Not backing down

Dogged by adversity, Rolle won't yield

August 10, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun reporter

Like the good soldier he is, Samari Rolle came through for the team one more time last week. His heart heavy, the Ravens cornerback trudged to a microphone at McDaniel College to address the passing of his father in July.

Rolle had no interest in talking, at least not to the media, and not publicly, about his father.

But at the urging of Ravens senior vice president Kevin Byrne, he did. For 10 minutes, he answered questions - more about football than family - gracefully, thoughtfully.

It's a position Rolle has found himself in quite a few times in his four seasons with the Ravens. He has stood front and center on a number of issues, none of them pleasant.

There was his 2005 arrest on a charge of domestic violence, which resulted in a fine from the NFL but no suspension. There was a game against the Carolina Panthers in 2006, when Rolle willingly took the fall for a teammate's mistake on a long touchdown pass.

There was the disclosure in November that his medical condition was, in fact, epilepsy. Then came December and a $15,000 fine from the NFL for impugning the integrity of a game official; Rolle was one of four Ravens fined in the wake of the Bart Scott flag-throwing incident in the disappointing loss to the New England Patriots.

Now this.

Rolle's career in Baltimore has been one trial after another. Each time, he was accountable and forthright. Each time, he accepted his punishment, blame or responsibility. And that's one of many reasons his teammates and coaches appreciate him so much.

"He's just a special guy," said Rex Ryan, the Ravens' defensive coordinator. "From the epilepsy, the injuries, to being blamed for something that wasn't his fault - giving up a long touchdown to [Carolina's] Steve Smith - he's got such great character."

Rolle established himself as one of the NFL's better cover cornerbacks during a seven-year run in Tennessee, where he went to a Super Bowl with the Titans and a Pro Bowl on his own. He probably still would be there had not the Titans butchered their salary cap and were forced to cut him, along with several other of the team's best players.

Signed to a six-year contract by the Ravens before the 2005 season, Rolle has impressed his teammates with how he has handled adversity the past three years. It was indicative of the respect the organization has for him that general manager Ozzie Newsome, linebacker Ray Lewis, wide receiver Derrick Mason, cornerback Chris McAlister and safety Ed Reed all made the trip to Miami last week for the funeral of Harry Rolle.

That commitment was not lost on the grieving Rolle, who called owner Steve Bisciotti "a world-class owner" and noted the organizational support at his news conference. "From the time I've gotten here, [Bisciotti's] been very supportive of different types of situations. I guess it shows everybody what type of owner he is and, more so, what type of person he is," he said.

McAlister, one of Rolle's closest friends, finds inspiration in how the cornerback has worked through his problems.

"At any point in time, people can just lay it down and say it's too much, I can't take it, I don't want to deal with this anymore," McAlister said. "He could have done that last year when he was going through his own personal issues.

"He didn't. The guy's got a huge heart, a tremendous will to make the best out of life. ... He's one of those guys that keeps going."

When he was diagnosed with epilepsy last season after suffering three major seizures, Rolle's career was very much in doubt. But with the Ravens in mid-meltdown, he came back to play after the diagnosis; the team was 4-6 when he returned.

"And he played outstanding when he came back," Ryan said. "If we can get a full year when he's healthy and running around, it'd help a lot."

That's the question now. Rolle came back from epilepsy to play last year, but he finished the season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that required surgery. He played in only six games, fewest for a season in his career.

In Nashville, he lost playing time to a knee injury (2004), a dislocated elbow (2003) and a concussion to his spinal cord (1998).

Rolle, who turns 32 today, is anything but brittle, however. At 175 pounds, he is still aggressive in run support. When he's healthy, he can still be a cover corner.

After missing two weeks - and the first 24 practices - of training camp, Rolle was expected to begin workouts yesterday. Since arriving last week, he has been working out on his own.

When he plays in the preseason, he will be fighting for his job. The Ravens acquired cornerback Fabian Washington in a draft-day trade, and the two veterans are competing for the starting spot opposite McAlister.

For what it's worth, Rolle is encouraged by new coach John Harbaugh.

"He's down to earth, that's the biggest thing," Rolle said. "He's like a regular guy. He's stern, but at the same time, there's no talking down to you. ... He's just talking to you like one of the guys. He's been very supportive the whole time."

Rolle hopes to reward all that support this season. Returning to the team was great medicine for his private mourning.

"God doesn't give you more than you can handle," he said. "I think at the end of the day, I can turn this into a positive somehow, some way."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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