Ravens' Rolle turns a corner

After near catastrophe, subpar season, his focus is 2007

June 01, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun Reporter

This offseason was supposed to be the time when Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle focused on rebuilding his confidence after suffering the worst year of his career.

But football soon became the least of his worries.

During an African safari with his wife and NFL players Fred Taylor and Lito Sheppard, the door of their single-propeller plane opened while traveling at 6,000 feet.

Some panicked. Others prayed. Everyone feared for their lives.

"I put my shirt over my head and I was like, `Oh no, tell me this isn't happening,' " said Rolle, who was seated two rows in front of the unexpected opening.

With the door remaining ajar, the plane landed 10 minutes later on a nearby runway, although Rolle said it felt like an hour.

Another couple on the trip filmed the event and posted it on YouTube, where Rolle has since watched the life-changing experience again.

"Had we been higher, I think everyone would have been sucked out of there," Rolle said during the Ravens' third minicamp. "You just see stuff flash before your eyes and it puts football in perspective. This is major in my life but I got kids, a wife and friends. Once we landed, I was just thankful. God kept us here for a reason."

This past year has been a challenging one for Rolle, to say the least.

Before this life-threatening scare, Rolle had been called the weak link of the top-ranked defense by fans and the media after allowing several big plays.

The former Pro Bowl cornerback said he understands what he needs to do this season to bounce back.

"The main thing is I'm just trusting myself in my ability and not depending on somebody to be there," said Rolle, who turns 31 in August. "I know I can play. I hear people say I'm slowing down. Ty Law is older than me. Ronde Barber is older than me. Charles Woodson came out [in the same draft] with me. Those guys are still respected players."

Despite struggling through what Rolle called "my worst year," the Ravens never showed a lack of faith in him publicly.

They didn't bench him last season and they didn't go after an immediate replacement in the draft.

"I expect Samari to make the Pro Bowl this year," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "He's a great talent. Two years ago, he was as good a corner as there was in this league."

Ryan also pointed out that not all the deep passes allowed on Rolle's side of the field were his fault.

Against the Carolina Panthers, Rolle let wide receiver Steve Smith run free and catch a 72-yard pass because safety Ed Reed was supposed to have deep coverage on the play.

"That wasn't Samari's guy," Ryan said. "That's unfortunate that he gets all of the blame for it, but Samari never once deflected it. He's a great football player, and everybody in this organization knows that."

After the loss to the Panthers - the sixth game of the season - Rolle had to deal with countless questions from reporters and even had a coach confront him in the locker room.

The confidence of a nine-year veteran, Rolle said, was gone.

"I think after the Carolina game, that was the lowest I felt as a football player," Rolle said. "It got to the point where I just played not to give up the deep ball. But that's not how I play."

Rolle has been itching all offseason to get back and redeem himself. He never wants to play scared on the field again.

But returning on another trip to Africa is a different story.

"I won't be going back," Rolle said. "Ever."

Notes -- Of the five players who missed yesterday's practice because of injury, linebacker Dan Cody is considered the most serious. Cody, a former second-round pick who hyperextended his right knee, could miss the rest of the offseason minicamps. Other Ravens sidelined with injuries were wide receivers Derrick Mason (finger) and Clarence Moore, running back P.J. Daniels and cornerback David Pittman (hamstring). The nature of the injuries to Moore and Daniels is unknown. ... Eight Ravens missed the voluntary workout yesterday: quarterback Steve McNair, running back Willis McGahee, linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Dennis Haley, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, defensive end Trevor Pryce and kicker Matt Stover. ... Cornerback Chris McAlister will host a free football camp for 200 high school students tomorrow at M&T Bank Stadium. There are a limited number of spots available. To register, e-mail info@ chrismcalister21.com. ... Tight end Daniel Wilcox will host his first celebrity paintball tournament tomorrow at Paintball Adventures Park in Taneytown from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The fundraiser will include 24 teams, with one professional football player on each squad.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

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