnett and since-departed lineman Dan Footman forced defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to junk a 4-3 alignment after six games and switch to the 3-4 zone blitz he had helped implement as a Steelers assistant.

So while coach Ted Marchibroda and quarterback Vinny Testaverde were turning the Ravens into an un-Brownslike offensive juggernaut—Baltimore scored 371 points, fourth in the AFC—the defense couldn't stop anybody, especially when it counted most. The Ravens blew second-half leads in eight of their last 11 games and finished 4-12.

"What a waste," Burnett says. "In Cleveland we never had anything close to that kind of offensive production. Last year's offense was a dream come true, and we couldn't support them."

Replacements began arriving soon after the season ended. The Ravens rebuilt the right side of their defensive line through free agency, signing run-stopping tackle Tony Siragusa, a longtime member of the Colts who is coming off knee surgery, and pass-rushing end Michael McCrary, who emerged as a force for the Seahawks last season when he had 13½ sacks, tying the Bills' Bruce Smith for top honors in the AFC. The draft yielded three prospective starters: outside linebackers Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper, and free safety Kim Herring. Throw in tackle James Jones and a healthy Burnett, a Pro Bowl performer in '94, and Marchibroda has cause for optimism.

"Abilitywise, our front four can compare with anybody in the league," Marchibroda says. "The linebackers are a talented group. We're hoping their ability can overcome their inexperience."

It will take time, of course. "Going from high school to college is a jump," Siragusa says. "Going from college to the pros is a pole vault." This bunch will have to learn on the fly. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the senior member of the group, had a team-leading 142 tackles as a rookie last season. It will be especially tough for Boulware, the fourth pick in the draft. His negotiations dragged on until mid-August, and he was the final '97 draftee to come to terms, signing a six-year, $18.5 million deal on Aug. 18.

The Ravens are praying that Boulware, who led the nation with 19 sacks while playing end for Florida State last season, can make a quick transition to linebacker. But if Boulware and the rest of the front seven don't produce, 1997 might start looking a lot like last season.

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