- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick calls today's final preseason game against the New York Giants beginning at noon at PSINet Stadium a "businessman's special."

"I invite everybody to come on over. You can boo replacement officials as well as you can regular officials," Billick said. "The beers will be just as cold, so I don't know what the difference would be."

With scab referees working today's Super Bowl rematch because of the lockout, it may force Billick not to play his starters as long as he would have liked for fear of injury. That's a problem because Billick's offense is not where he would like it, especially the running game.

The players know it won't be the same with referees who have little experience working games at the highest level.

"It's going to be a little different," Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "They are not our level, and there is a reason why they are not working NFL games. We know one thing, [the NFL referees] are not going to be back for this last preseason game and our first regular season game. You don't have a luxury of playing 162 games like baseball or 82 games like basketball. The likelihood of an official blowing a call and costing you maybe a playoff spot is greatly increased for the simple fact of the number of games you play 16 games and every game is crucial."

Billick doesn't share Sharpe's pessimistic view.

"These are competent officials," he said. "Obviously, the speed of the game, the nuances, the rules, I have confidence they will do fine with it. It doesn't mean I will cut them any more slack. There is absolutely nothing we can do about it, and we certainly want to play the game."

After going three straight seasons (1998, 1999 and 2000) without losing a preseason game, the Ravens (0-2) find themselves looking for their first win of this preseason. The Ravens' preseason didn't get off to a good start when their first exhibition game of the season at Philadelphia on Aug. 13 was canceled because of turf problems at Veterans Stadium.

Starting Ravens cornerbacks Chris McAlister (ankle) and Duane Starks (knee) will sit out of this game but should be ready for the Ravens' season opener at home Sept. 9 against the Chicago Bears.

McAlister sprained his ankle in practice Tuesday, and Starks sprained his knee in the Ravens' first preseason game Aug. 18. Rookie Alvin Porter and nine-year veteran James Trapp will start today in their place.

"Starks and McAlister will be the ones that we will miss the most," Billick said.

This week brought good news for Billick's battered offensive line. Billick's left side guard Edwin Mulitalo and four-time Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Ogden resumed practicing earlier in the week and should see some action today.

Ogden sprained his ankle against the Jets on the Ravens' first offensive series and missed last week's game against the Carolina Panthers. Mulitalo suffered a mild knee sprain in practice and like Ogden sat out of the Carolina game. With two of his starters out last week, Billick used a makeshift line with normal right guard Kipp Vickers at left tackle and backup Orlando Bobo at left guard.


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