Mitchell may be the odd man out

Ravens might decide to go with rookies Reed, Demps at safety spots

August 27, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

After a conversation with his wife, Kandice, Ravens safety Anthony Mitchell realized the source of his downward spiral from starter, to tri-starter to backup.

"She said, `You got too comfortable.' Coming from where I come from, you're used to always working for yours," said Mitchell, who agreed with his wife's assessment. "I got put in a position where I didn't think I had to work hard to go out there and get the job done. And that wasn't the case."

Mitchell made the Ravens' practice squad as an undrafted rookie out of Tuskegee (Ala.) University in 1999 and became a standout special teams player a year later. He was an apprentice under Rod Woodson and Corey Harris for two seasons and looked ready to lead a Ravens secondary in which he was the only experienced safety.

Instead, he was one of the players heavily criticized after New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde ripped the middle of the Ravens' defense for 129 passing yards in 1 1/2 quarters in the Jets' 34-16 victory.

"You have to go out there and do more than just your job, you have to make extra plays," Mitchell said. "And that's what I wasn't doing."

The extra plays came from undrafted rookie Will Demps, who has two interceptions in three preseason games, including a game-winner returned for a touchdown in the opener against the Detroit Lions.

Demps teamed with fellow rookie Ed Reed to form what is likely the youngest safety tandem in the league in the Ravens' 13-12 preseason win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday.

By contrast, last year's duo of Harris and Woodson combined for 25 years of NFL experience. Together, they have played professionally longer than either Reed or Demps have been alive.

"I don't look at Ed saying he is a rookie or a veteran," Demps said. "I just look at him knowing that he is my teammate. We have to go out there like brothers, no matter if we are rookies or veterans and fight to win the game."

The difference is veterans already know how to win professional games.

"It's pretty rare [to have two rookie starting safeties], but free agency has a lot to do with that and just the system that we all live in right now," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "And we obviously are taking an approach as an organization that is a little different than most people have done. Most people like to ease into cleaning their slate.

"Compared to the situation before, it's certainly a change. But every year is a new year. You never know what's going to happen, like Demps."

With the preseason finale and another week of practice before the regular-season opener on Sept. 8, Nolan and the coaches are still hesitant to say Demps and Reed will be the full-time starters.

Yet, it is apparent that for what Demps and Reed, the Ravens' first-round pick, lack in experience, they seem to make up in instincts. And Mitchell, who had worked with the first team until the Eagles game and has an advantage from a physical standpoint, looks to be the odd man out.

"What we're finding is we are having some depth and flexibility there," coach Brian Billick said. "I'm not to caught up on starters, between regular, nickel and dime. [Demps], Anthony Mitchell, Chad Williams and Reed, they are all going to see a lot of playing time because they are all showing that they are capable of doing it in a lot of different configurations."

In many respects, Mitchell, who leads the safeties with 10 preseason tackles, helped elevate Demps through the depth chart.

Mitchell was the most vocal defensive player through the first couple of weeks of training camp and was the one that the younger players turned to for on-the-field help.

"Demps is a good player. He deserves to play," Mitchell said. "He led us in take-aways all through camp, in practice and preseason games. So they had to take that into consideration. He's making plays; he made two more plays than I did, so they moved him up. It's out of my control now."

Mitchell went on to say the only thing he can control, or take back control of, is himself.

"You have to get back to that certain focus, that certain intensity I had coming in here that made me stick on this team," Mitchell said. "And that is what I lost coming into this camp. But I'm pretty much there now.

"It's nothing written in stone. We have one more preseason game. Don't get me wrong, the heat is on. I'm always competing. I'm going to compete to the last game."

Next for Ravens

Preseason opponent: New York Giants

Site:Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

When:Thursday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet, Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

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