Over dinner earlier this year at a Florida restaurant, Baltimore Ravens All-Pro free safety Ed Reed began schooling Christian Thompson on the various nuances of the NFL.
The South Carolina State free safety talked football with the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, exchanging numbers and staying in touch throughout the draft process.
"He told me to stay on top of my game," Thompson told the Times on Sunday in a telephone interview. "He told somebody is always trying to take your position from you and to make sure I worked harder than everybody else. He gave me some great advice about football and life."
Little did Reed or Thompson know that they would wind up being teammates.
Now, Thompson is overjoyed to have been drafted in the fourth round by Baltimore with the 130th overall pick where he'll join Reed in the Ravens' secondary.
"This is a blessing in disguise," Thompson said. "It's like a dream come true. Myself and plenty of other football players idolize Ed Reed. To be a part of the same defense as him and being able to learn from him is going to be a great experience. I'm just very excited. All the hard work and dedication paid off."
The Ravens drafted Thompson because of his combination of size, speed, physical style and interchangeable ability at free safety and strong safety.
The 6-foot, 211-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 to 4.50 seconds at the NFL scouting combine, faster than any other safety.
And the Ravens needed depth at safety behind Reed and strong safety Bernard Pollard, two veterans heading into contract years.
Plus, reserve safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski signed with the Carolina Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts.
"Christian is in the mold of the guys we like on defense," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "He's hard-nosed, tough and physical and smart. We like his versatility.
"We don't really consider guys box safeties or whatever. We don't want a one-dimensional safety that can only play down or play up. Christian can help us in a lot of ways."
One of those areas will begin immediately on special teams.
Thompson was a gunner in college on punts, lined up on the kickoff team and occasionally returned kickoffs.
"I love playing special teams," said Thompson, who registered a 10-2 broad jump and bench pressed 225 pounds 18 times at the combine in February. "I just want to get on the field anyway possible."
An all-conference selection at South Carolina State, Thompson had 66 tackles, two interceptions and one fumble recovery last season.
He finished his career with 140 tackles, three interceptions, eight tackles for losses and two fumble recoveries.
"I'm fast enough to play free safety in open space," Thompson said. "And I can come down and play strong safety. I'm a laidback type of dude, I try to stay positive at all times. This is my job. I'm going to work hard and try to fight my way onto the field."
An outside linebacker in high school at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Thompson accepted a scholarship to Auburn over competing offers from LSU, Miami, Mississippi State and Syracuse.
Thompson transferred to South Carolina State after reportedly being dismissed from the Auburn football team for poor class attendance.
Thompson said the reason he left Auburn was primarily due to the coaching change to Gene Chizik after being recruited to the Southeastern Conference school by Tommy Tuberville.
"It was basically just because of the coaching change, there was nothing off the field with me," Thompson said. "It wasn't the right thing for me to be there. They just had a new philosophy."
Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said the team had good information on Thompson's time at Auburn through director of college scouting Joe Hortiz and area scout Andy Weidl and had no concerns about his character.
"He ended up at South Carolina State for various reasons," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think he has learned from whatever mistakes he has made. He's a humble guy, and he has a little bit of something to prove in his mind."
Ultimately, Thompson emerged as an small-school All-American as a senior.
"It was great for me," Thompson said. "I came in there with great expectations. I set high goals for myself. It was a fresh start. Everything worked out because I'm in the NFL now."
Ravens notebook: Ravens adding undrafted free agents
Every year, the Baltimore Ravens are looking for the next Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, Priest Holmes, Mike Flynn or B.J. Sams.
The quest to find good football players doesn't stop when the seventh round of the NFL draft ends.
"Even though we're done collecting players with draft picks, this starts the process of the undrafted college free agents as soon as the draft is over," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said Saturday night. "We're putting that process in place right now, working with the coaches. The coaches and the scouts are working together so we can attack that once the draft finishes.
The defending AFC North champions have already hammered out deals with undrafted rookies with coach John Harbaugh, director of college scouting Joe Hortiz, scouts, coaches and other team officials recruiting the players.
Although the deals won't become official until the player passes a physical and signs his contract, the Ravens have agreed to terms with the following 21 players: Kent State center Chris Anzevino, Florida quarterback John Brantley, North Carolina cornerback Charles Brown, Morgan State tight end-H back Lamont Bryant, Mississippi State offensive lineman James Carmon, Illinois offensive lineman Jack Cornell, Clemson fullback Chad Diehl, Georgia fullback Bruce Figgins, Slippery Rock wide receiver Devin Goda, Syracuse wide receiver Dorian Graham, Alabama-Birmingham defensive tackle Elliott Henigan, Baylor defensive tackle Nick Jean-Baptiste, Tennessee fullback-linebacker Austin Johnson, Kent State defensive tackle Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, Clemson offensive lineman Antoine McClain, Alabama offensive lineman Alfred McCullough, Syracuse tight end Nick Provo, Wake Forest safety Chyl Quarles, Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey, Florida wide receiver Deonte Thompson and University of Texas kicker-punter Justin Tucker.
Bryant is an intriguing prospect, an extremely athletic 6-foot-5, 229-pounder who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 to 4.45 seconds at his campus Pro Day workout where he also registered a 43-inch vertical leap, a 10-3 broad jump and bench pressed 225 pounds 19 times. He visited the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks and played in the HCBU all-star game.
"As Ozzie alluded to, we're in the middle of undrafted free agency," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "Joe [Hortiz] is up there with the scouts, right along with coach Harbaugh, organizing that. So, we'll have a chance to bring in some really good players on the back end.
"And there are still a lot of good players out there. The hunt goes on. We'll continue to look at players who are available on the street, free agents, undrafted free agents, street free agents, unrestricted free agents. We'll get a chance to look at those guys and build the best team for September."
IN THE PAST: When Ravens second-round outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw was a sophomore at the University of Alabama, he was arrested for a third-degree domestic violence incident involving his girlfriend at the time.
At the time, Upshaw said that Kendall Grzyb slapped him because he spoke to another woman. And police alleged that Upshaw grabbed and pushed her.
The case was ultimately resolved, though, as Upshaw completed an anger management course.
Upshaw emphasized that he grew personally from the altercation, which he said was blown out of proportion.
"I matured a lot," Upshaw said. "Honestly, most people don't what really happened. Some people look at it that, 'He's a domestic violence guy,' and got the wrong idea. It's something that happened I got to answer to it. At the end of the day, that's not me. The people who really know me, know who I am and how I am."
Upshaw said that he no longer dates the woman.
"No, no, that could have been the end of my career," Upshaw said. "Honestly, that's in the past. It happened and it's time to move on. I'm a Baltimore Raven now and I move on from that."
SMALL-SCHOOL ROUTE: The Ravens drafted three players from small schools, including Delaware center-guard Gino Gradkowski, South Carolina State free safety Christian Thompson and Cal Poly cornerback Asa Jackson.
Gradkowski began his collegiate career at West Virginia and Thompson transferred from Auburn.
The Ravens have succeeded in the past with players from smaller schools, including quarterback Joe Flacco (Delaware) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (Nicholls State).
"Our quarterback is a small-school guy," Newsome said. "Our scouts, when they go into Delaware or Cal Poly or South Carolina State, it's just like when they go into Ohio State, Maryland or Alabama."
QUICK HITS: Temple running back Bernard Pierce had a good feeling that the Ravens would select him based on the feedback he got from coaches and team officials during his visit to team headquarters before the draft. "I had a hunch," said Pierce, a third-round draft pick who also visited the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles. "I took their word for it, kept my mouth shut and waited. It all worked out in the end."
.. Pierce said he's completely healthy now after dealing with hamstring problems and a separated shoulder in college.
Newsome was noncommittal on whether the Ravens will have three quarterbacks on the roster for the regular season after recently signing former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Curtis Painter. The Ravens signed Painter to a one-year, $615,000 contract after auditioning him, former Ravens starter Kyle Boller and former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon. "This time of the year, you've got to have enough arms to be able to go through all through the minicamps," Newsome said. "Having the opportunity to bring in Painter, Kyle and Dennis Dixon, they all did a very good job. We just thought the best fit for us right now was Painter. Whether we end up carrying three quarterbacks, I don't know. Do you put a young guy on the practice squad, try to get him to the practice squad, and keep the third quarterback? Or do you just go with two because you don't want to expose a young player through the waiver process and somebody else claims him. So, that's part of putting together the 53." ... Newsome was complimentary of the drafts of the Ravens' AFC North competitors. The Cleveland Browns drafted Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Alabama cornerback Dre' Kirkpatrick and Wisconsin offensive guard Kevin Zeitler. And the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Stanford offensive guard David DeCastro and Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams. "I think all three teams really helped themselves in this year's draft," Newsome said. "And they just made competing in the AFC North that much tougher." ... The Ravens didn't draft an inside linebacker after bringing in Mychal Kendricks and Bobby Wagner in for visits before the draft. Kendricks and Wagner were drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seattle Seahawks in the second round prior to the Ravens' second second-round draft pick where they drafted Iowa State offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele. Asked why the Ravens didn't draft an inside linebacker, Newsome replied: "I think Jameel McClain, Albert McClellan, Dannell Ellerbe and Brendon Ayanbadejo had a whole lot to do with that."
Ravens: Cameron on McKinnie: 'All things are positive'
OWINGS MILLS -- Veteran left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie has been participating in some of the Baltimore Ravens' voluntary offseason conditioning workouts, according to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
"We're in contact with him," Cameron said. "He's been in and out of town. I haven't seen him a lot. All things are positive. We're going to get him back and ready to go.
"It will be nice to have him this offseason. We'll get him for 10 organized team activities and three days of minicamp. Those are the most important things."
McKinnie dealt with conditioning issues last year after ballooning up to 387 pounds during the NFL lockout and being cut by the Minnesota Vikings before being signed by the Ravens to a two-year contract.
He quickly got down to 360 pounds and started every game for Baltimore last season.
McKinnie met with general manager Ozzie Newsome in March in advance of the team picking up his $500,000 roster bonus, pledging to participate in offseason activities and report in good shape.
And coach John Harbaugh said during the NFL owners meetings last month that McKinnie was at the same conditioning level where he ended last season.
"He had done a good job," Harbaugh said. "He's been working in the offseason. He's training. He's in the same shape he was in when he left. We want to improve that from now until the start of next season. I'm talking about weight-wise to finish his career the way he wants to finish it and go on with his quality of life, and he's capable of doing it
"This guy's got good body composition. It's not like he's a big, fat guy. He's a big guy. We still want him to be able to move a little better and get a little quicker. He's committed to that. He's excited about attacking that, and it's a big goal of his."
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