Tate signs 1-year deal, likely to play tonight

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Cornerback would see action on special teams

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

Playing relatively near his hometown, cornerback Robert Tate already knows what one of his added responsibilities will be.

"You have to be in the ticket business, being so close," said Tate, who is originally from Harrisburg, Pa.

Tate, in his sixth season, signed a one-year contract for the veteran minimum yesterday and should play on special teams tonight when the Ravens play at Philadelphia.

He will give the Ravens depth in a secondary marked by inexperience and injury. Cornerback Gary Baxter will likely miss his third preseason game because of a nagging hamstring problem.

Baxter will be replaced by a mix of Alvin Porter and James Trapp. Eventually, the Ravens would like to see Tate compete for playing time with Trapp, Porter and possibly even Baxter once he becomes comfortable with the defensive scheme.

"Here's a guy that has started at corner in two [NFC] championship games," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "What he brings us is experience in the nickel and dime [extra defensive backs] package, and an excellent [kickoff] returner. There were a lot of teams after him to come in and do just that. He's an excellent gunner on punt team, so he fills a lot of voids for us."

Tate started all 16 regular-season games and two playoff games in 2000 for the Minnesota Vikings, who released him earlier this week. After an early-season shoulder injury last year, Tate lost his starting job to Eric Kelly.

He chose the Ravens over the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers.

"It's a great chance for me," Tate, 28, said. "I feel like I need a new start. This is the perfect fit for me. I'm just coming here hungry, ready to go out there and compete.

"It was just a numbers game. That's the way it is in this business. That is what they want. [The Vikings] said that they wanted younger guys, and they got them."

Tate is expected to be a valuable player on special teams and could challenge rookie Lamont Brightful to become the team's kickoff returner. Tate averaged 25.1 yards a return in 1999.

Special teams coordinator Gary Zauner worked with Tate in Minnesota the past five years. And Billick was offensive coordinator with the Vikings during Tate's first two seasons.

"That should help a little bit because I know what they want and what they expect; that's the part I'm familiar with," Tate said. "But the other part, I'm not familiar with. The thing is to go out there, see what the tempo is and compete every day."

Unpleasant memories

One of the more memorable scenes from last year's visit to Philadelphia was watching Ravens players getting hit with popcorn and soda and having profanity yelled at them as they walked through a mob of angry Eagles fans to the team bus.

The game was canceled because of problems with the artificial turf at Veterans Stadium.

"I don't understand why it was our fault that we didn't play the game," Billick said. "Clearly [to the fans] it was our fault that the game got suspended. I asked the officials, `Could you please wait an hour to announce it so we can get out of town?' But they had no part of that."

End zone

Linebacker Cornell Brown, who signed Tuesday, will not play in tonight's game. "I wouldn't want to risk that," Billick said. ... Defensive linemen Brandon Whiting and Hollis Thomas. along with offensive tackle Jon Runyan, are not expected to play for the Eagles. ...

Michael McCrary will be host to "Mac's Reggae Sunsplash," an annual fund-raiser for Mac's Miracle Fund tomorrow from 4 to 8 p.m. at Bohager's in Baltimore. Tickets are $50 for a buffet dinner, drinks, auction and chance to socialize with Ravens players. Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster or at the door, and proceeds will help benefit at-risk youth in Baltimore.

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