Ravens' Green proving to be a quick study

WESTMINSTER -- Growing up in rural Texas, Roderick Green became accustomed to hard, dangerous work. The future Baltimore Ravens' prize rookie outside linebacker examined valves and bolts on an oil rig alongside his father. Not only was it grueling duty, but it was extremely stressful. Green never knew when a valve might burst in his face.

"That taught me the value of hard work, and it showed me what fear is truly about and how to conquer your fear," said Green, the Ravens' fifth-round draft pick from Central Missouri who hails from Brenham, Texas (population: 13,568). "My parents taught me that you have to be willing to sacrifice to get what you want in life. And what I love to do is hit the quarterback."

Now, Green, 22, is a budding pass rusher who's quickly building a reputation for his speed, strength and relentlessness.

Although he's a fairly raw talent who's slated primarily for special-teams duties, Green has done enough to make the coaching staff ponder whether he's ready for an immediate reserve defensive role.

Plus, Green bench presses nearly 400 pounds and covers 40 yards in 4.58 seconds.

"Roderick is an impressive physical specimen," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He has a great temperament."

At 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, Green is making the conversion from a Division II All-American defensive end who dominated blockers for the Central Missouri Mules into an NFL outside linebacker.

In only two seasons at the Warrensburg, Mo., college after transferring from a Texas junior college, Green collected 114 tackles, 13 sacks, four forced fumbles and 39 tackles for losses. Green has made an impression on the Ravens for his willingness to ask questions. He has also maintained an aggressive approach despite occassionally being confused by the complicated nature of the highest level of football.

The rookie has also demonstrated the requisite strength to bull rush hefty offensive tackles and has enough savvy and quickness to plot a path around them.

"He's a really good player, very strong, very athletic," said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, last years's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. "He practices very well, works very hard. We've just got to see how he acts in the game."

Learning curve

Green's physical gifts are unquestioned. However, it's an accelerated learning process and the nuances of a new position after playing defensive line in college that are the central issues for Green.

Besides the major jump in competition, Green posted the lowest score of incoming rookies on the Wonderlic personnel test that the NFL administers to prospects at the annual scouting combine.

Green reportedly scored a 2 out of a possible 50 during a 12-minute exam that tests general intelligence and has been used worldwide since 1937.

Although Green said he doesn't have a specific learning disability, he acknowledged that he struggles with timed testing such as the SAT.

Academic issues were the reason why Green attended Blinn Junior College instead of a Division I school after starring at defensive tackle for Brenham High.

"They don't give us that much time," said Green, who majored in physical education. "Being rushed is not my thing. If I can sit down and think about it, I do just fine."

The Wonderlic primarily tests cognitive ability: to describe the level at which an individual learns, understands instructions and solves problems.

The use of a calculator is prohibited and questions include word comparisons, disarranged sentences, following directions, number comparisons, number series, analysis of geometric figures and story problems requiring either mathematics or logic solutions.

The test doesn't tell NFL head coaches and general managers whether the football player can block, tackle, catch or is a high-character person, though. Like all tests, there's controversy surrounding the Wonderlic's ability to predict success and determine intelligence. "Here's the thing: everybody is a little bit different," said Ravens outside linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald. "Everybody learns different. Some guys test really well. I was actually better at writing papers than taking tests. That doesn't mean I wasn't smart.

"I just look at Roderick from a teaching standpoint that you use different methods to teach somebody. It's a matter of finding those ways and methods that work best for you individually. I have to find a way to trigger everybody and stimulate their learning to the maximum."

Offensive players tend to score higher on the Wonderlic exam, especially offensive tackles with an average score of 26 and quarterbacks who average 24. The typical linebacker average is 19. New York Giants rookie quarterback Eli Manning scored a 39.

Other professions' average scores ranged from chemists' 31, reporters' 26 to warehouse employees 15.

"Absolutely, we learn everything we can about these guys and our personnel department does a great job with those components," FitzGerald said. "We take all of that data and then we get to know the person and find out about the mental aspect and what makes them tick.

"It's not just a case of, 'Here's a low score so we're crossing this guy's name off our list,' because you might miss out on a great football player."

Green is aware that it will take more than just brawn to succeed in the NFL. The acumen and savvy he gains as he learns on the job is what will likely determine how far he progresses.

The linebacker's strong work ethic was instilled by his parents, Charles and Shirley Green, an electric company worker and a nurse's aide, respectively.

What can't be taught is Green's ability to squat 500 pounds, power clean 350 pounds and broad jump 9-feet-11 inches.

"I have speed, a motor and my strength, but what I've got to get better at is getting into my books and learning the plays more," Green said. "The NFL is basically like I thought it was going to be. It's not like how everyone else thought it would be for me coming from a Division II school. I'm able to figure it out fast."

New position, new challenges

Green's first steps toward maturing into a complete linebacker include learning how to play in reverse after operating in fast forward all his life.

At Central Missouri, Green excelled at the "Hammer" strongside defensive end spot. With the Ravens, though, he has pass-coverage responsibilities in addition to harassing quarterbacks.

"Sometimes when you have an athlete at that level you just tell him, 'When the ball moves, go,' and keep things simple for that guy because you know he's going to wreak havoc," FitzGerald said. "Roderick senses where the quarterback is." Green was a junior college All-American and all-conference selection who found himself shy of the credits required to graduate after two years. He opted to accept an immediate scholarship offer to Central Missouri to play for former Blinn coach Willie Fritz rather than sit out a year to concentrate on academics.

"I wanted to stay on the field," Green said. "I love football so much it would have killed me to be away from it for that long. I was never worried that I wasn't going to get noticed. If you can play football, they're eventually going to find you no matter how small a school you attend."

The Ravens almost drafted Green in the fourth round this spring, going so far as to inform him of their intentions only to ultimately trade the pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for veteran wide receiver Kevin Johnson.

However, Green was still available in the fifth round and Baltimore tabbed him with the 153rd overall selection.

FitzGerald's fingers were crossed after the trade.

He had watched Green register seven sacks last season with 20 tackles for losses. He had also witnessed him along force a fumble on a sack against Missouri Southern, recover the football and scamper 26 yards for a touchdown. He didn't want to lose this kid.

"Before I even met him watching tape I could tell that he had a nasty streak," said FitzGerald, who allots extra time to tutor Green. "Those type of things excite me. Now that he's here and starting to get comfortable, I think he's going to be able to blossom into who he really is. You can see that he's nobody you want to mess with."

The Ravens feature Suggs, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware along with two other established veterans in Adalius Thomas and Cornell Brown.

They also have experience at converting defensive ends to outside linebacker for their 3-4 scheme. Suggs, Boulware, Thomas and Brown all either played defensive end in college or initially in the NFL.

Now, the Ravens have another former defensive end who's standing up for himself at linebacker.

"I'm definitely hungry," Green said. "Fifth round or first round, it doesn't make a difference to me. I'm happy to be here, I'm working hard and I'm getting after it."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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