Ravens want Sanders in fold sooner, not later

Source: If corner comes back, he needs to report in 11 days

August 19, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The clock is ticking on Prime Time's final decision.

If Deion Sanders is going to play for the Ravens, the flashy All-Pro cornerback likely needs to report within 11 days, a league source said.

Although there is no strict deadline set, Sanders would have to show up for the final week of the preseason (either Aug. 29 or 30) to be prepared to play in the regular-season opener at Cleveland.

Ravens officials refuted reports that they would wait for him to suit up as late as November, saying they expect him to play nickel back (fifth defensive back) in the Sept. 12 opener if he ends his three-year retirement.

Sanders, 37, is still leaning toward restarting one of the most storied careers by an NFL cornerback, but he has not officially notified the team of a decision, the source added. The seven-time Pro Bowl defender is testing his conditioning at his Prosper, Texas, estate, in a two-week training regimen, which many close to Sanders' situation believe will be the overriding factor on whether to return.

"He's obviously doing his due diligence to see if this is something he wants to do," coach Brian Billick said. "Deion is a professional, and he doesn't want to come in unless he's ready to go. We'll give him that kind of space. When he's physically at the right spot, we'd love to have him in."

This timetable is the same one expected to be followed by cornerback Chris McAlister, who is skipping training camp to protest being named the franchise player.

Unlike a current Pro Bowl performer like McAlister, Sanders has not played in a game since 2000, when he had a steady yet unspectacular season with the Washington Redskins. The Ravens probably would have preferred Sanders to come in next week, but they are confident he can assimilate quickly.

"He's a special individual with special talents," Billick said. "He is not too old, I can promise you that."

Sanders has yet to confirm whether he will come back for his 13th NFL season.

In his first public appearance since news broke about his possible return - a workout with the Texas Rangers before last night's game - the former major league outfielder deflected football questions just as smoothly as he once did with quarterback passes.

When asked about the Ravens, Sanders told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram after catching fly balls in the outfield and taking swings in the batting cage, "Next question, man ... I'll give you something when the time is different."

Sanders, the only pro athlete to play in both the World Series and the Super Bowl, then added, "I'm here in a baseball uniform answering football questions. It reminds me of old times, way back when."

Although ESPN reported Tuesday that Sanders "definitely" was going to play for the Ravens this season, one of his closest friends wasn't as certain.

Ravens cornerback Corey Fuller, who talks to Sanders every day, provided confusion instead of a conclusion.

When first asked about Sanders, Fuller said, "The man says he's not coming. If he comes, you all can look at me and say he wasn't coming. He's got four kids in school. You can say this or that about him, but I know otherwise."

In a span of a couple of questions, Fuller's prediction had changed. Fuller spoke about how Sanders can still run and hasn't lost the mind-set needed to compete at this level.

"If Deion comes in, it's going to be a plus," Fuller said. "So quit writing about Deion until he gets here and quit asking me questions. It's 50-50. If the man comes, he comes. If he doesn't, he doesn't."

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