Ravens sign Polley to one year deal

OWINGS MILLS -- Tommy Polley built a versatile reputation as a linebacker who can run, hit and cover. Yet, the St. Louis Rams and other NFL franchises made absolutely no effort to acquire the Baltimore native in free agency. <br><br> Polley, 27, signed a one-year contract with Baltimore for the veteran minimum plus a signing bonus Monday afternoon to become the Ravens' starting weakside linebacker in a revamped 4-3 alignment.

While Polley had a heralded prep football and basketball career for the Dunbar Poets, won high-profile notice at Florida State and started for the Rams in the Super Bowl, his NFL status had regressed to staring at a telephone that didn't ring for a month.

Now, Polley is looking to regain the acclaim he built as one of this region's top all-time athletes.

"It was difficult because I've been a four-year starter, I've made plays, I've played all different positions, and it's been frustrating to be home and not get any calls for a month," said Polley, who generated 430 tackles, four interceptions and four forced fumbles in 49 starts for the Rams. "It's mind-boggling, but I'm happy to be here.

"I'm going to try to do this one year and make the best of it. Getting back to the Super Bowl, that's my main focus."

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said that Polley's addition means that Baltimore can now draft the best available athlete with the 22nd overall pick rather than merely address a need.

"He's a roster-setter," Newsome said of Polley. "It allows us to go into the draft now with the ability to draft at any position."

Polley's role was reduced significantly last season in St. Louis, and he didn't regain his starting job until the third game. He finished with 78 tackles and two sacks in 15 games.

Polley is hoping to parlay this fresh start in a familiar environment into a multi-year contract extension. And the Ravens are banking on Polley performing at the level he demonstrated in a 2003 win over Baltimore when he registered 10 tackles, forced a fumble and intercepted quarterback Kyle Boller.

For Baltimore, which approached Polley when negotiations hit an impasse weeks ago with free agent linebacker T.J. Slaughter, the former Ram represents a mixture of athleticism and experience.

"Tommy is a very athletic player who can run from sideline to sideline," said Newsome, who considered Polley in 2001 when St. Louis drafted him in the second round. "He also has the ability to cover backs and tight ends down the field."

The Ravens, who are planning to shift to the 4-3 from the 3-4 and will move Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to left defensive end, view Polley as an upgrade over Slaughter. Polley will operate in the same position that Jamie Sharper played on the team's Super Bowl defense.

"He's a run-and-hit guy," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said of Polley, who led Dunbar to four consecutive state basketball titles. "His athleticism is intriguing. Tommy is probably a better athlete than T.J. I think he's even more athletic than Ed Hartwell.

"He's probably a little better pass defender than Eddie was. Maybe not quite the banger that Hartwell was, but he's definitely a quality football player."

Polley tied for the Rams' lead in 2003 with four interceptions and finished second in on the defense with 115 tackles as he started a career-high 14 games.

Polley is listed at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, but appeared much lighter when he was introduced at a press conference at the Ravens' training complex.

Polley, who has missed time over the last four seasons with elbow, ankle and groin injuries, passed his physical and assured reporters that his health won't be a concern.

"I'm cool," Polley said. "You're going to have some nicks and things."

Polley has rarely faltered athletically in this environment.

Named the USA Today Maryland Player of the Year, Polley finished with 208 tackles, 16 sacks and eight interceptions as Dunbar senior. He also averaged 20.4 points, 10.7 rebounds and 8.7 assists for the basketball team.

"It will be great to be back with my family, but I'm here to do a job," Polley said. "My job is to get this team to the next level and try to win a Super Bowl."

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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