Ravens reserving a locker for Sanders

WESTMINSTER -- Brian Billick acknowledged Wednesday that the Baltimore Ravens have all but reserved a stall in their locker room for seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback Deion Sanders should he end his retirement.<br><br> Sanders, 37, has been working out at his palatial Texas residence, running sprints on his personal football field to gauge the viability of a potential comeback. No deal is imminent for ‘Prime Time' to join the Ravens as a nickel back, according to team officials.

"He's obviously doing his due diligence to see if this is something he really wants to do," Billick said of Sanders, who holds the NFL record with 18 touchdown returns. "Certainly, we'd love to have him in, and when we get to that point, he'll be in. It's far enough along that it's when he feels he's ready.

"Deion is a professional and he doesn't want to come in here unless he's ready to go. We'll give him that kind of space. He's a special individual with special talents. He is not too old. I can promise you that."

Sanders hasn't played since 2000 with the Washington Redskins when he allowed one touchdown pass, but didn't play up to his own high standards and retired prior to the 2001 season. A planned return with the Oakland Raiders two years ago was blocked by the San Diego Chargers' waiver claim.

ESPN has reported that Sanders will definitely play for the Ravens this fall.

Ravens defensive back Corey Fuller said he speaks with Sanders daily. Yet, he wavered considerably in his predictions of what Sanders will do.

"I know what he's going to do," Fuller said. "The man said he's not coming. He's got four kids. It's not because he can't play anymore. It's just that the man has a lot going on outside of football."

Fuller later called it "50-50" as to whether Sanders will play again.

A former major league outfielder, Sanders took batting practice with the Texas Rangers on Wednesday prior to their game against the Cleveland Indians.

He declined to talk about a potential return to the NFL with Texas reporters.
"I'm here to talk about baseball," Sanders said. "Baseball questions only. I really miss baseball. I didn't know how much I missed it, being around the guys."

Along with linebacker Ray Lewis, Fuller recently attended Sanders' football camp in Puerto Rico.

Fuller's scouting report: Sanders could still perform at a high level.

"Deion can still run," Fuller said. "Deion is in great shape. But when you get older, it comes down to your mind. When you've been off for three years, you get attached to other things."

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said he's not counting on Sanders' arrival, but would welcome him after losing cornerback Dale Carter to blood clots in his lungs before camp. The Ravens have apparently already discussed with Sanders how he would fit in with their coverage packages.

"It will allow us to be more aggressive than we already are," Nolan said. "A player like that allows you to do just about anything."

Meanwhile, the Ravens are still waiting for Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister, the team's franchise player, to report. McAlister is embroiled in a contract dispute, but is likely to report at some point this month to prepare for the Sept. 12 regular-season opener against the Cleveland Browns.

"We need a couple of weeks with Chris and I'm very hopeful that he realizes that to get into football shape," Nolan said. "In a week or so, I would be more concerned."

Fuller emphasized that Sanders has been plotting a comeback for three years, adding that he didn't like the way his stormy tenure under former Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer ended.

Sanders' return would apparently be welcomed by the younger generation of players.

"Deion brings excitement to the game," outside linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "I used to watch him as a kid, and now you get a chance to sit down with him and pick his brain. It will be very exciting when he does, uh, if he does come back."

The questions remains, though, how effective Sanders would be at his relatively advanced age.

Would his ego allow him to handle a part-time role? Would he be able to stay with fleet wideouts? Would the one-time shutdown cornerback be injury-prone?

Sanders struggled with foot and ankle injuries with the Redskins.

"Obviously, it will be a work in progress to a degree, but he's not too old," Billick said. "He's been out of it for three years, which means he's fresh. To my knowledge, he's fine."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times

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