Ravens, Sanders set to defend

Nickel back likely to get 25-30 plays, takes No. 37 for 1st game in 44 months

Pro Football

September 07, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

For those doubting whether the Ravens are getting "Prime Time" or simply "Part Time," the unveiling of Deion Sanders is expected to take place in five days.

Sanders, 37, is scheduled to play nickel back in the Ravens' season opener in Cleveland after passing all the initial tests in practice, team officials said yesterday.

The Ravens have been working out Sanders daily since the seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback ended his three-year retirement and signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract a week ago. His availability is still contingent on him having no setbacks through practices this week.

"Right now, I have seen nothing to indicate that he's not ready to take 25 to 30 snaps," coach Brian Billick said.

The Browns might look to test Sanders but probably not deep. Cleveland's passing game will be tailored to new quarterback Jeff Garcia's skills, which means an emphasis on throwing on the run and short routes.

Last week, Sanders seemed unsure whether he would be ready to play the first game.

But all indications point to Sanders suiting up for a game for the first time in 44 months, dating back to December 2000. He missed all of the Ravens' training camp and preseason games.

"That part of it is unique," Billick said. "When you have a guy come in whose first live action is going to be on game day, that's a concern. The fact that Deion is three years removed from that is a factor but I would be no less concerned about it if he had played last year."

Like Billick, Ravens players have expressed no worry about Sanders' ability to return.

"Anyone who doubts that man, I feel sad for them," cornerback Chris McAlister said after watching Sanders in one of those workouts. "That man's instincts and reactions are just like they were when he was wearing No. 21."

Because McAlister wears Sanders' trademark No. 21, it has prompted Sanders to make a fresh start. He decided yesterday to go with No. 37, which carries a significant message.

"He wants to make sure that every receiver doesn't forget his age," one team official said.

Sanders is just one of 10 new players on the Ravens' 53-man roster, which underwent its last major cutdown Sunday.

The other newcomers include: receiver Kevin Johnson, backup quarterback Kordell Stewart, five draft picks (defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, receiver Devard Darling, linebacker Roderick Green, quarterback Josh Harris and receiver Clarence Moore) and the two biggest surprises out of training camp (return specialist B.J. Sams and tight end Daniel Wilcox).

Although the Ravens likely will tinker with the roster during the week, the fact that they were able to bring back at least 81 percent of last year's AFC North champion team is quite a feat.

"In today's game, that's saying a lot because of the transitory nature of the league," said Billick, whose first team meeting this week will focus on capitalizing on the lessons learned over the two-year rebuilding project. "There's a collective experience."

NOTES: The Ravens still remain undecided on whether Darling's strained quadriceps is a short- or long-term injury. They will work the rookie receiver hard this week before making a final determination of keeping him on the roster or placing him on injured reserve. ... The Ravens will announce their eight-player practice squad today. ... Players return for practice today after having the past two days off.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns in opener

Site: Cleveland Browns Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 3

Ravens roster

Coach: Brian Billick

No. Player ....................Pos. Ht. Wt. Exp.

2 u-Anthony Wright .....QB 6-1 215 6

3 Matt Stover.................K 5-11 178 15

5 Josh Harris ...............QB 6-1 238 R

7 Kyle Boller................ QB 6-3 220 2

9 Wade Richey.............. K 6-3 205 7

10 Kordell Stewart...... QB 6-1 218 10

12 x-Derek Abney .......WR 5-9 180 R

15 Dave Zastudil ...........P 6-3 215 3

16 Clarence Moore...... WR 6-6 211 R

20 Ed Reed ......................S 5-11 200 3

21 Chris McAlister........ CB 6-1 206 6

22 x-Dale Carter............ CB 6-1 194 12

23 x-Fred Weary............ CB 5-10 181 7

24 Corey Fuller.............. CB 5-10 220 10

27 Gerome Sapp .............S 6-1 216 2

28 Gary Baxter............... CB 6-2 215 4

29 Chester Taylor ...........RB 5-11 213 3

31 Jamal Lewis............... RB 5-11 245 5

32 Musa Smith................. RB 6-0 232 2

34 Ovie Mughelli................ FB 6-1 255 2

36 B.J. Sams ......................RB 5-10 185 R

37 Deion Sanders ..............CB 6-1 198 13

38 Raymond Walls............ CB 5-10 188 4

39 Alan Ricard ...................FB 5-11 237 4

44 Daniel Wilcox................ TE 6-1 245 2

47 Will Demps ......................S 6-0 205 3

49 Chad Williams................. S 5-9 207 3

52 Ray Lewis .......................LB 6-1 245 9

53 T.J. Slaughter..................LB 6-0 233 5

54 Roderick Green...............LB 6-2 250 R

55 Terrell Suggs ..................LB 6-3 260 2

56 Edgerton Hartwell .........LB 6-1 250 4

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