Coach Brian Billick and the Baltimore Ravens found a way to make the team's first scrimmage both entertaining and more precise than usual. Instead of saying the defense was way, way, way ahead of the offense when the eight-series affair was over tonight, the scoring system Billick devised had it 19 points to 5.
"Rough, to say the least," said Billick, whose major charge as the replacement for Ted Marchibroda is to improve one of the least effective offenses in the NFL. "The things that will frustrate me more than anything are some mental errors, some technique errors that we've worked on and done well up to now."
Under the system Billick tweaked from experiences with the Minnesota Vikings, the offense would have received seven points for a touchdown, three points for advancing the ball inside the 20-yard line and a point each for three consecutive first downs and one play of more than 40 yards.
The only points on offense came from the second team (one point against the first-team defense) and the third team (four points against the second-team defense). The first-team offense did not generate so much as a first down.
The defense scored in every way it could, with the main points coming on two interceptions, two fumble recoveries (three points each) and two quarterback sacks (one point each).
Billick noted that the defense should be one of the better ones in the league this season and added: "Don't spin this [lack of offense] too negative too fast."
There was no kicking during the scrimmage, but incumbent Matt Stover and Scott Bentley had a field goal competition from various distances during halftime. With only a snapper and holder involved, Bentley won by making kicks from 51 and 54 yards while Stover missed from 51.
Individually, first-team quarterback Scott Mitchell completed one pass on five tries. Usually sure-handed fullback Chuck Evans fumbled the completion, a screen pass against the first-team defense. Backup Tony Banks had both interceptions, including one in the end zone on third and goal from the 3 after a pass-interference penalty.
"It's a little disappointing," Mitchell said. "Maybe it's a good indicator of where we are and how far we have to go."
The defensive standouts were a mix of old and young starters and an obscure linebacker. Nine-year veteran end Rob Burnett had a hand in one of the sacks and second-year cornerback Duane Starks grabbed Banks's end-zone interception. Two injured defensive starters, linebacker Peter Boulware (shoulder) and end Michael McCrary (knee), did not play.
"Some guys I was wondering whether they could make a play made some plays," said defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, referring to a few players trying to win backup jobs. Linebacker Brad Jackson, who had the other interception, is one of them.
"I've messed up a lot, probably giving Marvin and [linebackers coach] Jack Del Rio fits," said the 6-foot, 230-pound Jackson, who was on the practice squads of the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans before joining the Ravens last season in late September and being active for one game. "But I read [Banks's] eyes, took off and got blessed with a pick."
In addition to the scoring system, the scrimmage was distinctive for being so fan-friendly. The Ravens' band, cheerleaders and mascot also entertained a crowd of about 4,000 at the stadium of Division III power Western Maryland. Billick had a question-and-answer session with fans for about a half-hour before the scrimmage and the players signed autographs for at least 20 minutes after it was over.
"A fun night in August," Billick said. "The upside is that all the mistakes can easily be corrected. But for them to show up in this atmosphere is a concern."