Porter steps in, stands out among youngest Ravens

Unheralded rookie fills in ably for Starks

Pro Football

November 21, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

A year ago, cornerback Alvin Porter was helping run a scout team.

As a senior at Oklahoma State, Porter was ruled ineligible for the season two days before the opener, though he was allowed to practice.

Since Porter could not play on Saturdays, the coaches had him run with the defensive scout team, made up of walk-ons and redshirt freshmen, against the offensive starters.

In the Ravens' loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Porter played the final three quarters in place of injured Duane Starks for the defending Super Bowl champions - about as far at the other end of the spectrum that you can be from running with a college scout team.

"I had to step up in the heat of battle," said Porter, who signed with the Ravens before training camp as an undrafted free agent. "As the game went on, my comfort level tended to go up. I started to settle down after the early excitement and play my game like I normally play."

Porter is one of a handful of players called upon in that Browns game that even the most intense Ravens followers could not have envisioned would be playing at this juncture of the season.

Against Cleveland, the Ravens had undrafted free agent Bennie Anderson starting at right guard, Division III product Jason Brookins starting at running back, special teams player Shannon Taylor rushing a few times from one defensive end, and Kelly Gregg, who had three tackles in his three years in the league entering that game, switching between tackle and end for 17 plays.

Heading into training camp, many of them were long shots just to make the team. Taylor was not even with the Ravens, signing after getting released by the San Diego Chargers.

"For the number of young players we are going to be counting on, yeah it's a number that makes you a little nervous," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "But it also energizes you as a team. These guys come in with a huge amount of enthusiasm because it is an opportunity for them."

The five players' increased playing time can be attributed to injuries. While Brookins and Anderson have played the whole season, Sunday was first chance for Porter, Gregg and Taylor to showcase their abilities for an extended time.

Of that trio, Porter could be the one with the most upside.

"This was the first test for him," secondary coach Steve Shafer said. "For a guy that was put on the spot the whole game, I was real pleased with what he did mentally and physically."

Starks (groin) said he expects to play Sunday at Jacksonville, and nickel back James Trapp (groin) could return, too, but groin injuries sometimes linger.

All may not be lost for the Ravens if the two are unable to play, because Porter filled in admirably against the Browns.

He finished with four tackles and earned praise from the coaches for his play, which included a fourth-quarter interception after the Browns had penetrated Ravens territory.

"Alvin played very well," Billick said. "Alvin has been strong for us on special teams. So the bright lights of the big time, he's over that hump."

Porter was flagged for holding and pass-interference calls in the second quarter but settled down and showed good field awareness later in the game. On his interception, he read Browns quarterback Tim Couch's eyes, drifted slightly back in his zone and made a leaping grab.

"He played the game the way it needed to be played," Shafer said of Porter. "A couple of plays, he got himself out of position and they got a couple of their longer runs. ... As a rookie and getting this first opportunity, he held his composure. He was very disciplined in what he did."

It was Porter's most extensive action since 1999.

"My passion and love for this game is unbelievable," Porter said. "Even though I didn't play my last year in college, I knew in my heart that someday I was going to play beyond college.

"It was hard knowing that my last year of college was taken away from me from an innocent mistake. My sophomore year, I had to go to a junior college. When I transferred back to Oklahoma State, two of my hours didn't transfer in. I find out two days before the season that I was two hours short of eligibility going into the season."

He appealed twice to the NCAA but was denied both times.

Porter didn't get drafted, but he's where he wants to be - on an NFL roster and in the good graces of the coaches.

"All I ever wanted," he said, "was an opportunity to get into an NFL camp and prove myself."

McCrary status confirmed

Ravens officials confirmed yesterday that defensive end Michael McCrary will miss the rest of the season after having surgery Monday to repair two parts of his knee.

"McCrary is a special player and his effort on every single play is legendary around the NFL," Billick said. "Other players will have to step up and make plays for us. We expect to have Michael back at full strength next season."

The team did not place McCrary on injured reserve yesterday but expects to do so soon.

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