The Baltimore Ravens have increased their interest in Lawrence Phillips, to the point where Coach Brian Billick interrupted a vacation to schedule a meeting with the free agent running back yesterday in Atlanta. The club earlier had said it would try to meet with Phillips when Billick and Ozzie Newsome, vice president of player personnel, returned next week.
Billick was unavailable to comment last night. Owner Art Modell said he had not spoken with Billick and added that Billick's assessment would determine whether additional talks with Phillips at the club's Owings Mills, Md., complex were necessary.
"I will continue this only if Brian says so," Modell said.
The running back position is one of the major uncertainties for the Ravens. Priest Holmes gained 1,008 yards on 233 carries last season after becoming a starter in the fourth game, but more than 400 of those yards came in two games against the Cincinnati Bengals. The 5-foot-9, 205-pound Holmes blocks and catches passes well but is considered small for a prime back.
The Washington Redskins, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills are among the teams also evaluating Phillips, who gained 1,021 yards on 194 carries for the Barcelona Dragons in the recently completed NFL Europe season.
Even though Phillips had numerous problems at Nebraska, which included being sentenced to a year of probation after dragging his girlfriend down a flight of stairs, the Ravens strongly considered using the fourth pick in the 1996 NFL draft on Phillips. Modell was among those impressed with Phillips during face-to-face conversations.
However, tackle Jonathan Ogden of UCLA became available -- and the consensus among Newsome, then-coach Ted Marchibroda, team scouts and other officials was that he was the superior player. Ogden has become one of the best players in the league, a Pro Bowl selection the last two seasons; Phillips was released by the team that drafted him, the St. Louis Rams, after being fined numerous times during two seasons.
The Miami Dolphins later signed Phillips, then cut him.