Sanders: "I prepare to dominate"

OWINGS MILLS – Deion Sanders arrived at the Baltimore Ravens' locker room at dawn for his first practice since ending his three-year retirement.<br><br> Afterward, the flamboyant cornerback insisted his intentions are to conquer the NFL in his initial role as a nickel back, not divide the defending AFC North champions.<br><br> "I prepare to win, I prepare to dominate, I prepare to conquer," Sanders said in front of a packed afternoon press conference for 'Prime Time.'

Sanders, 37, said he's focused solely on pursuing a third Super Bowl ring amidst the camaraderie of the two friends who persuaded him to return to football: All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive back Corey Fuller.

Although he has a well-deserved reputation for flashiness, the seven-time Pro Bowl selection rarely drew complaints during prior stints with the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons.

"They are a great group of guys," said Sanders, who would relish the chance to diversify his role to include catching passes. "The nucleus of this team I already know, and the most dominant person in the locker room [Lewis], is like a little brother to me.

"The chemistry is wonderful, and I've never played for an organization where I affected the chemistry. Everything that I've ever touched I've added to, never detracted from."

It was a low-key entrance, free of much of the self-promotion that defined a dozen years as a shutdown cornerback who intercepted 48 career passes and established an NFL mark with 18 touchdown returns.

The future Hall of Fame cornerback wore a Ravens baseball cap, a black Ravens T-shirt and a large gold chain and gold crucifix for his introductory press conference.

His interview session began 15 minutes late because he wanted to get in some extra work with secondary coach Johnnie Lynn and Fuller.

Sanders stayed at the Ravens' training complex to study with Lynn rather than take the train with the team for its final preseason game against the New York Giants. He wore a purple No. 2 jersey at practice, his number at Florida State, but didn't indicate what jersey he'll ultimately wear.

The plan is for Sanders to get in another workout with Lynn this morning. He'll likely make the trip to New York to be with the team, but won't make his debut until the Sept. 12 opener against the Cleveland Browns.

When asked about whethe he's concerned about tarnishing his legacy, Sanders said: "That's already written. I've got 12 years worth of great film that they cannot erase."

The 1994 NFL Defensive Player of the Year dismissed the pursuit of money, awards or needing to occupy his time since leaving the CBS television studio after a contract dispute. Sanders signed a one-year contract with a base salary of $1.5 million that could be worth more than $2 million if he reaches all his incentive clauses.

Sanders pointed out that he had a sports-themed show with comedian Paul Rodriguez lined up in addition to a syndicated radio show, infomercials, plus coaching his son's fifth and sixth-grade football team.

"Don't make it seem like I had nothing to do," Sanders quipped.

When asked why he retired before the Redskins' 2001 season, Sanders said it came down to him doubting their ability to contend.

"You've got to understand, I walked away from how many millions of dollars in Washington?," Sanders said. "I didn't think that team could get it done."

Sanders began preparing after Lewis broached the idea of a comeback via telephone after the revelation that nickel back Dale Carter was out for the season with a blood clot in his lungs.

"I thought he was crazy," Sanders said. "I thought he was joking."

But Lewis was deadly serious, so Sanders renewed his workouts at his Texas estate.

Sanders said he quickly learned that he still had the necessary desire. He claims he hasn't lost trademark speed, estimating a 40-yard dash time faster than 4.38 seconds.

"I just felt the adrenaline, I felt the fire, I felt that passion," he said. "I felt that dog in me, and I knew right then that I had to do what I need to do to help this team win."

Sanders won't have to cover opponents' top wideout, a previous staple of his game he parlayed into fame and fortune. That's the responsibility of Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister. At least at first, Sanders will play 25 to 30 snaps per game in the nickel.

At the pinnacle of his career, Sanders joked that his playbook consisted of being handed 16 photographs of the opposition's best receivers and the instruction: shut them down.

He took umbrage at suggestions that he's past his prime.

"When did I stop being Prime Time?" Sanders said. "I didn't get that memo."

NOTE: The Ravens re-signed offensive tackle Eric Dumas, a rookie from the University of Maryland after waiving him a few days ago.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

 


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