Cover Corners are Rare Finds

OWINGS MILLS - There are shutdown cornerbacks, and then there's everyone else. In NFL circles, cover guys capable of consistently taking away a receiver as a target for offenses are definite rarities.

This draft offers only two players viewed as having that much potential: Kansas State's Terence Newman and Washington State's Marcus Trufant. And even they might take a while to adjust to the sophistication of professional offenses and shrewder quarterbacks.

"Everyone looks for people who can take over half the field," Baltimore Ravens secondary coach Donnie Henderson said. "Coming right out of college, that's asking a lot. It's going a little far to call someone a shutdown corner right away."

Newman is the versatile Jim Thorpe Award winner who has nerve damage in his shoulder, but has top speed and athleticism and is likely to go within the first five picks. The Big 12 100-meter champion runs the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds and has a 41-inch vertical leap. Last season, he deflected 14 passes and intercepted five more, catching four passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. He also returned 26 punts for 388 yards and two touchdowns and 13 kickoffs for 370 yards.

"If the other teams are listening, from what we understand, Terence Newman's arm fell off last week," Ravens director of player personnel Phil Savage quipped. "But if he's available we're still going to take him, Lefty Newman." Newman is unlikely to be available, though. Trufant appears to be a legitimate possibility to still be available at the Ravens' 10th overall selection if he escapes the grasp of the Minnesota Vikings at No. 7 or the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 8.

There's also a scenario where the New Orleans Saints could move up, possibly with Baltimore as their trading partner, to acquire Trufant. Trufant collected 69 tackles last season, with three interceptions and doubles as a punt returner with 32 returns for 341 yards. He has 4.4 speed and an extensive track and basketball background. Trufant also has a reputation for adeptly diagnosing offenses and not avoiding his run-support responsibilities.

"Trufant is a good prospect, another size-speed guy," Henderson said. "I like those prototypical players with the classic size and speed."

Would the Ravens draft another cornerback with Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter already returning as starters? That's unclear, but not impossible. The Ravens wouldn't turn down quality depth or an enforcer who could be available later on in the first day such as safeties Ohio State's Mike Doss and Arkansas' Ken Hamlin.

USC safety Troy Polamalu is the only safety probable for the first round, possibly going to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 27 overall. The Ravens want safeties who can operate in man-to-man coverage, which is the trend in pro football as teams are trying to get away from having one-dimensional tough guys limited to blitzing and checking tight ends. Baltimore wants players in the mold of Ed Reed and Rod Woodson who aren't necessarily limited to zone schemes.

"It's very important to have a safety who can cover the third receiver because of what offenses are trying to do to you now," Henderson said. "You want tacklers. That's a priority obviously, but you have to have guys who can cover, too."

Henderson also spoke highly of Oregon State cornerback Dennis Weathersby, who was shot last weekend in a drive-by shooting in Duarte, Calif. He's likely to recover quickly as they were all flesh wounds.

Besides the top prospects, there are viable options such as Oklahoma's Andre Woolfolk, Bethune-Cookman's Rashean Mathis, Illinois' Eugene Wilson, Texas A&M's Sammy Davis, Cal's Nmandi Asomugha and Tuskegee's Drayton Florence.

The Ravens have a history of drafting several defensive backs in recent years, including Reed, an all-rookie selection, last year with their first-round pick as well as acquiring safety Chad Williams in the sixth round and Will Demps as a free agent.

Last year, Baltimore had 25 interceptions and allowed 16 touchdowns with opponents compiling a combined 73.4 quarterback rating.
"We feel good about what we accomplished last year," Henderson said. "But we're always looking to create competition and add to the mix of what we already have on the roster. We're not going to rest on our laurels."

NOTES: The Ravens' Spring Football Festival will be held Saturday at Ravens Stadium between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Several players, including Todd Heap, Edwin Mulitalo and Edgerton Hartwell, are scheduled to attend along with cheerleaders and mascots. For ticket information, call 410-261-7283.

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