Third stop's charm for DE Washington fits in nicely with Ravens, 3rd team in 3 years

November 28, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens defensive end Keith Washington is almost as tough as the hide of his one-foot pet alligator Uno.

There seems to be a parallel between the history of alligators and Washington's pro football career. Let Mr. Washington explain: "I love fishing and I love studying alligators," Washington said. "Even as a little child, I always found them interesting. I've always liked the power they possess, and their ability to evolve from the days of dinosaurs to now. That says something about alligators."

Washington, 24, knows a lot about surviving. He made one-year stops in Minnesota and Detroit before trying out with the Ravens in mid-September and then signing a contract one month later.

Washington was expected to be a fill-in for starting defensive ends Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary, and to play on special teams. But since his first week with the team, Washington, 6 feet 4 and 270 pounds, has been getting more playing time.

And with Burnett listed as questionable this week because of a knee injury, Washington has been getting a lot of repetitions with the first team.

"We knew he had athletic ability and aggressiveness," said Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. "But he also has great intellect and ability to pick up things. We feel he can one day be a starter in this league. He just needs to go out and get accustomed to the ups and downs of starting every play. Hopefully, we can keep him around for a while. We're lucky to get him."

McCrary said, "He is a hard-working individual, a guy who is going to take advantage of any opportunity. He reminds me of myself when I was his age, always hustling, just trying to do whatever needs to get done."

In six games, Washington has only three team tackles but four on special teams. As he becomes more familiar with the system, the Ravens probably will play him more because Washington has intangibles such as size, speed and quickness.

And no one questions his desire.

Washington, from UNLV, was a free agent in the Vikings' and Lions' camps. He was barely into his rookie camp in Minnesota when he learned that his mother, Deloris Miller, had breast cancer. She eventually had a mastectomy.

"That may have been the biggest trauma of my life," Washington said. "I'm going into my first camp undrafted and then I hear she has breast cancer. We talked a lot and prayed a lot through that period of my life. Through the grace of God, he healed her and healed me as a person. I became a lot more focused after that."

Washington eventually was placed on injured reserve with an ankle problem in 1995 and spent last season with Detroit. He was waived by the Lions in training camp this year, then got another opportunity with the Ravens.

"Before, he was in a numbers game with the other teams because they already had defensive ends," Lewis said.

Said Washington: "I really didn't have any expectations coming here; I was happy to help the team any way I could. But I do feel that if I work hard and really try to learn, then you deserve a chance.

"I never really had a chance in the other places. I'm comfortable with this system now, but there are a lot of different schemes. I think they are very effective schemes; you just have to be real precise in what you have to do.

"I believe this is the right place, the right time for me until somebody tells me different. I'll feel it within myself when it's time for me to get out."

That's when Washington will move close to his hometown of Dallas. He envisions himself one day building an alligator farm, maybe housing two or three.

"I'm a pretty low-key person, really laid-back, with a nice sense of humor," Washington said. "Don't get me wrong. I love alligators, but if I see one, I'm not going to go up and pet it. You can't trust them. They'll hurt you."

`

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars

Site: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Jaguars by 8

Series: Jaguars lead 3-0

Last meeting: Jaguars won, 28-27, on Aug. 31 at Memorial Stadium

Pub Date: 11/28/97

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