Weaver helping Ravens tackle new look on defense

Rookie can play end, inside in 3-4 alignment

April 28, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Tony Weaver survived the interrogations, expectations and attendant pressures of the NFL draft. This weekend, he finally got back to football.

The Ravens' second-round pick is more than happy to put the draft process behind him.

"It's a long, agonizing process," Weaver said. "From the last game of the season until draft day, and that's almost four months. You have to be prepared for a number of things. In all honesty, you really just want to get out there and play football.

"You can only step over bags so much before you get tired of it."

Weaver was stepping smartly through his paces yesterday in the second day of the team's three-day minicamp at Owings Mills. The 6-foot-3, 295-pound defensive tackle from Notre Dame continued to impress team officials with his work ethic and athleticism.

"You know he's a good, big, physical guy," coach Brian Billick said. "He's a little more athletic than maybe what I thought looking at film."

Said defensive line coach Rex Ryan: "He hits the field with a purpose. He goes out there and wants to get better. That's what I'm impressed with the most."

In the overhaul of the Ravens' roster, Weaver has emerged as a starter at left defensive end. He is the perfect candidate for the team's new 3-4 defense, blending athleticism, strength and intelligence. Commonly called a "tweener" in NFL vernacular, Weaver had spent most of his college career at defensive end.

"We felt he'd be a good fit for us in either defense [the 4-3 or 3-4]," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting.

"I compare him to a young Rob Burnett in terms of being able to play left end and then slide down inside in the nickel and sub-rushers, and still give you something against the run."

It is Burnett's position that Weaver is being asked to fill. A salary cap casualty this off-season, Burnett remains unsigned.

Until the Senior Bowl last January, Weaver had not been asked to line up over the guard. But yesterday he said he was making significant progress in the interior line.

"It's a different game inside," he said. "Everything happens a little bit quicker. Instead of reacting to the run block on two steps, now it's on a half-step, really. ... I'm getting more confidence day-in and day-out going in and playing over the guard."

It was the uncertainty of where Weaver would ultimately play in the NFL and an average performance in the Senior Bowl that dropped him into the second round.

"He's not the kind of player you throw one tape on and judge him," Savage said. "You have to watch five, six, seven games to appreciate what he does.

"If you take just one word to describe Anthony Weaver, it's solid. Every time he does something, you don't come away saying, `Wow,' but you don't walk away saying he can't do that, either. You just walk away and say he's a solid player and a solid person."

According to Savage, Notre Dame's staff described Weaver as its best player and best person last season.

That assessment reflects positively on a youth spent learning new zip codes and friends. The son of an Irish father and Samoan mother, Weaver was born in Abilene, Texas, but shuttled back and forth between Hawaii and New Jersey early in his life. His father, Ralph, was a first sergeant in the Army. That meant being flexible.

"I think it created a certain toughness," Weaver, 21, said. "I remember in fourth grade, I went to four different schools. That can be tough on kids. At the same time, I learned to get to know people, learned to adapt to my environment."

He got a certain sensitivity from his mother, Melanie.

"She's always there when you need someone to talk to," Weaver said. "When I think of my mom, I think of pure goodness. I really don't think she can do anything wrong. ... She's someone you can always depend on."

Weaver appears well grounded for the job ahead of him. Whatever disappointment he felt at passing through the draft's first round was negated by his destination.

"I ended up in a great place with a great opportunity to play early," he said. "You couldn't ask for anything more."

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