Rook­ies ea­ger to seize the chance

As Har­baugh re­lies on new faces in key po­si­tions, the play­ers re­solve to step up

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Ed­ward Lee

Most of the Ravens rook­ies’ lock­ers re­side in the area of the train­ing fa­cil­ity’s locker room known as “the cul-de-sac,” where as neigh­bors the play­ers have been able to build a close re­la­tion­ship.

“If you’re hav­ing a rough day or you’re just feel­ing down, we’re all in the same row. So we just all talk,” cor­ner­back Tavon Young said. “We have our fun back here.”

The lock­ers for Young, out­side lineback­ers Ka­malei Cor­rea and Matthew Judon, run­ning back Ken­neth Dixon, nose tackle Michael Pierce and in­side line­backer Pa­trick On­wua­sor line up op­po­site those of wide re­ceivers Chris Moore and Keenan Reynolds, left guard Alex Lewis, de­fen­sive end Bron­son Kau­fusi, de­fen­sive tackle Wil­lie Henry and cor­ner­back Mau­rice Canady.

And while the rook­ies lean on one another, the Ravens have been re­ly­ing on them this sea­son. Seven of the 11 drafted first-year play­ers and two un­drafted free agents have gained sig­nif­i­cant play­ing time, in­clud­ing starts for left tackle Ron­nie Stan­ley, Lewis, Young and Cor­rea.

“I think you have to have a mix of rook­ies in there,” coach John Har­baugh said af­ter Fri­day’s prac­tice. “We have a big rookie class, and a lot of those guys are play­ing. In this case, I think it’s a good thing be­cause it’s not like they’re play­ing com­pletely out of ne­ces­sity. To me, the guys who are play­ing are play­ing be­cause they’ve earned the play­ing time and they’re play­ing well. ... Our guys are play­ing be­cause they’re good enough, and we feel good about them.”

Stan­ley opened the year as the start­ing left tackle and has made a team-high six Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 9 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 4

starts there. Lewis started five games at left guard and three at left tackle be­fore get­ting side­lined by a high right ankle sprain Nov. 10 against the Cleve­land Browns.

Young has made five con­sec­u­tive starts at cor­ner­back and is tied with strong safety Eric Wed­dle for sec­ond on the team in in­ter­cep­tions with two. And Cor­rea made three tack­les and forced a fum­ble in his lone start Oct. 23 against the New York Jets.

Rook­ies who have not started but made con­tri­bu­tions in­clude Moore, who has scored two touch­downs on special teams; Dixon, who has ce­mented his role as the sec­ond run­ning back be­hind starter Ter­rance West (Tow­son Univer­sity, North­west­ern High); and Judon, who ranks third on the team in sacks with three.

And there are two first-year play­ers who were not drafted but have had an ef­fect. Pierce has 24 tack­les and two sacks, and On­wua­sor is tied for sec­ond on special teams in tack­les with four.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion has never been shy about play­ing rook­ies. Quar­ter­back Joe Flacco, guard Mar­shal Yanda, in­side line­backer C.J. Mosley and punter Sam Koch have been full-time starters since their rookie sea­sons.

Whereas in the past when first-year play­ers were af­forded a year or two on the side­line to learn from their el­ders and grow into their roles, the cur­rent grace pe­riod in the league is much shorter — or nonex­is­tent in some cases.

Less than two months af­ter the draft, the fran­chise ter­mi­nated the con­tract of left tackle Eu­gene Mon­roe, paving the way for the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Stan­ley to play im­me­di­ately.

“Go­ing in, es­pe­cially if you want to play, you’ve got to know that there’s go­ing to be no real learn­ing curve and they’re re­ally not go­ing to give you that time to get into ev­ery­thing that you want to,” the sixth over­all pick said. “Ev­ery­thing’s com­ing at you so fast as a rookie. From the draft to camp, it’s a lot to take in. You’ve got to be men­tally strong to re­ally take it all in.”

Sev­eral rook­ies said they would not have minded more time and room to de­velop. But they also agreed that mak­ing an im­pact in their first year is the cul­mi­na­tion of years of hard work and dreams en­vi­sioned dur­ing their high school and col­lege days.

“I feel like you’re not a com­peti­tor if you don’t want to be out there,” Judon said. “I want to be out there, so I’m go­ing to have to have some learn­ing on the fly and make some ad­just­ments on the fly. But we’re out there play­ing, and that’s what we’re here to do.”

Many of the rook­ies have played in 10 reg­u­lar-sea­son and four pre­sea­son games thus far, which is two games longer than the typ­i­cal sea­son in the col­lege ranks. Dixon de­clared he has not yet hit the prover­bial “rookie wall,” but ac­knowl­edged that the most important part of the sea­son for the 5-5 Ravens be­gins with Sun­day’s game against the Cincin­nati Ben­gals.

“We do have six games left,” he said. “I am go­ing to go out there and work hard ev­ery day. If I have a rookie wall, I am go­ing to climb that rookie wall and keep fight­ing ev­ery day.”

With the sea­son still on­go­ing, Har­baugh is not ready to make a full eval­u­a­tion of the rookie class. But he likes what he has seen thus far.

“They’re all get­ting bet­ter ev­ery sin­gle day, and none of them have taken a step back,” he said. “None of them takes any­thing for granted.”

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Rookie Tavon Young, right, tries to tackle the Cow­boys’ Dez Bryant on Sun­day. Young has made five con­sec­u­tive starts at cor­ner­back and has two in­ter­cep­tions.

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