- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

ORLANDO Cornerback Duane Starks had become the seventh starter to disappear from what was one of the best defenses in NFL history. The team's only quarterback, Chris Redman, has thrown three NFL passes. Its top runner is coming off reconstructive knee surgery.

But Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick isn't downbeat. Whether it's false bravado or an utter belief in himself and his organization, Billick believes his Ravens will be fine even though they're a shadow of the team that won the Super Bowl less than 14 months ago.

"Clearly this is a different transition for us, but I think we're in a lot better shape than when I started three years ago," said Billick, who inherited a 6-10 team. "It would be naive of me to think that everybody's going to say, 'OK. Let's go back to the start,' and give you this grace period. When you win a championship, the expectations are higher. But I will set the expectations for this team, not the fans, not the media. If you let others set the barometer for your success, you're doomed to utter failure. The day we won the Super Bowl, there were countless people who didn't like the way we won it."

Spoken like a man wearing a Marriott polo shirt in a meeting at a Hyatt. Billick basically doesn't care what anybody outside the Ravens' organization thinks.

"I'm just arrogant enough to think that we'll be pretty good," Billick said. "How good? We'll find out. How good did [surprise 2001 champion] New England think they were going to be last year? We have a track record that says we've been down this road before and we kind of know what we're doing. Everyone keeps saying I want to do it on offense, but I recognize the assets that we have. Any way that it takes for us to win, I don't care. I've gotten past that ego side of it that as a coordinator you lean towards. I don't feel any pressure to validate what I've done as an offensive coach, not until somebody breaks that 556 points [the record scored by his Minnesota offense in 1998]."

As has become the company line, Billick said the purge of 10 Super Bowl starters within the past month was the plan all along, neglecting to mention that the millions wasted on quarterback bust Elvis Grbac helped put the Ravens into deep salary cap trouble.

"If you don't recognize as a coach that you're going to go through something like this, that you can avoid that, then you're in for a major disappointment," Billick said. "We didn't wake up after the [second-round playoff loss to] Pittsburgh and go, 'We're in bad cap shape.' It was by design. We re-signed Jamie Sharper, Jermaine Lewis, Rod Woodson and Sam Gash last year. We wanted to keep that team together to see if we could make another run. We had the misfortune of [being $26[ThSp]million over] the cap and getting old at the same time.

"The complexion of our team would change dramatically even if we didn't have the cap situation. I feel like all my seniors have graduated and a bunch of juniors came out. It's energizing. I liked [Florida State coach] Bobby Bowden's comment last year: 'Get your licks in. We're young, but we're getting older by the day.' We've got some good young talent."

Billick is right linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware, cornerback Chris McAlister, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, halfback Jamal Lewis and receiver Travis Taylor will all be 28 or younger this season. The brash coach sees a rosy future when he considers those players, the Ravens' 10 picks in next month's draft, the extra picks they'll likely have in the 2003 draft and being in "incredible" cap shape in 2003 and 2004.

"If you have a bunch of older veterans, they've got to wonder, 'How do I figure into this?'" Billick said of the likely impending down year. "But our guys are still young and [having won a title], they can have a little more faith that we can crank this thing back up."

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