Ravens might look to shore up secondary

Newsome says drafting cornerback in 1st round wouldn't be a surprise

Focus : Cornerbacks

Nfl Draft

April 21, 2005|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Midway through last season, when Deion Sanders was hobbled with a foot injury and Chris McAlister's hurting shoulder limited his action for three games, the Ravens were stuck - both on the field and in personnel.

"We got into a situation at corner where Chris goes down and Deion goes down," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "You don't have players, and it's tough in October and December to go out and find players that can come in and contribute to your football team.

"I think it hurt us, no doubt, in our ability to get off the field on third down when Deion and Chris were injured."

The remedy may lie in the first round of Saturday's draft, when the Ravens could look to add talent and youth to a cornerback corps that figures to have Sanders, who will turn 38 by the start of the season and is still unsigned, and Dale Carter, 35, who missed all last year, as the top backups.

McAlister and Samari Rolle will form one of the league's best starting tandems, but an injury to either could put the Ravens in the same position as last season, when then-defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was forced to play sixth defensive back Chad Williams as the nickel back for a game, while splitting time at cornerback between Corey Fuller and Ray Walls for McAlister.

West Virginia's Adam Jones and Auburn's Carlos Rogers are two prospects who could fill the nickel back position this year or take over in the starting lineup in case of injury.

The Ravens presumably have both players rated with first-round grades.

"You shouldn't be surprised if we decide to go that route," Newsome said. "To have a No. 1 pick at corner, and he can only play special teams for the first six games, then all of a sudden, one of our guys gets dinged up. Guess what? Our No. 1 pick is starting for us. That could be a good thing."

To get Jones, the Ravens almost surely would have to move up from the 22nd pick into the early teens (and hope Jones falls that far), a move that could cost the team a second-round pick if not more.

Jones, by all accounts, is worth it. He and Miami's Antrel Rolle are widely regarded as the top defensive backs in the draft, with Rogers right behind. Rolle is slightly bigger, but Jones has better coverage ability and great recovery speed, the primary reasons the Ravens find him so fascinating.

"If I had anybody to compare myself to, [it would be] Charles Woodson while he was in college," Jones said. "Charles Woodson was, to me, one of the best while he was in college. And Champ Bailey. Charles did what he did and he could cover. Champ Bailey had great special teams ability and he could cover, too."

The only knock on Jones is his height (5 feet 9), which might hinder him against the league's trend toward bigger receivers.

"I prefer going against big receivers," Jones said. "I can get my hands on them a little bit more. The short receivers are a little quicker and you can't get your hands on them. But big, tall receivers, you can pretty much touch them anytime and I feel that I have the speed to run with any of them."

Because of Jones' return ability - he averaged 14.8 yards on punt returns and was named the Big East Special Teams Player of the Year - a number of draft experts have him rated ahead of Rolle and going in the top 10 (Rolle is expected to go within the top 10 picks regardless).

If that happens, there is a good chance Rogers will be the only defensive back the Ravens would want at their current spot in the first round. Rogers is bigger than Jones but not as polished. He had two interceptions and 47 tackles last season, and Auburn coaches say opponents threw to his side of the field just 20 percent of the time.

Asked what separates him from other cornerbacks, Rogers said, "My quickness. Being able to go out there on an island and lock a man down, come up on run support and special teams and things like that. I like to play on special teams. Any coverage that I play, I have been pretty good at. I know it is going to be an adjustment to the next level, but I am easy to coach, so I can adjust to anything."

If both players are off the board, the Ravens could take a gamble on Nebraska's Fabian Washington, who might easily be the fastest defensive player in the draft (4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash), or wait until the second round, when LSU's Corey Webster, who might have been a first-round pick if he had come out last year, figures to be available.

"To get somebody that can come in and break ahead of Chris and Samari and if Deion comes back would be tough to do," Newsome said of using a high pick on a cornerback. "But [that player] could provide depth in case one of those guys is dinged and shouldn't play. They don't have to play if you've got another good young player that will step in."

Cornerback outlook

A look at the cornerbacks who may be available for the Ravens' first- and second-round picks: First round (pick No. 22)

Name School Ht. Wt. Skinny

Adam Jones W. Virginia 5-9 186 Generally regarded the next great shut-down player.

Fabian Washington Nebraska 5-10 175 One of the fastest players in the draft but is not physical.

Carlos Rogers Auburn 6-1 200 As consistent as any cornerback in the country.

Second round (pick No. 53)

Justin Miller Clemson 5-9 200 Can be beat but can also make big plays if picked on.

Corey Webster LSU 6-0 200 Dominant in 2003, play slipped last season, knocking him out of the first round.

Eric Green Virginia Tech 5-11 196 A bit slow-footed but is physical and can punish receivers.

Later-round picks

Domonique Foxworth, Maryland; Ronald Bartell, Howard; Kelvin Hayden, Illinois; Travis Daniels, LSU; Lamont Reid, N.C. State; Cedrick Williams, Kansas State.

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