Ravens' Bailey may move up at corner

Starks breaks finger, aims for training camp

Pro Football

June 08, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Whether it's defending a quick-out pattern or seizing a roster spot, Ravens cornerback Robert Bailey realizes when to attack a situation.

After the Detroit Lions' secondary was hit with injuries last year, the 10-year veteran reserve jumped into the starting lineup, breaking up passes and shoring up the unit with a career season.

Now, Bailey could find himself working in the Ravens' first-string defensive backfield for today's final day of passing camp as well as next week's veterans camp. Starting cornerback Duane Starks broke the ring finger on his left hand Tuesday and is leaning toward not participating in contact drills until training camp in late July.

But Bailey, who signed as a free agent on March 16, foresees himself as the third cover man on the Ravens' nickel package. Then again, he wouldn't mind repeating last season.

"My spot right now is nickel and anywhere else I can help them, I'll help them," Bailey said. "I'll help the young guys and teach them all I know.

"Working into the starting lineup is always in the back of your mind. If you ever lose that, you should never be playing. My job is to play nickel and I'll accept that to the best of my ability. The other responsibility every player has here is not being disruptive."

Starks, a first-round pick in 1998, suffered a clean fracture when his hand crashed into the ground after diving for a pass. Although he suited up yesterday, he sat out the one-on-one drills.

"I'm thinking about doing the smart thing," Starks said. "I'll give it a couple of weeks to heal. So by training camp, I'll be ready to full go."

Starks played a majority of last season behind Chris McAlister and DeRon Jenkins. When the Ravens lost Jenkins to San Diego in free agency, the NFL's sixth-best pass defense filled his spot with its first choice.

Bailey, 31, has had a three solid camps, impressing the coaches with experience and his ability to play on the outside and inside.

"He was the ideal guy," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "If we could have went through and say who would you want, this was the guy, knowing we wanted to leave Chris and Duane outside and then have Robert come in and compete with them. But if he doesn't start, we know we have our nickel player."

It's an enviable scenario for the Ravens since their primary backup started 11 games for a playoff team.

Bailey finished fourth on the Lions in tackles with 65 and led them with 24 passes defended - both career highs. It's a surprising upswing for Bailey, who registered 41 tackles the previous four years with four different teams.

He was thrust into action during the second game last season against Green Bay after starter Bryant Westbrook and backup Ryan Stewart both left with injuries. Bailey instantly contributed with an interception of Brett Favre, then knocked down a last gasp, fourth-down pass in front of Antonio Freeman.

"It [last season] helped me not only to get comfortable with the game, but to regain confidence in my ability," Bailey said. "They 100 percent believed in me. But I made them believe in me from what I did on the field."

Bailey seems intent on making the Ravens believe, too.

Although he considers the nickel position the most stressful spot on defense, he feels the only way to handle playing the slot receiver is through repetition. Nickel backs have to understand the daunting task of covering the entire field and learning to stay sharp while waiting to be called upon.

Bailey, though, has become adept at picking his spots to shine.

"I've beaten the odds," said Bailey, who has spent time with the Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and Lions before signing a two-year contract with the Ravens. "I've done a lot of things a lot of people thought I could do. And I've done a lot of things a lot of people thought I couldn't do. I'm here to continue to do that."

NOTES: Peter Boulware, who had off-season shoulder surgery, has decided not to practice in next week's veterans camp. The Pro Bowl outside linebacker will work out for the first time at training camp. ... As expected, backup quarterback Trent Dilfer resumed practicing yesterday. He sat out Tuesday's session with a twisted ankle.

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