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Burnett sees improvement ahead for Ravens

April 01, 2000|By BOB PARASILITI

FUNKSTOWN - Up.

That's the only acceptable direction the Baltimore Ravens can go in the 2000 season.

At least that's where lineman Rob Burnett has his sights set after the season the Ravens had last year and the downward trend they have suffered through this offseason.

"That's kind of tough to do," Burnett said Saturday before accepting the Lineman of the Year honor at the Ravens Roost 46 banquet at the new Moose complex. "We finished first or second in the (NFL) in defense but there is still plenty of room for improvement."

The Ravens did finish as the NFL's second best defensive team, but suffered through growing pains under an offensive scheme put in place by new coach Brian Billick. It translated into an 8-8 record and another missed playoff opportunity.

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Burnett's contribution to the mix made him part of the defense's foundation and opened the field for Baltimore's crew of linebackers to react. He was honored by the newest addition to the Ravens' Roosts for collecting 54 tackles in his 16 starts along with 6 1/2 quarterback sacks.

The award wasn't as important to Burnett as the recognition he was getting from fans this far west of Baltimore.

"This is very special to me," the 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end said. "I didn't know if they liked the Ravens out here or the impact the Ravens have here. It was tough to tell when it would be like, especially after the situation we had (moving from Cleveland).

"But I felt it could come in time. We tried to put a couple of great seasons together. People who are fans of the NFL, if they see the guys playing hard, they will follow."

The Ravens defense took a hard hit during this offseason because of the Ray Lewis murder trial. Lewis, who is being charged in the murder of two men after a Super Bowl party in Atlanta, was the heart of the Baltimore defense and could be missing when the season starts.

"We'll just have to wait and see what happens," the 11-year veteran said in somber tones. "My heart goes out to the family of the victims and my heart goes out to Ray. I'm sure in my heart that he didn't do it. But as far as what it will do to the team, we have to take a wait-and-see attitude. There's nothing we can say because no one really knows what happened."

Even with the dark cloud over the defense for now, Burnett still anticipates good things for the Ravens in the future. Baltimore's offense ranked 24th in the league last year but started to show promise at the end of the season once quarterback Tony Banks got comfortable and established a connection with receiver Qadry Ismail.

"I think we are only one or two players short of doing things on offense," Burnett said. "We will get over the hump once we are able to play collectively. We have to get past it where the defense saves us one week, then the offense the next and the special teams on another week. We'll do well once we start putting them all together every week. We haven't won anything yet, but you can feel good about this team."

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