Polley is coming `home' to Ravens

Dunbar alum signs 1-year deal to be starting outside linebacker

April 12, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

As Ravens players and officials reminisced about the team's 10th anniversary, an unexpected bit of nostalgia crashed yesterday's news conference.

Tommy Polley, a 1996 graduate of Dunbar High School, was announced as the Ravens' new starting outside linebacker after reaching a one-year contract with his hometown team.

It was believed two weeks ago that the Ravens were close to a deal with linebacker T.J. Slaughter, but dragged-out talks caused the Ravens to shift their focus. They inquired about Polley last week and signed him immediately after his physical yesterday.

A four-year starter with the St. Louis Rams, Polley played in 57 of a possible 64 games. Contract details were not available.

"Today is a special day," Polley said. "It's good to be home."

Polley, 27, becomes the first Baltimore high school player to be a full-time starter for the Ravens and only the second from this area to suit up in the regular season for the team. Calvin Williams, another Dunbar standout, was a backup receiver for the Ravens in 1996.

"It's good that we're celebrating 10 years and I finally got smart enough to bring a local kid on to be a part of the Ravens," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "What Tommy brings us is a very athletic player who can run from sideline to sideline. That's the way we play defense."

The Ravens are banking that Polley's speed is a solid fit in their attacking scheme. His strength is great range against the run, with the closing speed to track down a lot of plays from behind and playmaking ability in pass coverage.

But the former second-round pick received virtually no interest in free agency despite making 49 starts in four seasons.

The biggest knock on Polley is that he's a finesse linebacker who isn't aggressive or tough enough. Last season, Polley lost his starting job to rookie Brandon Chillar before regaining his spot in Week 3.

In 57 career games for the Rams, he totaled 290 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks, 18 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and two recoveries.

Asked why he lasted so long on the free-agent market, he said: "That's a good question. I'm trying to figure that out right now. I feel I have always made plays. I'm still mind-boggled by it."

In the Ravens' expected switch to a 4-3 defensive alignment, they will play Polley on the weak side, Ray Lewis in the middle and either Peter Boulware or Adalius Thomas on the strong side. Terrell Suggs, who played on the outside last season, likely will move to defensive end.

Polley essentially replaces Ed Hartwell, a vastly different type of linebacker who signed with the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent. But what the Ravens lose in Hartwell's physical play, they gain in quickness.

"His athleticism is intriguing," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "As soon as we looked at him, we're like, `Shoot, this is a guy that we would really like,' and Ozzie made it happen."

By doing so, Newsome has filled every void in the team's starting lineup 12 days before the NFL draft.

"He's a roster-setter," Newsome said of Polley. "What it does is allow us to go into the draft now with the ability to draft at any position."

Before moving on to Florida State and the NFL, Polley grew up McElderry Street in East Baltimore and began playing Pop Warner football at Northwood Rec.

A two-time Defensive Player of the Year by The Sun and the Male Athlete of the Year in 1996, Polley is widely considered the best football player to come out of this city.

"It will be exciting," Polley said of playing for the Ravens. "It's great for me and my family, but I'm here to do a job, and that's to get this team back to the Super Bowl."

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