Cotton won't relax despite new role Promising fullback gets more playing time, fights rookie mistakes

October 18, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

As Kenyon Cotton continues his transformation from a runner in college to a blocker at the professional football level, he also is mastering the anxiety that sometimes consumes him.

When he first joined the Ravens as a free-agent fullback last spring, Cotton wondered constantly if he was merely practice fodder behind fullback Steve Lee, the team's sixth-round draft pick.

Three weeks into training camp and shortly into the preseason, it was obvious that Cotton was the more talented and promising of the two. And after the Ravens cut Lee and kept the 6-foot, 252-pound Cotton, the nervous rookie finally could relax a bit.

Or could he? Over the next month, while he barely played outside of special teams, Cotton scanned the waiver wire weekly, praying he didn't find his name on the list every player wants to avoid.

"I'd see somebody else's name [on the Ravens] getting waived, and it felt like a knife was jabbing at me," Cotton said. "It was like, man, that was close. When you're not seeing a lot of playing time, you wonder about things.

"I still mentally torture myself, even though I've made it. I'm here, right? I must be doing something right."

Cotton is doing enough of the right things to position himself for a larger role in the Ravens' immediate future. In the Ravens' 42-34 loss to Pittsburgh two weeks ago, he threw several lead blocks that caught the eyes of his coaches. Cotton helped spring Bam Morris on a short touchdown run by laying out Steelers safety Myron Bell.

Shortly after that game, the Ravens began focusing more on their two-back offense. In other words, Cotton, the team's only true fullback, was looking at more playing time.

Now, Cotton said he is determined to prove the team right in its decision to expand his role. He studies more game film than ever. Throughout last week's practices, he had a renewed bounce in his step. His enthusiasm also led him to commit a few more rookie mistakes.

"He was so excited about getting more of an opportunity to play, he was running around out of control at times," veteran running back Earnest Byner said of Cotton. "A lot of demons that surround him, he creates. But he definitely has the heart and determination of a good player. He just needs to get all of that energy concentrated in the right direction."

Al Lavan, the Ravens' running backs coach, said Cotton commits typical rookie miscues by blowing an occasional assignment. Like yesterday in practice, when Cotton lined up at fullback and was supposed to block the middle linebacker. Instead, he went after an outside linebacker.

"With all of his enthusiasm, sometimes he complicates things that are very simple," Lavan said. "You know how some people worry about things they shouldn't worry about? He's one of those people. You can't do that too much, because all of a sudden, you become paralyzed by pollution.

"He has made tremendous strides since he's been here. I was concerned with how well he would go from a runner to a guy who would just throw his body at another guy. I always tell him he has two important things to do -- block and block. Go knock somebody down. And we know that he will train-wreck a guy."

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis knows it. Early in training camp, when Cotton was still trying to overcome Lee's shadow and fresh out of Southwestern Louisiana -- where he rushed for 2,511 yards and 25 touchdowns -- he hit Lewis with a glancing block from the side that left Lewis with a neck injury. Lewis landed in University of Maryland Hospital's Shock Trauma Center for an overnight stay.

Cotton, thinking he might have ended Lewis' career, was devastated at first. But he and Lewis quickly recovered.

Cotton spent the rest of the preseason showing the Ravens he had the combination of speed and power they were looking for. He rushed for 54 yards, and the Ravens especially liked the explosive way he got into his blocks.

"Now I've just got to get stronger. [Ravens strength coach] Jerry Simmons is always on me about my weight," said Cotton, who doesn't smoke or drink, but is trying to overcome another bad habit. While watching TV or playing video games late at night, he NTC has a hard time avoiding snacks. Hamburgers, tacos, whatever.

"I don't want to spend the year just holding down my position," he added. "I know you can only control things to a degree, but I want to show the coaches that I'm the guy they need."

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said Cotton is off to the right kind of start.

"Whenever we have called on [Cotton], he has produced, going back to training camp," Marchibroda said. "He's a long shot who has come a long way."

Pub Date: 10/18/97

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