OWINGS MILLS, Md. Good thing coach Brian Billick didn’t burn any bridges leaving Minnesota, because two ex-Vikings must now carry the Baltimore Ravens’ rushing load.
Ravens leading rusher Jason Brookins could be lost for the season after breaking his right foot late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s dramatic 24-21 win at Jacksonville. In addition to Brookins’ injury, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sam Adams will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery and will be out a minimum of two weeks.
The Ravens have the league’s 20th-rated running game and are averaging 105.7 yards per game. For Sunday’s important home game against the reeling Indianapolis Colts (4-6), Billick has only sixth-year man Moe Williams and fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo to call on to competently carry the ball.
The Ravens signed Williams as a free agent Sept. 4 and Ayanbadejo in September 1999 after both had played in Minnesota. Billick spent seven seasons (1992-98) with Minnesota one as tight ends coach and six as offensive coordinator.
“There is a chance he [Brookins] may be lost for the season. I believe it’s going to take a pin implanted and [team physicians] will have to see if it’s a four-to-six weeks [injury],” Billick said of Brookins, who has 536 yards rushing and five touchdowns. “We’ve got what we’ve got. No one is going to come riding in here on a white horse and save us in that regard. Moe Williams has shown that he continues to progress within the system. Femi [Ayanbadejo] can get re-inserted in and use his abilities.”
Brookins, a first-year player out of tiny Lane College, is the third Baltimore running back to go down with injury this season. Star Jamal Lewis who set a team record last season with 1,364 rushing yards blew out his left knee Aug. 8 in training camp.
Three days later, the Ravens signed veteran Terry Allen to replace Lewis. Allen, who has 357 yards on 100 carries with two touchdowns this season, broke his right hand while pouncing on his own fumble three weeks ago against Tennessee.
Billick said he expects Allen to return to the lineup for the Ravens’ Dec. 16 home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Billick also said the Ravens will make a roster move perhaps as early as tomorrow to place defensive end Michael McCrary (knee) on the injured list. The Ravens do not plan to add another running back but are looking to bolster their defensive line.
“Just like it was a couple of weeks ago, there is nobody else (running backs) out there,” said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens’ senior vice president of football operations. “We’re working on one guy, I’m not going to tell you what his name is, but we’ve got a couple of other guys that are defensive linemen on some practice squads that have been with us. If a guy can’t get in our 45-man active roster, then we don’t concern ourselves with him.”
Williams has 19 carries for 52 yards this season. Given what’s left of the Ravens (7-4) running game, Billick expects maligned quarterback Elvis Grbac to take on added responsibility for the offense.
In the Ravens past two games, Grbac has thrown five interceptions and fumbled twice, losing one. On the season, Grbac has thrown 14 interceptions and 10 touchdowns.
In Sunday’s come-from-behind win, Grbac did his best Joe Montana impersonation and directed a nine-play, 74-yard, game-winning touchdown drive in the final 83 seconds, capped off by a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Shannon Sharpe with nine seconds remaining.
With the Ravens in position for a playoff spot, the question now becomes which Grbac will show up for the final five games the one who brilliantly executes a two-minute drill for a heart-stopping win, or the one who is the Cleveland Browns’ best player?
“It’s going to put more pressure on Elvis Grbac,” Billick said. “That’s part of my faith in Elvis and what he is able to do. It’s going to carry more on his shoulders because it’s just not the same. We have enough assets to be viable on offense and get done what we need to get done the rest of the way.”