Ray Lewis' brother Lattimore not giving up on NFL dream
OWINGS MILLS — Keon Lattimore has been toiling away in the minor leagues of professional football, not giving up on his quest to forge a lasting niche in the NFL.
The former University of Maryland standout running back already took two shots at trying to make the Dallas Cowboys after going undrafted, also spending time on practice squads with the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers.
However, his last NFL tryout was two seasons ago with the Buffalo Bills.
Most recently, Lattimore has plied his trade for the Trenton Steel (N.J.) of the Southern Indoor Football League and the semipro Chambersburg Cardinals (Pa.).
"I tried the whole Arena thing, and it's fun because it's football," Lattimore said Saturday during an NFL regional combine at the Baltimore Ravens' training complex. "It's nothing like outdoors. It's nothing like the big leagues. I just want to keep playing, keep perfecting my craft.
"It's a perfect opportunity. I don't want to sit around waiting for when the opportunity finally comes. I want to get ready and keep grinding."
As the younger brother of Ravens Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis, Lattimore has had an excellent example to learn from.
Lewis is a former Super Bowl champion, and a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He's arguably the best middle linebacker in NFL history and is regarded as a lock to eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Besides being my brother, he's my biggest fan," Lattimore said. "He gives me all the tips, all the pointers. He just put me on a little diet to shred weight faster. The conversations are always intense. It's always, ‘Lil bro, don't let another man outwork you.'"
The spirit was definitely willing for Lattimore on Saturday as scouts from the Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers and the Washington Redskins took in the workout.
However, his body didn't perform as intended.
Although Lattimore got off to a fast start in the 40-yard dash, his times were ultimately disappointing.
In his two time trials, he covered the distance in a pedestrian 4.79 and 4.80 seconds. At 218 pounds, Lattimore was hoping to run in the 4.4 to 4.5 range.
"As long as you know you put the work in and you prepared yourself, it's just like taking a test," Lattimore said prior to the workout. "You know how you're going to do on that test. You take a pretest before the real test.
"I've been timing, a lot of my times have been pretty good times. I'm satisfied with my weight. I've been running 4.4 and low 4.5s. I've been satisified with them. Weight-wise, I'm where I want to be. I think it'll be a good day."
A former Mount Saint Joseph High School star, Lattimore was an honorable-mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection who rushed for 1,744 career yards and 19 rushing touchdowns. He caught 46 passes for 307 yards.
As a senior, Lattimore gained a career-high 869 yards and scored 13 touchdowns after rushing for 784 yards as a junior.
Lattimore thought he would get drafted by the Cowboys, but that didn't happen.
The Cowboys selected running backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice in the first and fourth rounds, respectively.
Lattimore signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent and was released during the final major roster cutdown before the regular season.
"Not to get into the politics side, but it's a business," Lattimore said. "I can only do what I can control. With the Dallas situation, they took two other backs before me. Dallas called me in the fourth round and I thought they were going to take me.
"That was the first sign of the politics. It's definitely been a challenge because it's frustrating because you know this is what you do. This is in my heart. I've got a passion to play this game."
Lattimore was one of the featured stories on the popular Hard Knocks program on HBO that chronicled the Cowboys' training camp during his rookie year.
Accustomed to garnering attention as Lewis' sibling, Lattimore didn't necessarily enjoy the scrutiny.
"Yeah, I'm a low-key guy," Lattimore said. "I've been in Ray's shadow my whole life. I'm cool with the attention, but I would rather not have it.
"I just want to play ball, and I just want to do what I do. When you play for the Cowboys, that's something that goes along with the whole thing. It was a good experience having HBO there."
While training with his brother this offseason, Lattimore hasn't noticed any difference in Lewis' legendary workout regimen. At age 36, Lewis' staying power is unique.
"He told me the other day after we worked out, ‘Lil bro, I feel like I could play another five years," Lattimore said. "I said, ‘Looks like it.' The rate he works out at is ridiculous. He gets better every year."
Ravens: NFL holds regional combine at team headquarters
OWINGS MILLS - The giant banner depicting the Vince Lombardi trophy still hangs on the wall behind one end zone.
The popular punching bag that Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs loved to bash before practice is resting, safe for now from the NFL Defensive Player of the Year's fists.
As familiar as the surrounding were Saturday morning at the Ravens' indoor practice facility, it was an entirely different scene as the NFL conducted a regional combine to make sure no viable prospects are passed over.
"It's an insurance policy against missing any players," said Stephen Austin, the NFL director of regional combines. "Our teams have multi-million dollar budgets, but we know there's other players out there like Adam Vinatieri or Joe Horn or Mike Flynn. We don't want to miss anyone. We feel these football players player their whole lives. They are the foundation of the game.
"They deserve an NFL interview. For many of them, this gives them closure with dignity and the knowledge that their careers are going to end here. At least they'll know where they stand. We're looking for the select few that shouldn't fall through the cracks."
With that thought in mind, the NFL conducted one of its 11 regional combines Saturday to determine if any of the roughly 130 hopefuls are worthy of advancing to a Super Regional combine next month at the Detroit Lions' Ford Field in front of a larger group of personnel directors and scouts.
A wide range of players auditioned Saturday, running the 40-yard dash, doing the short shuttle, vertical leap and positional drills.
That included players with a pedigree like former New England Patriots third-round outside linebacker Shawn Crable to former practice squad players like former University of Maryland running back Keon Lattimore, the younger brother of Ravens Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis, to dreamers like a 35-year-old wide receiver unwilling to give up on playing in the NFL.
"It's about persistence," said Crable, a former University of Michigan all-conference selection whose six-game career with the Patriots was derailed by injuries. "Things don't go right all the time. That's what you battle. Everybody is equal here. If you're in this building, you have a shot at it."
There were local players from Morgan State, Towson, Salisbury, the University of Maryland and former University of Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell.
Four NFL teams attended the workout, which is available for all 32 franchises to observe through video, including the Ravens, Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and the Carolina Panthers.
"It's a great opportunity," said Lattimore, who has previous stints with the Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars and the San Francisco 49ers and has most recently been playing minor league and semipro football. "I'm prepared, I'm focused. I've been working with my brother. I'm ready to get it done."
There were some impressive performers, including Crable and Hampton cornerback Romeo Pellum.
There were a few others who struggled just to make it through the drills unscathed.
A defensive player fell to the ground after running the 40-yard dash, grabbing his hamstring.
Once he got back to his feet with trainers' assistance, he threw up.
"We get the basics: size, speed, quickness, lower body strength," Austin said. "We take their pictures, so we can see their body type and workout ethic. "We run them through position-specific drills. We want to see, ‘Does he have a backpedal?'
"This is essentially a qualifying combine for who will move onto Ford Field at the Super Regional. The scrutiny is very intense there. We're hoping that 100 of these guys go to Ford Field and 15 or 18 sign NFL contracts and five or six guys stick with a club."
A year ago, the NFL regional combines worked out about 2,250 players with 21 signed by NFL teams.
One of those players, Houston Texans linebacker and special-teams contributor Bryan Braman, made it to the playoffs where he competed against the Ravens in an AFC divisional round game.
The NFL has upcoming regional workouts on Feb. 18 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' facility, Feb. 25 at the New York Jets' complex, March 3 at the Chicago Bears' Halas Hall, March 10 at the Atlanta Falcons and March 17 at the Cleveland Browns' offices.
The combines seek out players through college football teams and they also require a $190 registration fee.
"That's a litmus test," Austin said. "If you're a guy on the street, you're not going to drop $190 on a goof."
Former Maryland cornerback Colin Nelson has a job with the Tampa Bay Storm in the Arena Football League, but still has NFL ambitions.
A former All-Centennial Conference selection at McDaniel College who transferred to Maryland and played in every game as a senior as a reserve defensive back and special-teams contributor, Nelson isn't giving up.
"It's rigorous, it takes a lot of discipline," Nelson said. "A lot of my friends, we had the same aspirations, but a lot of guys fell short, had other responsibilities, priorities changed. It's tough on your psyche. You feel like you can do it, but it's humbling.
"The biggest thing is to stay focused. If that's your goal, you need to persevere. The reward is given to those that endure, not the swift. It's about what you prove on the field. I still have to show them that I'm worthy.
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