So far, so good for Ravens' rookie class

In an age of instant evaluation, football prospects are judged right away despite scouts' logic that it takes years to determine players' true worth. In the case of the Baltimore Ravens, rookies dominate the roster with an average age of only 23.7 years when training camp began. As camp closed Wednesday morning at McDaniel College, all 10 of the club's draft picks appear to have made a strong enough impression thus far to make the Ravens' final 53-man roster.

The rebuilding NFL franchise needs the young players to contribute immediately.

"Not a one of them could you look at in any way, shape or form and say, ‘Gee, I don't know if that was a good pick,'" Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Across the board, they were excellent."

Free safety Ed Reed, the first-round pick from Miami (Fla.), is rounding into form after a week-long holdout before signing a five-year contract worth $6.225 million.

Billick was critical of Reed's holdout and hasn't been liberal with compliments of the All-American who intercepted a school-record 21 career passes.

However, Reed will start his first game Friday night against the Philadelphia Eagles in tandem with free agent Will Demps, who has intercepted two passes.

"I think I've adjusted pretty good," said Reed, who recorded one tackle against the New York Jets. "I've picked things up mentally and physically. I want to make the plays I'm known for making."

Billick said Reed isn't quite where the team wants him to be in terms of overall acclimation to the Ravens' defense, but expects the rookie to establish himself soon.

 "The only thing I would change is the business part and been there on time," Reed said. "It's kind of blown over now."

Defensive end Anthony Weaver, the second-round pick from Notre Dame, has been nursing a high ankle sprain. Weaver was starting before the injury, flashing his high-octane approach during drills.

"He really showed us so much," Billick said of Weaver, going on to lament how the prolonged convalescence will keep the 300-pound lineman out until the preseason finale against the New York Giants.

Punter Dave Zastudil, the fourth-round selection from Ohio University, averaged 50.3 yards on three attempts in a 34-16 loss last week to the Jets. He averaged 38.8 yards on six kicks in the preseason opener against the Detroit Lions.

Special teams coordinator Gary Zauner had Zastudil concentrate on a quick release early on. Now, the Ravens are looking for greater distance and hang time.

"I think it's going well now," Zastudil said. "Usually, when teams make draft picks it's for the future. The Ravens need a lot of us rookies to play well right now."

Wide receiver Ron Johnson, the Ravens' fourth-round pick from Minnesota, has turned heads with his physical brand of play. He caught four passes for 50 yards against the Lions, adding five catches for 49 yards and a touchdown in the Jets' game.

At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Johnson is a strong candidate to be the Ravens' third wide receiver behind Travis Taylor and Brandon Stokley.

"When you have size and a weight advantage over the cornerbacks, you should use it to your advantage," Johnson said. "It kind of frustrates them."

Tight end Terry Jones, the fifth-round pick from Alabama, is trailing in a competition with veteran John Jones for blocking duties behind starter Todd Heap.

The rookie has excellent size and strength, but hasn't caught the ball consistently and has no receptions.

 Diminutive return specialist Lamont Brightful, a sixth-round pick from Eastern Washington designated to succeed All-Pro Jermaine Lewis, struggled initially to haul in Zastudil's left-footed punts.

Against the Lions, Brightful had a 34-yard punt return. He returned three kickoffs for 43 yards against the Jets, but was overshadowed by fellow sixth-rounder Javin Hunter.

Hunter, a wideout from Notre Dame, scooted 99 yards for a touchdown. The speedster is also in the running to become the Ravens' fourth wideout, aiding his cause.

Running back Chester Taylor, a sixth-rounder from Toledo, has overcome a bruised leg that slowed him early in camp. He led the Ravens with a team-high 42 yards rushing on 10 carries against the Jets in relief of starter Jamal Lewis.

Taylor looks like a strong bet to become Lewis' primary backup with free agent Tellis Redmon falling behind because of recent fumbling problems.

Strong safety Chad Williams started against the Lions and recorded three tackles and deflected a pass, adding three tackles against the Jets. He's pushing veteran Anthony Mitchell for playing time.

Quarterback Wes Pate, a seventh-round pick from Stephen F. Austin, appears to hold the early edge over free agent Cleo Lemon to hold the clipboard as the Ravens' third-string passer. Pate completed his lone pass attempt for 15 yards against the Lions.

Besides Demps, several other rookie free agents have distinguished themselves: outside linebacker Bart Scott, defensive linemen Maake Kemoeatu and Nate Bolling, gunner J.R. Johnson, defensive backs Jason Olford, Shawn Byrdsong and Josh Robinson, wideout Randy Hymes, offensive guard Mike Collins, Redmon and kicker J.R. Jenkins.

 "I think we'll make a difference," Reed said of the rookie class. "We have a great bunch of guys with different attitudes and different styles of play. We'll use our talent to help the team and stand out."


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