What do you have when the only certifiably great player among your passers and catchers is 5 feet 7 and weighs 172 pounds? The main reason Brian Billick is coaching the Baltimore Ravens.
Last season, the Ravens were last among AFC teams in total offense and last in touchdown percentage inside their opponents' 20-yard line. They scored fewer than two touchdowns in half their games.
That's why Billick replaced Ted Marchibroda after a 6-10 season, why starting quarterback Scott Mitchell and backup Tony Banks were acquired, and why a gang of receivers either anxious to revive once-splendid careers or intent on fulfilling various degrees of potential was brought in to complement the smallish Jermaine Lewis.
"I've been down this road before, where it's a matter of getting the right people in the right place," said Billick, referring to his role in building the Minnesota Vikings' record-setting offense over a five-year period and some other success as a college assistant.
Billick is betting his reputation that Mitchell will succeed with the Ravens after being beaten out by a rookie, Charlie Batch, early last season with the Detroit Lions. Mitchell had five good seasons prior to that but was forced to accept not only that demotion, but also a drastic cut in salary before joining the Ravens.
"Just having an opportunity to play again feels great," Mitchell said this morning after the first practice of training camp. "I like Brian and I like the situation."
So far, Billick has been more impressed with Mitchell than with most of the receivers.
"I like everything about him," Billick said of Mitchell, who is 6-5 and 242 pounds after losing about 15 pounds since mid-April. "Size. Strength, intelligence, experience. It's just a matter of putting the right system around him, giving him a chance to succeed.
"There'll be healthy competition, but right now this is Scott Mitchell's team."
As for the receivers, players who were terrific at one time but on the decline recently include Webster Slaughter, Eric Metcalf and Qadry Ismail. Younger receivers on the rise include Billy Davis, who had 39 receptions for the Dallas Cowboys last year, and Justin Armour.
"I like the fact that Armour and [holdover] Floyd Turner have the same [possession-receiver] attributes," Billick said. "So do [the much faster] Davis and Ismail. That causes more competition."
Second-year speedster Patrick Johnson worked with Lewis and the first team today. A second-round choice last season, Johnson was impressive in preseason games but caught just 12 passes during the regular season.
"Everything is totally different now," Johnson said. "I'm not totally awed, not wasting a whole bunch of energy just learning drills."
Metcalf and another acquisition, nine-year veteran Steve Broussard, have skills coming out of the backfield on third down. Of the tight ends, Lovett Purnell has the best combination of blocking and receiving ability.
Yet another wide receiver in the mix, rookie fourth-round draft choice Brandon Stokley, signed his contract today and practiced this afternoon.
Offensive lineman Edwin Mulitalo, the other fourth-round draftee, also signed in time to take part in the second practice. Both he and Stokley accepted significantly lower signing bonuses than players chosen near them in the draft, believed to be about $50,000 each, but were given contracts that have easily makable incentives, according to a team official.
A team source said the third rookie holdout, seventh-round draft choice Anthony Poindexter, should be signed "in a day or so."
Ravens Notes: In a reorganizational move, four department heads will report to president David Modell -- Ozzie Newsome (football operations), Kevin Byrne (public relations and marketing), Luis Perez (finance and administration) and Chuck Cusick (facilities and grounds).