Practice players find Ravens just perfect

January 26, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - Ravens running back Robert Arnaud should be used to preparing for a big game at Raymond James Stadium. As a University of Georgia Bulldog, he was here a year ago, preparing for the Outback Bowl.

He carried the ball twice for a total of no gain during a win over Purdue. This time, Arnaud will prepare just as much as before. The only difference is that he won't be playing.

Arnaud is one of five players on the Ravens practice squad, guys who work with the sole purpose of preparing the starters for the game. No one will play on Sunday, and Arnaud, for one, won't mind.

"I just feel honored and privileged to be part of a program that can get to the Super Bowl," Arnaud said. "You have guys who have been in the league 10 years, and the Super Bowl is the ultimate goal. Here we are, first year out, getting the chance."

Most of the rest - Jason Gavadza, Alan Ricard, Rod Payne and Kelly Gregg - began their road to the Super Bowl with the same hopes: They wanted to make an NFL active roster, to be eligible to play.

Those dreams come to a temporary halt when the player is cut. The team might allow the player to participate as a scout team member. The player gets an opportunity to show what he can do, and some - like what wide receiver Germany Thompson did this season - can make it onto the regular roster.

In exchange for the opportunity, the team expects the scout squad members to pose as players from the opposing team - taking abuse and practicing as hard as anyone else - without the hope of playing one down on Sunday.

Fullback Ricard was in summer school at Northeast Louisiana University when the Ravens called him last July to invite him to training camp.

"I was still working out, and God answered my prayers," Ricard said. "I'm just trying to take advantage of it now."

Not all of the practice players were picked up early as the Ravens built their team. Gavadza, a rookie tight end, watched the Ravens-Broncos wild-card playoff game on Dec. 31 from his home in Toronto, having finished a year that included stops in Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Carolina (on the active roster) and Green Bay.

Gavadza recalls Green Bay wanting to sign him to a free-agent contract so the Packers could send him to NFL Europe. However, the three games he played in Carolina made him eligible for the second-year minimum salary, not the rookie minimum Green Bay had been anticipating.

"Getting through that involved a lot of bureaucracy, so while I was waiting, Baltimore called," Gavadza said. "I'm the luckiest guy in the world. There's no doubt about it."

Gregg, a second-year defensive tackle from Oklahoma, could have gone to play in Chicago, but chose to stay with the Ravens until the season ends. Arnaud said he understands the sentiment.

"I would have made the same decision," Arnaud said. "The money is important, but it's not as important as the team."

After the season, that may change, as opportunities to play elsewhere arise.

For now, however, they focus on the chance to get a Super Bowl ring.

"There's nothing more you can ask for," Ricard said. "I always watched the Super Bowl and dreamed of playing pro football, but you never think it would come true. Now that the moment's here, it really feels great."

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