Rolle pulls a fast one

A prankster liked by his teammates, Ravens cornerback is swift on field

September 28, 2005|By BRENT JONES | BRENT JONES,SUN REPORTER

Once the old video of a jewelry-clad, money-chasing Deion Sanders started appearing on DVD players throughout the Ravens' complex, it did not take long for Sanders to identify the culprit.

The joke had Samari Rolle written all over it.

"Some people might think that's [rap musician] Kurtis Blow," Rolle said of the tape of Sanders. "But that's Deion."

The video, well over a decade old with Sanders dancing and singing near a pool, is funny, and Rolle's teammates seemed to appreciate the moment of levity. But a good locker-room presence is just a side benefit of Rolle's signing of a lucrative contract with the Ravens this spring.

Rolle's primary purpose is to provide lock-down coverage to receivers while forming an elite cornerback combination with Pro Bowl player Chris McAlister patrolling the other side.

Through two games, Rolle, unlike the team as a whole, has not disappointed. Rolle, in fact, is responsible for the Ravens' only recovered turnover this season, nailing Tennessee Titans running back Chris Brown and forcing a fumble that Will Demps recovered in the second quarter of the Ravens' 25-10 loss.

That hit was the debut of a different Rolle, one that is as committed to bringing a brute presence as he is shadowing receivers.

"We're seeing him playing more physical," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "He's supporting the run, playing as a complete corner. He's doing just a tremendous job for us."

Rarely do players add elements to their games after seven years in the league, but Rolle felt the need to reinvent himself to a degree with the Ravens. Rolle has always had some of the quickest feet in the NFL, an attribute that allowed him to cover receivers without having to put his hands on them.

But Ravens secondary coaches Johnnie Lynn and Dennis Thurman have stressed the importance of Rolle jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. Coaches say that is a must if the team is to have success in man-to-man coverage, and Rolle has embraced the challenge.

With the dedication to a more well-rounded game, Rolle has allowed less than a handful of completions on his side this season, none for big plays (25 yards or more).

"They've been working me really hard on using my hands along with my feet," Rolle said. "That way, I can just bury a guy as opposed to getting upfield and smothering him. I'm still trying to bring that in."

Rolle wears size-13 shoes, awkwardly larger feet for a 6-foot, 175-pound player. He says having big feet forced him to work on his footwork early in his career at Florida State, where he went on to become an All-Atlantic Coast Conference player his senior season.

"My position coach at Florida State, Mickey Andrews, he used to always get on me because I wasn't the biggest or strongest guy," Rolle said. "So he was like, `You got to use your feet.' So after that, I just worked on staying on my toes.

"He had me backpedaling under a pin with a gate over it. If you raised up and hit the pin, it would hurt."

What Andrews helped create was a player whose fleet feet have become one of those things insiders, players and coaches alike, marvel over in the league.

"He can cover almost anybody with his feet alone, without having to get his hands on you or anything else," Ryan said. "Most of the time, your great corners have to jam you on the line, disrupt you that way, then be able to run. But he's got such good feet that he doesn't have to jam you to cover you. That's a rare quality in a guy."

Added ex-teammate and Titans receiver Drew Bennett: "He's not going to bite on a bad move or a double move, things like that. He's going to study your formations and your stances and alignments, and that really gives him an advantage. With that and his athleticism, it makes him a good corner."

There was little doubt Rolle was a good player, but there were questions whether he was a good person after a domestic dispute earlier this year in Tennessee sullied his reputation. Rolle was one of several current and former Titans players who have had run-ins with the law over the past year.

It was an out-of-character episode for someone whose life is largely marked by stability. Rolle was raised in Miami by his parents, both of whom were teachers (his father also coached high school in Miami Beach).

Rolle tends to greet visitors with a smile and a nod, remaining even-keeled and cooperative throughout the Ravens' bad start. There is not much flash on the field - Rolle says he rarely talks trash - or off (his idea of a good time on a Friday night involves watching high school football in Florida and Texas by satellite).

He is already a locker-room leader, one of the few players in the secondary who attempts to provide answers to the team's woes even though he is not one of the causes.

When his day is finished, Rolle unwinds by playing with his 5-year-old daughter, Samara, and spending time with his wife, Danisha, with whom he says his relationship is better.

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