- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

WESTMINSTER, Md. After the first full day of training camp, one thing became perfectly clear: The Ravens' passing offense is going vertical this season.

Just call new quarterback Elvis Grbac "the King" of bombs-away Baltimore. During 11-on-11 drills, Grbac launched a perfect, 55-yard strike to speedy wide receiver Patrick Johnson. The estimated 2,000 fans that turned out to watch the defending Super Bowl champions roared their approval as Grbac hit Johnson in stride.

It was easily the play of the day. It was also something Ravens fans didn't see last season from the league's 22nd-rated passing attack.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Grbac looked sharp in his first practice with the Ravens. Grbac is the biggest reason the champions have dramatically improved. Make no mistake about it, Elvis is in the Ravens' house.

"It feels like I'm back during the old 49er

days where we had good crowds and you are anticipating a great season," Grbac recalled of playing for George Seifert's San Francisco 49ers from 1994 to 1996. He won a ring as a member of the 1994 Super Bowl champions.

"You've got to make plays like that. It's great to have a crowd like this to put the pressure on those guys to really concentrate a little bit better. If we can make that play in practice, we can make it in games, too."

The Ravens won last January's Super Bowl with a mediocre quarterback in Trent Dilfer. Dilfer went 11-1 as the Ravens' starter, but the Ravens' passing attack seldom offered anything more than an 8-yard slant. The confetti was still whirling around the stadium in the aftermath of the Ravens' 34-7 annihilation of the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV and Ravens coach Brian Billick already was prepared to upgrade his offense by changing quarterbacks.

Billick, who has earned a reputation as an offensive genius, was appalled by his team's paltry offensive numbers last season. He wanted a gunslinger, and Grbac wanted another Super Bowl ring. All it took was a five-year, $30 million deal to lure Grbac away from the Kansas City Chiefs.

Grbac is coming off a season in which he threw for a career-high 4,169 yards and 28 touchdowns and earned a trip to his first Pro Bowl.

"First, I want to see him in action wearing our colors," Ravens owner Art Modell said of Grbac. "I like his size, and I like his arm. I'm sort of a [amateur] expert on arm delivery, whether it be pitching or quarterbacking, because I was a professional baseball catcher during World War II. I like a pure overarm thrower. They are the ones that win for you the best. Not three-quarter, not sidearm, but a pure overhand thrower and [Grbac] is."

Grbac, who was selected in the eighth round of the 1993 NFL Draft by the 49ers out of Michigan, has thrown 50 TD passes the last two seasons the fifth-most in the NFL. His passing yardage last season ranked third in the league behind Indianapolis' Peyton Manning (4,413 yards) and San Francisco's Jeff Garcia (4,278).

However, the most telling stat is that Grbac, 30, completed 55 passes of 20 yards or more last season good for third in the league. Grbac has deep-threat capability.

"I kind of got real excited," Billick said of Grbac's bomb to Johnson. "That's what we brought Elvis in to do to increase the efficiency and be more explosive down the field. There was nobody who made more big plays down the field last year than Elvis."

Grbac, a nine-year veteran, knows that if he can complete long passes in practice against the Ravens' stout defense, with its secondary of up-and-coming cornerbacks Duane Starks and Chris McAlister and future Hall of Fame safety Rod Woodson, then he can handle what the league has to offer.

"We get to practice against [the defense] every day," Grbac said. "If we can execute and get better each day against this defense, then it's going to make us better when it comes game time. You want to have the mentality to go out here and try to beat this defense, really try to beat them. If you can do that, then come game time we're going to play well."

Grbac also hopes to balance the Ravens' passing game. Last season, future Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe was Dilfer's main target, and he led the Ravens with 67 receptions for a team-high 810 yards and five TDs. Among the wide receivers, only Qadry Ismail (49 catches) had more than 30 receptions. Grbac wants to spread the ball around more.

"It doesn't do him any good to throw the ball 60 yards and we can't come down with it," Sharpe said. "Elvis has been on some winning teams before. He won a Super Bowl with San Francisco. Now he's the lead guy. As long as he's going to put the ball on the money like he's doing and get us out of bad places into good ones, we don't have a problem. He looked awfully good today. When he puts the ball up, we've got to come down with it."

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