Roe's looking to leap to NFL Ravens: Rookie was big-play receiver at Division II Norfolk State, but labored in obscurity.

June 11, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Sometimes, James Roe has trouble believing he is this close to catching passes in the NFL.

"Just making it here has been like a dream for me," Roe said after a recent rookie workout at the Ravens' training complex. "I never thought I'd have a chance like this, coming from a small, Division II black college."

At Norfolk State, a member of the less-than-vaunted Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, Roe worked in relative obscurity. Then again, most receivers who put up Roe-like numbers are bound to be noticed, and the Ravens thought enough of his skills to draft Roe in the sixth round.

Roe, 6 feet 2, 185 pounds, rarely will impress as a sprinter. He typically covers the 40-yard dash in an ordinary time of 4.6 seconds. All he did as a wide receiver at Norfolk State was get open constantly and catch almost everything in his vicinity, to the tune of 239 receptions for 4,468 yards and 46 touchdowns during a dynamic four-year run.

Over those four years, Roe never averaged fewer than 17.6 yards per catch. Over his final two seasons, he averaged more than 19 yards per reception, and 32 of his 141 catches went for scores. You could say he has a knack for the big play.

"Whether you play at Slippery Rock, Salisbury State or USC, if you've got skills, you've got skills," said Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore's director of football operations. "He might not have all of the speed you'd like, but he has quickness, some burst and a little know-how. When the ball is in the air, he comes up with it."

And, oh, how this guy can go up and get it. Roe's vertical leap has been measured at as high as 41 inches. Throw in his long arms and huge hands, and it's not hard to envision the nightmares he presented to defensive backs and double-teams in the CIAA.

Roe settled on Norfolk State after academic problems kept him out of Syracuse and the Division I football scholarship he dreamed about while he starred at Henrico High School in Richmond, Va.

In 1994, as a junior in Norfolk State's pro-style offense, Roe set school and conference records in receptions (77), yards (1,454) and touchdowns (17). He then came back last fall -- when the league was out to contain him -- and averaged 19.5 yards per catch with 15 more scores and another 1,248 receiving yards.

"James was the guy everybody tried to take away as a senior, and they couldn't do it," Ravens receivers coach Mike Sheppard said. "The biggest question mark on him was can he run? He plays faster in person than he does on film. For me, he plays fast enough."

Roe, who could end up pushing veteran Derrick Alexander for playing time, is a throwback. He doesn't wear gloves or wristbands. He is too mild-mannered to talk much trash. He prefers to let his push-off moves and precise routes speak for him.

"I don't have the blazing speed, but if I run my routes nice and crisp, I can get open," Roe said. "The thing that has carried me is the intensity to go after the football. Once I get to understand what Mike has to teach me and the more I watch people like Andre Rison and Michael Jackson, I'll learn to become a great receiver.

"I just want to get that first big training camp hit behind me, and go from there. I just want to see how far I can go."

Pub Date: 6/11/96

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