Ravens say Abney not just fair catch in seventh round

Kentucky return specialist could challenge Brightful

QB, linebacker taken, too

April 26, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

With their second-to-last pick in the seventh round, Ravens officials feel they plucked the premier player at a need position.

The Ravens selected Kentucky return specialist Derek Abney with their first pick in the seventh round (244th overall), capping a day when the team found its third-string quarterback, another complementary receiver and a pass-rushing outside linebacker who should contribute on special teams.

All in all, the Ravens addressed a number of their needs with players they feel can come in and compete for backup spots next season. Abney will likely challenge return man Lamont Brightful in training camp and has the best chance at contributing immediately.

"This draft was not loaded with tremendous return specialists," director of player personnel Phil Savage said. "There was not a Jermaine Lewis out there this year. But Abney was rated really our best returner."

The Ravens selected Central Missouri State linebacker Roderick Green in the fifth round, Bowling Green quarterback Josh Harris and Northern Arizona receiver Clarence Moore in the sixth and East Carolina offensive tackle Brian Rimpf in the seventh.

Only Abney will get the chance to compete for major playing time.

Brightful had an up-and-down season last year, displaying big-play ability as a kickoff returner in a five-game stretch in which he had at least one 30-yard return a game. But he struggled on punts, often having trouble simply catching the ball.

Abney, at 5 feet 9 and 180 pounds, has sure hands and proved to be one of the most elusive players in the Southeastern Conference.

He returned six punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns in his four-year career with the Wildcats. Abney's eight return touchdowns tied the NCAA career record set by Cliff Branch and Johnny Rodgers.

Abney also holds an SEC record for kickoff return average (26.8). "He's done it at a big level, SEC competition," Savage said. "He has a chance to come in and compete for that job [return specialist]."

Behind Abney, Harris stands the best chance at making the opening game roster.

Harris is behind starter Kyle Boller and backup Anthony Wright on the depth chart, though the Ravens may bring in another quarterback to compete during training camp.

Working primarily from the shotgun, Harris set school records in rushing touchdowns (43) and total touchdowns (47).

Harris rushed for 20 touchdowns as a junior in 2002 and threw for 27 as a senior (against only 12 interceptions). He rarely took snaps from under center, but the Ravens do not view that as a problem.

"A lot of colleges have gravitated toward that shotgun system," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We talked about it last year in dealing with that. ... Our shotgun approach is if the quarterback likes it, then we'll do it. He's a good athlete, so coming out under center is not going to be a problem."

The best athlete, though, might be the Ravens' first pick of the day (153rd overall), Green.

Cut from the same mold as Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs, Green is a natural pass rusher who played defensive end much of his college career.

Green had 13 sacks in two seasons with Central Missouri State and will likely be the rookie the Ravens expect the most from on kick coverage.

Savage said the Ravens were considering taking Green with their fourth-round pick before they traded it away to Jacksonville for receiver Kevin Johnson.

When Green remained available midway through the fifth round, the Ravens traded their seventh-round pick to the Miami Dolphins to move up seven spots and select Green.

The Ravens still had two compensatory picks in the seventh round.

"We needed to address our abilities to continue to improve on special teams and to find another rusher," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "That's what the young kid Green will bring to the table."

Moore, with his combination of size (6-5, 211 pounds) and speed, might be a solid player on special teams, too.

The Ravens, though, are planning to give him a chance to compete for one of the final receiver spots.

Some draft experts had Moore, who was an All-Big Sky Conference first-team selection after hauling in 63 passes for 1,184 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, a fourth-round pick.

"He may end up being a guy like Marcus Robinson, who we lost in free agency, so I'm excited about that as well," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said.

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