Taking Sanders could give extra cover for Ravens

If team selects safety, Baxter would likely remain at cornerback

April 19, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

When the NFL draft is in full swing Saturday, Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter might want to flip on a television to find out which player his team picks in the second round.

If the Ravens stick by their often-stated best-available-player mantra, that could very well be Iowa safety Bob Sanders, which could put to rest Baxter's yearly position flop once and for all.

"Hopefully this draft will determine what Gary will be for the rest of his career as a Baltimore Raven," general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

Sanders visited the Ravens' complex last week. If the Ravens use their 51st overall pick on him, Sanders would likely be given the opportunity to compete with incumbent Will Demps to become the starting free safety.

In Sanders, the Ravens would be getting one of the draft's big hitters. His arrival would also be a departure from Ed Reed, Demps and Gerome Sapp - all of whom are cut from the same mold of good cover safeties but not real thumpers.

If not for Sanders' 5-foot-8 frame, many draft experts feel he would have been a mid-to-late first-round pick, probably the second safety taken behind Miami's Sean Taylor.

Sanders ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and is regarded as one of the strongest players pound-for-pound on Iowa's team.

His best game came last year when he recorded 16 tackles, a sack, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery against Minnesota.

"The cream of the crop for me would be Bob Sanders," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said of the college safeties. "We call him `Bullet Bob.' He's from Iowa, very physical, aggressive tough guy. He reminds me of a Blaine Bishop, Ronnie Lott type - a great physical, in-the-box type safety who can play in coverage but is best in moving up in [run] support."

Last season, the Ravens' defense seemed to stabilize when Baxter made a permanent switch from safety to cornerback in place of an injured Corey Fuller.

Although Fuller is expected to return to the Ravens, he will likely remain a cornerback and not switch to safety, as had been speculated.

Even with Fuller back healthy, coaches prefer to keep Baxter at cornerback and use Fuller in nickel (fifth) defensive back situations.

It is possible, though, that the Ravens could use their top pick on a cornerback if Sanders is off the board or top prospects like Arkansas' Ahmad Carroll or Pittsburgh's Shawntae Spencer fall to the second round.

Carroll is one of the fastest players in the draft (he runs the 40 dash in 4.38 seconds), who specializes in press coverage, and Spencer has helped his cause with some extraordinary offseason workouts. Carroll also earned All-America honors as a 100- and 200-meter sprinter.

Either player would be groomed under Fuller and could be viewed as a starter in the coming years.

"Ahmad Carroll is very physical and is a possible nickel back," DeCosta said. "He is one of the fastest guys at the combine.

"Shawntae Spencer came up the boards very quickly. He had an outstanding workout. He's an outstanding cover man with great speed, hips, transition ability."

Those two plus Michigan cornerback Jeremy LeSueur and Oklahoma's Derrick Strait lead a group of second-tier defensive backs that is considered relatively deep.

"There are some guys that can come in and play this year and help some teams," Newsome said. "They'll probably be at least three [cornerbacks] that go in the top 20. And I think there can be a run on them in the second round."

If the Ravens select one of those cornerbacks, he would have to show remarkable ability early in order to vault into the starting lineup and force Baxter to possibly move again. While that scenario is highly unlikely, it is not completely out of the question.

"If we are fortunate enough to get a good, young corner that can come in and play, then Gary can be a safety," Newsome said. "If we get a great, young safety, then Gary can be a corner for us. His flexibility is a big bonus for us."

Defensive backs outlook

A look at defensive backs who may be available for the Ravens' second-round pick (51st overall):

Pos. ...Name...School...Ht. ...Wt. ...Skinny

S...Bob Sanders...Iowa...5-8...205...Undersized but can hit and help immediately vs. the run.

CB...Ahmad Carroll...Arkansas...5-9...195...Great speed. Good leaping ability helps offset lack of height.

CB...Jeremy LeSueur...Michigan...6-0...200...Senior Bowl week raised his stock. Could also play safety.

CB...Derrick Strait...Oklahoma...5-10...196...Average speed makes him more of a zone defender.

CB...Shawntae Spencer...Pittsburgh...6-1...177...Good height but can add more weight.

Later-round picks

CB Keiwan Ratliff, Florida; CB Ricardo Colclough, Tusculum; S Glenn Earl, Notre Dame; CB Stanford Samuels, Florida State; S Madieu Williams, Maryland; S Keith Lewis, Oregon.

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