Ravens are committed to rookies-only merits

Sams was able to emerge from such a camp in '04

Pro Football

April 29, 2005|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

When close to 30 rookies convene today on the first day of a two-day minicamp that excludes veterans, expect Ravens coach Brian Billick to share one of his newest underdog stories to underscore the camp's importance.

This one involves the undrafted, 5-foot-10, 185-pound B.J. Sams, who turned so many heads during the all-rookie workouts of a year ago that he entered training camp as the favorite to win the return specialist job.

It was the first time the Ravens had held a rookie-only session, and Sams' emergence was enough for the coaches to do it again. Sams, by coaches' estimations, never dropped a ball.

"We really felt like we found some things we might not have otherwise," Billick said. "B.J. Sams is a guy that jumped out at us and gave us the idea to watch this guy a little closer. I don't know that we would have isolated [him] that early if we would have had the full team."

Once the rookies take the field, the new season will officially start, along with the race to fill the last three spots on the roster. Billick has said 50 of the 53 roster spots are locked up. One of the most heated battles should come at third-string quarterback between Oregon State's Derek Anderson, the team's sixth-round choice, and Darian Durant, who is expected to sign today after going undrafted out of North Carolina.

The quarterbacks are virtual opposites. Anderson is a drop-back passer, who, at 6 feet 6, can see over defenses with ease and make all types of throws. But too many of his passes were intercepted while at Oregon State, dropping him to the later rounds of the draft.

Durant is more careful with the ball but is barely 5-11. Durant throws better on the run and can make people miss when he breaks out of the pocket.

Neither is assured of a spot, as the Ravens could choose to sign a veteran and place one of the rookies on the eight-man practice squad. The Ravens signed Kordell Stewart shortly before training camp last year, and with Stewart unsigned, the team still has that option available.

"For us to be comfortable with [Anderson] at the third quarterback position rather than going out and getting a veteran between now and the end of the minicamps in June, there is going to be a lot of evaluating going on," Billick said.

Coaches will also get their first chance to judge first-round pick Mark Clayton as a Raven. Clayton is the first receiver taken that high since Travis Taylor (2000).

Clayton, with a roster shot assured, is expected to take it relatively easy.

"The first weekend you want to be careful about expecting too much," Billick said.

But that does not mean a lesser-known rookie cannot shatter expectations. The easiest way to do that is the route Sams paved last year.

"Special teams," Billick said. "That's the first way for a low-drafted or rookie free agent to impact the team. Or like a B.J. Sams, have a particular role or expertise in something that makes you noticeable."

NOTES: Billick and his coaching staff will host their annual clinic for high school and youth area coaches May 21 at M&T Bank Stadium. Ravens quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel, as well as veteran NFL offensive line coach Tony Wise, will speak. The fee is $10 per coach.

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