Trying to catch a break

Ravens: Kendrick Nord's outstanding athletic ability got him an opportunity with the team, but he'll have to refine his talent to make it in the NFL.

July 06, 1999

Kendrick Nord looked very much like a guy learning a new position. At one point during the Ravens' recent minicamp, there was Nord, breaking off a pattern crisply to the outside, reaching out with one hand and grabbing a pass just before it hit the ground, drawing a rave review from coach Brian Billick.

A few minutes later, Nord ran a sloppy route, dropped a well-thrown ball, then listened to Billick scold him.

It has been an up-and-down spring for Nord. Such is life when a longtime quarterback, determined to taste the NFL, discovers he must learn a new trick to give himself a chance.

The Ravens figure Nord is easily worth the risk. They acknowledge his raw receiving skills, yet see a pure athlete bursting with ability. They watch him struggle to grasp some of Billick's offensive concepts, yet see a talent begging to be refined.

"[Nord] makes mistakes and he drops balls and I'm jumping all over him all of the time," Billick said. "And I've told him since the day he walked in here, the day I stop jumping you is the day you'd better start worrying. He's just too good of an athlete not to be a player. I'm anxious to find out what kind of player he can be."

Nord, 27, has the magic numbers that make scouts quiver. At 6 feet 2, 210 pounds, he has a commanding presence. With 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash, he can pull away from a defensive back. With a 40-inch vertical leap, he can envision himself out-jumping any cornerback someday.

"If you just look at [Nord's] ability on paper, he's everything you want in a receiver. He's got all of the intangibles," Ravens wide-out Jermaine Lewis said. "He's still adjusting to playing wide receiver, to doing things like getting off the line and making route adjustments. The NFL is all about the little things."

Nord's teammates have watched him with admiration since he signed with the Ravens on March 10. Nord routinely has put on a show of slashes and rim-rattling dunks during pickup basketball games at the team's Owings Mills facility.

Basketball and football run in his blood. Nord grew up in Mobile, Ala., competing against the likes of former and current NBA players Terry Catledge, Jason Caffey and Antonio Lang.

"I can go to the rack, and I can rise on you. If you back off of me, I'm going to shoot the trey. If you come up on me, I'm going around you," Nord said. "But all I'm doing now is eating, sleeping and breathing football. I love football. I want to play in the NFL so bad that I don't sleep at nights sometimes. A lot of people don't know how long it took me to get here. I've gone through a lot of trials."

One might say Nord has paid some dues, starting with the day he left Grambling as an All-Southwest Athletic Conference passer with 6,581 yards and 64 touchdowns under his belt. Remember the September 1994 Grambling-Morgan State mismatch at Memorial Stadium, that 87-12 debacle the local team endured? Nord directed the offensive fireworks that night for the visitors.

NFL teams, skeptical of Nord's arm strength and the lack of sophistication in Grambling's offense, passed on him on draft day in 1996. But the Philadelphia Eagles signed Nord as a free agent and tried to turn him into a receiver. The Eagles released him early in camp.

Nord's odyssey had begun. In 1997, he landed with the Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tiger-Cats as a backup quarterback. Last year, he wound up with Iowa of the Arena Football League, once again as a receiver. He caught 25 passes for 290 yards and 11 scores. Finally, Nord committed himself to becoming a receiver.

By last winter, Nord, already married for three years with two daughters, was working out furiously and trying to schedule a workout with any NFL team.

"I remember asking the Lord one day, `Is this what I'm supposed to be doing? Do I need to be doing something else?' " Nord said. "And all of a sudden, the Lord brought Phil to me."

That would be Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting. Savage, also a Mobile native, had scouted Nord in previous years. One day in late February, Nord and Savage, stopwatch in hand, met on a Mobile high school field.

"I told Kendrick he didn't need 31 teams to fall in love with him. He needed one opportunity," Savage said. "Seeing that height, size and speed, I thought there is something missing with this guy. I don't know what it is, but maybe we ought to find out."

Nord worked out again two weeks later in Baltimore, then signed.

He is a long shot to make the Ravens' 53-man roster because Billick plans to carry five wide-outs and his group is crowded with veterans Lewis, Webster Slaughter, Billy Davis, Floyd Turner and Qadry Ismail, and promising young draft picks like Patrick Johnson and Brandon Stokley. Nord may spend a year on the developmental squad.

A large part of Nord's fate rests in his ability to excel on special teams. Billick likes the thought of his barreling down the field on coverage units.

Milt Jackson, the Ravens' receivers coach, is intrigued by his project.

"Physically, Kendrick has everything you're looking for in a wide-out, but he has to learn so much," Jackson said. "You hope he hangs in there and comes along fast enough that the numbers don't get him. The problem with this business is time doesn't allow you to wait too long on these guys."

Pub Date: 7/06/99

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