Sanders may join Ravens' receivers

Defender wants to help offense, but action vs. Steelers unlikely

September 16, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Do three part-time jobs equal a Prime Time gig?

Deion Sanders continued to expand his role with the Ravens yesterday, practicing at receiver for the first time with the team. In a matter of two weeks, Sanders could go from ending a three-year retirement to reliving his glory days as a triple threat, playing nickel back, punt returner and receiver.

"I know he [coach Brian Billick] wants to take it slow because this is a marathon and not a sprint, but I really want to get in there and do something," Sanders said. "It's hard to sit over on the sideline when something is not happening. You really want to make a play and spark them."

Team officials said it's unlikely Sanders will play receiver Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they would not rule it out. They want to see if he can withstand a 30- to 40-snap effort on defense before exposing him on offense.

Sanders, 37, played regularly on offense and defense for the Dallas Cowboys in 1996, becoming the NFL's first two-way starter since Chuck Bednarik in 1962.

Though Sanders hasn't caught a pass in an NFL game in five years, he has more experience at that position than most of the Ravens' receivers.

With Travis Taylor expected to miss the next four games, the Ravens have four healthy receivers: Kevin Johnson, Randy Hymes and rookies Devard Darling and Clarence Moore. Only Johnson has played more than eight games, and none displayed big-play potential in the season opener, when the receivers averaged 7.9 yards a catch.

Billick seemed hesitant to put Sanders in immediately at receiver yet admitted there was a possibility he could see time there Sunday.

"We can't let one problem cascade into the difficulties of someplace else," Billick said. "We definitely will move toward that, but I don't want to do it at a pace that puts Deion at risk mentally or physically based on his primary obligation, which is in our secondary."

Sanders has caught 60 passes for 784 yards and three touchdowns in his career. His best season came in 1996, when he made 36 receptions, including four for 20-plus yards.

Asked what he brought to the receiver position, Sanders said, "Fear to the opposing player. Once I get the ball in my hands, I know what to do with it."

For 10 minutes after practice, Sanders spent time with quarterback Kyle Boller, running a variety of routes. He looked smooth running all of them until he took a hard spill on the slippery grass.

"It's been four years so I'm not saying if he's OK or he's bad," said Randy Hymes, who will start in place of Taylor. "When he was out there, he did pretty good."

Boller, who was 8 years old when Sanders entered the league in 1989, said, "When he gets the ball in his hands, he does special things."

The Ravens expect Sanders to see more time on defense, too. He was limited to 15 plays in the season opener because the Cleveland Browns rarely played three receivers, a formation that the Steelers use more often.

"I don't think they're going to shy away this week," Sanders said. "I really don't."

Sanders also hinted his role could expand as a punt returner. He replaced rookie B.J. Sams once Sunday, running it back just 5 yards.

"I'm really only as good as the people in front of me," Sanders said. "People deem me to be this super punt returner but I had 10 guys that understood that if they gave me the opportunity, I would make it happen.

"You've got to get that mind-set that we have big-play potential on every punt. I'm not looking to get 10 yards or 15 yards. I look to break every punt."

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