Rolle: 'I know I can play'

OWINGS MILLS -- Samari Rolle glanced behind him, his eyes darting warily toward a sight infinitely more frightening than the fast wide receivers he competes with. Seated toward the back of a single-propeller, 15-seat airplane during an African safari this spring, the Baltimore Ravens cornerback was shocked when the door opened at roughly 6,000 feet.

"We were descending, and the next thing you know, we just heard something go, ‘Whoosh!'" said Rolle, who was accompanied on the trip by NFL players Fred Taylor, Lito Sheppard and their wives. "So, I'm looking back and I'm looking back at my wife. I put my shirt over my head and I'm like, 'Oh no, tell me this isn't happening.'"

After nearly 10 minutes of panic and prayer with Rolle's reaction immortalized on in a video submitted by another couple, the plane landed safely on a nearby runway.

It was a harrowing experience that reminded Rolle of where his job ranks in his life, especially after a rough season that the former Pro Bowl cornerback ranks as his worst during a decade in the NFL.

"You just see stuff flash before your eyes, and it puts football in perspective," said Rolle, who visited Nelson Mandela's house along with Zambia, Zimbabwe, Johannesburg and Cape Town during the two-week adventure."This is major in my life, but I've got kids, I've got a wife. God kept us here for a reason, I think.

"Very scary, I can joke about it now because it's over. If we had been higher, I think everybody would have been sucked out. I won't be going back, ever."

As the Ravens conclude a three-day voluntary minicamp today, there's another dark period Rolle is looking forward to putting behind him.

Last season, Rolle was regularly targeted by quarterbacks as the supposed weak link of the NFL's top-ranked defense. Especially during an early-season loss where he allowed Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith to catch eight passes for 189 yards. Plus, Rolle surrendered touchdowns against the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints.

"Last year was probably my worst year," he said. "We finished No. 1 in defense and if I had just played consistent every game, there's no limit to what we could have done."

Although Rolle settled down during the second half of last year with three interceptions, the breakdowns made him question himself. The one overriding quality a cornerback must possess is confidence, and Rolle was shaken by what was happening on and off the field as he endured heavy criticism.

"Probably after the Carolina game, that was the lowest I've felt as a football player," Rolle said. "Then you get to the point where you've got this coach talking to you who doesn't even play defense, doesn't even coach that telling you one thing.

"It just got to the point where I'm like, ‘I'll just play not to give up the deep ball,' but that's not how I play. I think the only people in this building that truly understand playing cornerback are my coach, Dennis Thurman and [Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister]. It's just about building up your confidence and not worrying what somebody thinks who's never played the position."

Although Rolle never pointed fingers at teammates, team officials have privately acknowledged that communication wasn't ideal. There were several instances where safety Ed Reed was supposed to provide assistance, including Smith's game-clinching 72-yard touchdown.

"When he's supposed to have help, he needs to get help," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "That wasn't Samari's guy. I expect Samari to make the Pro Bowl this year. He's a great talent. Two years ago, he was as good a corner as there was in this league.

"The one that jumps out is the Carolina one. Unfortunately, he gets the blame. The guy who's closest to the guy, we automatically assume he got beat. Samari never once deflected it, he took it. He's a man, a great teammate, a great football player."

Rolle suffered a foot injury during the second game of the season against the Oakland Raiders, and his mobility seemed to be affected heavily. He never made excuses, though.

"That would be the easy way out," Rolle said. "It did hurt, but when you're out there, you've got to perform."

There was perhaps no greater evidence of his diminished confidence than the unusual 15 yards of respect he gave to Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne during the Ravens' 15-6 AFC divisional playoff loss.

With his voice rising in intensity, Rolle emphasized that he's not going to allow internal and external voices tell him how to do his job.

"This year, I refuse to let any coach tell me anything about playing cornerback," said Rolle, who has been getting advice from former Ravens cornerback Deion Sanders. "I'm putting it out there: Don't come to me telling me how to play my position. I'm not going to come to you and tell you how to do your thing."

NOTES: Outside linebacker Dan Cody has suffered a setback in his recovery from a hyperextended right knee, incurring a small microfracture.

Cody, who did strengthening exercises in a sandpit Thursday, said he won't need surgery and should be fully recovered by training camp. He will likely miss the remaining minicamps.

Not attending the voluntary session: quarterback Steve McNair, who was at a youth football camp in Tennessee, running back Willis McGahee, linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Dennis Haley, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and defensive end Trevor Pryce.

McAlister, nose guard Kelly Gregg and center Mike Flynn practiced.

Wide receiver Derrick Mason was out with a finger injury.

Cornerback David Pittman, who missed last week with a strained hamstring, was out with the flu and pinkeye. … Wide receiver Clarence Moore and running back P. J. Daniels were held out of practice with unspecified injuries.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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