Rookie Free Agents Hope Trend Continues
By Mike Duffy
May 9, 2007
Ravens All-Time Drafts l Draft Central l Rookie Free Agents
Every year, the Ravens land one or two contributing gems from their pool of undrafted rookie free agents. Their record is impeccable.
Last year, Ronnie Prude and Cory Ross earned spots on the roster after being passed over in the draft, each stepping on the field to file strong showings. In 2005, Matt Katula won the Ravens' long-snapping job as a free agent. Explosive return specialist B.J. Sams burst on to the scene in 2004, while future starters Bart Scott (who made the Pro Bowl last year) and Will Demps (now with the New York Giants) were part of the class of 2002.
Now, one question is fresh on the minds of 16 hopefuls that were brought into last weekend's rookie camp: Will history repeat itself?
After a first look at the new crop of Ravens, head coach Brian Billick said they all should keep that hope alive, as long as they do the things they are supposed to do. a
"One of the points I made to them is that as comfortable as I am with it - although it is one of the jobs I don't like - when it comes time, I'll cut them," he explained. "So they ought not to cut themselves. They'll be told when they're no longer a part of this team.
"For them to do that prematurely on their own - all they have to do is look around: a fifth-round draft choice in Dawan Landry, an undrafted free agent in Bart Scott. There is example after example. Don't pre-judge where you're going to end up on this team, because you're going to cut yourself short."
The Ravens are challenged each year to secure their targeted prospects, and this round was no different. Despite past successes, the reality is that Baltimore currently has few holes in the roster.
General manager Ozzie Newsome pointed out in his post-draft press conference that safety and tight end are two places that could be filled by rookie free agents.
"We are smiling and dialing and calling up some of these players and saying, 'Hey here is an opportunity to make our football team, because there are only four safeties,'" he said. "Other than that, tight end is another position where we have good depth, but if we are going to play a lot of two-tight-end sets, we'd like to have four on campus, at least."
And it's not just the personnel department manning the phones. The coaches also get involved to talk about how a player can impact his particular position.
The team places initial calls to prospects that could be available on the Thursday and Friday before the draft, but once it gets into the later rounds, the phone rings at a frenetic pace. With other clubs willing to offer over $10,000 signing bonuses, the Ravens rely on hustle and relationships built with the rookies during the scouting process.
Johnson is looking to learn from Ed Reed.
"The bulk of it happens on the end of Day 1 and Day 2," said area scout Joe Douglas, who coordinated Baltimore's efforts along with fellow area scout Jeremiah Washburn. "We were lucky, in a sense, that we didn't have a seventh-round pick, because we could start highlighting certain players before other teams could.
"You could be talking to an agent, and he'll say, ?Hold on, there's Tampa Bay on the other line,'" he continued. "It's intense, but you have to sell your depth chart, sell the opportunity. You're definitely not selling the signing bonus."
The opportunity hooked Damien Linson, a talented wideout out of Central Michigan. A conversation with receivers coach Mike Johnson led Linson to believe that he's got a shot.
"My coach said that he thinks I have what it takes," Linson admitted. "I put my trust in him and put my trust in the Ravens; I just hope they can trust me."
Another prospect, Penn State safety Donnie Johnson, is looking forward to working with one of his football idols, Ed Reed.
"I'm going to be playing under the best safety in the NFL, so even if I don't make the team, I'll have that valuable experience to take with me elsewhere," he said.
When the rookies return to team headquarters for next week's organized team activity (OTA), it will be their first interaction with veteran Ravens, many of whom will participate in the voluntary session. How long the interaction will continue remains to be seen
Call em as I see em!