Baxter gets into practice of routine participation

Injured in '01, cornerback learns Ravens' system in preparing for starting role

May 23, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

The value of off-season practices like the Ravens' current four-day session can be underscored by cornerback Gary Baxter.

Baxter does not need the work to prove he is worthy of making the team - with such a standing cemented by his projected starting role and lofty second-round draft status.

Yet, after participating in one snap as a rookie last season, he lacks experience. The cure from the Ravens' standpoint?

"Exactly what we are doing," said Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. "He is not going to get game experience. What we are doing is the best thing for him. That is the reason why we have minicamps."

Baxter is switching from safety, where he practiced much of last season, back to his college position alongside Chris McAlister. Baxter will also join safeties Ed Reed (a 2002 first-round draft choice) and Anthony Mitchell as projected first-time NFL starters.

The crew can use all the work it can get. And while much of the focus surrounding the Ravens this week has been on who isn't attending the voluntary practices and the point of them to begin with, Baxter is using this time to get familiar with his fellow secondary members.

"Any time you can spend time with four guys communicating, it can't do anything but make you better," said secondary coach Donnie Henderson. "A guy like Gary, [passing camp] helps him to be able to develop his skills."

Baxter realizes that, so when it is time in drills to go one-on-one against receivers, his eagerness is ever present.

"I'm very focused, upbeat, knowing that I got to be a leader," Baxter said. "I'm still learning the system and the process. As far as my mind-set, the sky is the limit, and I'm just going to try and work to get better at my position."

At 6 feet 2, 204 pounds, Baxter is the physical opposite of his undersized predecessor, Duane Starks, who signed as a free agent in March with Arizona.

While Starks may possess more quickness, the Ravens believe the combination of McAlister and Baxter give them a physical advantage few other teams have. "Right now, his strengths seem to be closer to the line of scrimmage, where he can be physical and use his size," Nolan said.

If everything had worked out last season, Baxter would have played in the Ravens' dime package (six defensive backs) while competing with James Trapp to become the nickel back. But Baxter suffered a knee injury in training camp that kept him sidelined for half of the 16-game season.

Trapp signed a one-year contract with the Ravens on Monday and could push Baxter for his starting position. If Trapp were to win the job, the Ravens would likely shift Baxter back to safety, though Nolan is not anticipating such a move. With Trapp heading into his 10th season, the future lies with McAlister and Baxter.

"He's a guy that's been in the league a long time," Baxter said of Trapp, "and I think he can teach a lot of young guys what to do to make it in the NFL."

As for himself, Baxter said, "To sum it up, I'm hungry. I'm very hungry to get out there on the football field, and I want it."

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