A little goes a long way for Ross

Ravens running back stands out despite his small stature

August 21, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

For a long time, Cory Ross has been trying to persuade the skeptics to view his body of work, not just his body.

He was the Colorado leader in total offense as a senior at Thomas Jefferson High in Denver. He's the only player in Nebraska history to rank in the top 10 in both rushing yards and receptions. And he was one of only two undrafted rookies to make the Ravens' 53-man active roster last season. (Cornerback Ronnie Prude was the other.)

But the first thing NFL personnel directors, scouts and fans seem to focus on is Ross' 5-foot-6 frame, which ties him with San Diego Chargers return specialist Darren Sproles as the shortest player in the league.

Ross is learning to accept it.

"I know that in this business, that's just going to be what it is," the second-year player said last week. "You look at me and you're probably thinking, `Oh, this guy is little.' That's just the way God made me. I'm not going to be mad at it, I'm not going to let that hold me back. What I do is I just show them that my heart is bigger than what my size looks like."

While it appeared that size would matter as the Ravens trim their roster to 53 by Sept. 1, there are indications that Ross might again make the team.

Even though Ross is the fifth running back on the Ravens' depth chart, there are concerns about three of the backs ahead of him.

Mike Anderson has been getting limited repetitions in practice and games, and health continues to be an issue for running backs Musa Smith and P.J. Daniels. Smith has yet to complete a season without going on injured reserve, and Daniels, the team's fourth-round choice last year, has not played this preseason after tweaking his hamstring before the team's first game against the Philadelphia Eagles eight days ago.

After two preseason games, Ross leads the team in rushing with 85 yards on 16 carries and a team-high single gain of 24 yards.

His candidacy is also buoyed by the coaching staff's appreciation of what Ross, listed as the No. 2 return specialist behind starter B.J. Sams, has done in the past.

"Every time Cory gets the ball, it makes an impression on me," coach Brian Billick said after the team's 13-12 loss to the New York Giants Sunday night. "He is a good, tough football player."

Ross' situation with the Ravens is reminiscent of his freshman year at Nebraska, when he was eighth on the Cornhuskers' depth chart. By his junior year, Ross was the team's featured back.

"Me personally, I know that everywhere you go, you're going to have competition," he said. "This is the NFL, so you're going to have stacked players, players that can play and players that probably did exactly what you did in college. So the only thing you can do is know your assignment, know your technique and just make plays."

Ross credits much of his development to Nebraska coach Bill Callahan. Callahan, who guided the Oakland Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2003, scrapped Frank Solich's option offense for a West Coast scheme.

"A lot of the guys were upset and mad that some of the coaches that were there got replaced, but I took it as an opportunity to learn another offense," Ross recalled. "Before, it was option left or option right. And now this was an actual pro style that they used. So I had fun with it, and I was excited about it."

Surprisingly, Ross said his biggest thrill on the field doesn't come from breaking off a long gain on the ground or turning a short screen pass into a gallop to the end zone.

"When I can make a great block, it's better than any run," he said. "It's better than anything because when you've got guys looking at you and thinking, `I wonder if this guy can block,' and when you actually go out there and show them, you've got to take pride in that. I'm a little guy, but I can get in there and handle my business."

Ross might not have earned the confidence of the other 31 NFL teams that bypassed him, or even some Ravens fans, but his teammates have embraced him.

"A lot of people see his stature, and they think he's small and not tough," left guard Jason Brown said. "He plays a lot like he's so much bigger than himself. I'm not sure if he feels as if he has something to prove, but he's proven it. And we definitely thank his contributions to this team."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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