Ferentz: Iowa's Sanders hits like Raven

Pro Football

April 24, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

UNIVERSITY OF IOWA coach Kirk Ferentz was the Ravens' offensive line coach in 1996 when they selected offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis in the first round of the NFL draft. He remembers the energy Lewis brought to the team from Day 1 in practice.

He says Iowa safety Bob Sanders can bring a similar type of energy if the Ravens select him with the 51st overall pick in the second round today.

"Once you got Ogden and Ray, you could have closed the doors and went home," said Ferentz. "It's unfair to say this, because you can't compare the pro game with the college game, and Ray Lewis is a great, proven pro player, but Bob is a little like Ray. He is all-out every play, whether it's in a game or in practice."

The Ravens would love Sanders to fall to them in the second round, but the NFL draft is so unpredictable. The league's 32 general managers and head coaches spent yesterday posturing. There was Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning and his dad whining about adding another $15 million to $20 million to the Manning estate. There were lies, rumors and possible piecing of a framework for last-minute deals.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome spent yesterday calling around and talking to several teams to see if the Ravens could move up to the later part of the first round, or the earlier part of the second.

There will be more trade rumors circulating before the draft at noon today, but the Ravens have at least one person they can trust. Ferentz was here from 1996 through 1998 before leaving for Iowa. He has always been a straight shooter. Everything is either black or white.

And according to Ferentz, Sanders is a Ravens kind of guy, like former defensive end Michael McCrary, outside linebacker Peter Boulware and Lewis.

All were considered too small. All eventually became Pro Bowl players. Sanders is only 5 feet 8.

"They said the same thing about Ray, and he has made a lot of people look foolish," Ferentz said. "They said that about Blaine Bishop, and I had to face that guy twice a year for six straight years. What Bob is is one tough, tenacious guy."

That's what Newsome has been looking for since 1996 when the Ravens had Stevon Moore and Eric Turner at safety. The Ravens want a thumper, a safety who is going to make running backs and receivers hesitate when they come over the middle. If they get that piece, then only one remains on defense - finding an oversized run stopper on the defensive line.

"When we first got here, he wasn't very tall, and he still isn't very tall," said Ferentz, laughing about Sanders. "A high school coach recommended him to us because he thought Bob could play on special teams. At that time, and we were just getting here, we were looking for guys who could make us a tougher team. By the seventh or eighth game, we threw him in there on special teams and he played well.

"He has a great work ethic and has done everything needed to become successful," Ferentz said. "When he got here, he ran a 4.65 40 [-yard dash] and weighed 180 pounds. He recently ran 4.4 at the combine and weighs 200 pounds. A play that typifies him was our first Big Ten game in 2000. He stoned this guy on a kickoff against Michigan State, and you could hear the whole stadium gasp when he hit him. He made our entire team tougher. He showed guys how to do the little things and that defense is about hitting."

If the Ravens select Sanders, generally the second-rated safety behind Miami's Sean Taylor, then it might be the end for one of the current backups, either Chad Williams or Will Demps. A move to Sanders would allow fourth-year player Gary Baxter to start at cornerback instead of sharing time at safety, which he has done the previous three seasons.

There are others around the league that differ with the Ravens' philosophy of having a thumper. Thumpers sometimes miss a lot of tackles going for the big hit. They often get injured in collisions. Sanders is smart, communicates well and definitely will destroy anything in front of him. His role at Iowa was simple. He was the extra guy near the line on running situations, or doubled on the No. 1 receiver in pass coverage. He could be the next Donovin Darius (Jacksonville) or Rodney Harrison (New England). If he was 6-1 or 6-2, he'd be a first-round selection.

Regardless, the Ravens love him.

"He is a tremendous football player," said Ferentz. "He is going to make some team a good football player. ... If you've looked at film on him, you have to like what you see."

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