Ravens are eyeing secondary help

Heading into NFL draft, team sets its sights on safety Reed, CB Sheppard

Pro Football

April 14, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Their names were already linked with the Ravens' 24th pick in next weekend's NFL draft, and after visits from safety Ed Reed and cornerback Lito Sheppard this past week to the team's complex, the connection appears valid.

Reed and Sheppard are two of the premier players at their positions. With an expected run of offensive and defensive linemen through the first 20 picks, one, if not both, could be available by the time the Ravens are on the clock.

The Ravens lost cornerback Duane Starks to the Arizona Cardinals and strong safety Corey Harris to the Detroit Lions. Free safety Rod Woodson was a salary cap casualty, leaving cornerback Chris McAlister as the only returning starter in the secondary.

Reed and Sheppard have the experience and ability to contribute immediately. Reed, a four-year starter, helped lead the University of Miami to its fifth national title this past season. Sheppard was a consensus All-Southeastern Conference pick at the University of Florida, recording two interceptions and a career-high 42 tackles.

Both players have been in their share of big games and are used to being surrounded by big-time talent.

"I went to four schools [Miami, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee] and wrote over 200 reports from those schools," Ravens director of college scouting Phil Savage said jokingly. "The rest of the country, I left to the scouts. Miami this year had an incredible team."

On a Miami team full of projected first-round picks (most experts are predicting at least four), Reed was the emotional leader of the Hurricanes. He returned three of his career-high nine interceptions last season for touchdowns and was a first-team consensus All-American.

Oklahoma's Roy Williams is expected to be the first safety taken, with Reed next. If selected, Reed would battle Anthony Mitchell for the starting free safety position, assuming the Ravens do not re-sign Woodson.

"If a guy can run and hit ... one thing about defense, there is a lot of carry-over from defenses in colleges to the defenses in the NFL," said Ravens senior vice president of football operations Ozzie Newsome.

"You can have a safety or a corner that has played in similar schemes that they have played in when they come into the NFL. They play man, zone, two-deep man, two-deep zone. They've played a lot of that so they can come in and play. This is a good year for safeties."

It is not as good a year for cornerbacks. Texas' Quentin Jammer and Miami's Phillip Buchanon likely will be the first two cornerbacks taken, probably within the first 15 picks.

"The depth may be not as much as the last two or three years at the corner position," Newsome said. "But there are still some real good players.

"I got a strange feeling that Buchanon and Jammer won't [be available for the Ravens]. Anything else, I don't know. I don't know what other teams are thinking right now."

Most figure Sheppard to be the next cornerback to go, in part because of his return ability. Sheppard led the SEC in 2000 in punt return average (14 yards).

The Ravens lost return specialist Jermaine Lewis in the expansion draft and currently have no viable replacement.

Sheppard was also the Gators' best defender. He reportedly did not allow a touchdown pass in his three-year career, and finished with 87 tackles and eight interceptions.

Colorado cornerback Michael Lewis, Stanford safety Clevan Williams, Ohio State cornerback Derek Ross and Miami cornerback Mike Rumph are second-round possibilities.

Secondary picks

Defensive backs chosen by the Ravens in the first two rounds of the NFL draft:

Year Player (Round)

2001 CB Gary Baxter (2)

1999 CB Chris McAlister (1)

1998 CB Duane Starks (1)

1997 S Kim Herring (2), 1996 CB DeRon Jenkins (2)

On the board?

The Ravens have the 24th pick in the first round of next week's NFL draft. Defensive backs who might be available:

Round 1

Player, School Ht./Wt. Skinny

S Ed Reed, Miami 5-11/205 Knack for finding ball

CB Lito Sheppard, Fla. 5-10/194 Punt-return skills add value

CB Mike Rumph, Miami 6-2/205 Good size, speed combination

Round 2

S Lamont Thompson, Wash. St. 6-1/220 10 pickoffs last year

S Clevan Williams, Stan. 6-2/223 All-Pac-10; body of a linebacker

CB Derek Ross, Ohio St. 5-11/192 Could be solid nickel back

Later rounds

CB Kris Richard, USC; CB Bobb Sippio, Western Kentucky; S Chad Williams, Southern Mississippi; CB Errol Hood, North Carolina; S Marquand Manuel, Florida.

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