Sanders moving quickly to decision

`Very soon,' he will know response to conditioning

Ravens

August 20, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Deion Sanders said he will decide whether to come out of retirement and play for the Ravens "very soon."

In an interview yesterday on Sporting News Radio, the former Pro Bowl cornerback indicated that health will be the major factor in his decision.

Asked when he will make an official announcement, Sanders said, "When these hamstrings respond, to make sure I'm not going out there like Junior [Ken Griffey Jr.] and blowing these hamstrings up. [It'll come] when I know my legs can do it or my legs and my body is telling me I can't. I'll know soon ... very soon."

Sanders, 37, has been out of football for three seasons. He is contemplating whether to assume a reserve role (nickel back) with the Ravens.

His return would allow him to play alongside longtime friends Ray Lewis and Corey Fuller and make a run at a third Super Bowl.

"I can't wait to see how this is going to play out with Deion," said Ravens strong safety Ed Reed, who spends time in the offseason with Sanders.

Known as "Prime Time" for repeatedly making big plays on national TV, Sanders said he wouldn't come back unless he could still play at a high level. According to ESPN, Sanders has hired Tom Shaw, one of the country's most highly regarded trainers, to intensify his conditioning efforts.

"[There's] no way I would put myself on front street to allow my teammates a letdown when they are counting on me, let alone the fans when they paying for a ticket," Sanders said.

Sanders took offense when it was suggested that he had lost some of his speed.

"Who's to say that I lost a step?" Sanders said. "Who have I raced recently that assured me that I've lost a step? It's so funny that all these critics who have never played the game can criticize someone."

If he returns, he runs the risk of tarnishing one of the greatest careers by an NFL cornerback.

But Sanders said a comeback wouldn't affect his legacy.

"You can't change what's already written on paper or what's already on film," Sanders said. "You can change the concept of someone's mind-set and the way they think about you. If I were contemplating this thing that you are talking about [a comeback], I would not come back to embarrass myself, embarrass my fans and embarrass my supposed teammates at all.

"If I were to do something like that little thing you're talking about me doing [a comeback], trust me, I would not step foot on that field unless I know that I could be that person."

NOTES: Running back B.J. Sams, who was expected to compete for the return specialist job before sustaining a thumb injury, practiced for the first time since the beginning of training camp two weeks ago. He is not expected to play in tonight's preseason game. ... Receiver Randy Hymes fielded punts for the first time, joining a struggling Lamont Brightful and rookie Lance Frazier. ... Offensive tackle Orlando Brown, who has missed practice all week to attend to his ailing mother, will not play. He will be replaced by Ethan Brooks.

Things to watch

Position: Offensive line. The starting unit allowed two sacks on the first series of the preseason opener and would have allowed a third if it hadn't been negated by penalty. For quarterback Kyle Boller to improve, the pass protection has to improve.

Veteran: Cornerback Corey Fuller. The possible addition of Deion Sanders could take away the nickel back job away from Fuller. With another chance to start (because of the absence of Chris McAlister), Fuller gets a chance to prove he deserves to remain in the team's plans in the secondary.

Rookie: Receiver Devard Darling. The third-round pick seems to have to have taken the lead for the No. 3 receiver spot. He is having a stronger camp than his competitors - Randy Hymes and Ron Johnson - but is still looking for his first catch after being shut out last week.

On the bubble: Return specialist Lamont Brightful. His fumble in the opener and continued drops in practice have put his roster spot in jeopardy. The three-year veteran appears to have lost all confidence in fielding punts. His troubles have created an opportunity for Lance Frazier, who will return kicks in the second half.

Injury report: OLB Peter Boulware (knee), QB Anthony Wright (shoulder) and TE Trent Smith (leg) are on the physically-unable-to-perform list. DE Marques Douglas (elbow), OT Orlando Brown (illness in the family), OL Casey Rabach (knee), RB B.J. Sams (thumb), WR Derek Abney (shoulder), CB Fred Weary (quadriceps) and DT Matt Zielinski (knee) also will not play. McAlister (contract dispute) has not reported to training camp.

- Jamison Hensley

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