Gaither: "New, clean slate"

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens landed massive former University of Maryland offensive tackle Jared Gaither in the fifth round of Thursday's supplemental NFL draft, utilizing a rarely-used avenue to acquire a project with unusual size and vast potential. Because the Ravens drafted the 6-foot-9, 340-pound rising junior, they forfeit their fifth-round pick next spring in the regular draft.

The Ravens made a relatively modest investment in a 21-year-old blocker who's nearly as large as Ravens All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, acquiring a long-term project who carries some baggage.

This represents a second chance for Gaither. The White Plains native and Eleanor Roosevelt graduate was declared academically ineligible to play for the Terrapins this fall, prompting his decision to turn professional.

"I appreciate the opportunity, this is my biggest dream," Gaither said in a conference call. "I'm here to make the best of the situation. I can't wait to step on the Ravens' turf and get it done. I think Baltimore selecting me has given me a new, clean slate."

Gaither visited the Ravens' training complex Wednesday, and scouts attended his campus workout Monday in College Park where he was clocked between 5.0 and 5.2 seconds in the 40-yard dash despite only 10 days of preparation.

Although scouts were impressed by Gaither's athleticism and size-speed ratio, he managed just 16 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press. There have been several loud whispers in NFL scouting circles questioning Gaither's desire and decision-making.

"I always have something to prove," Gaither said. "That's in the past. Maryland was another chapter in my life. I plan to make Baltimore another chapter, a great chapter.

"I see nothing but great things ahead of me. I'm determined. I have a focus and a drive that I don't know a lot of guys have, or that a lot of guys have seen in me."

Gaither earned third-team freshman All-American notice from the Sporting News as a freshman left tackle, starting nine games as a sophomore. He was suspended for most of training camp and the season opener last year due to academic issues and undisclosed disciplinary problems that arose shortly after the coaching staff informed him he was being moved to right tackle.

Later, Gaither's grades declined badly enough that he was forced to sit out of spring practice in an effort to become eligible this fall.

Gaither, who attended Hargrave Military Academy (Va.) for prep school before enrolling at Maryland, took the blame for his shortcomings in school.

"The issues as far as the classroom, I take full responsibility for those actions," Gaither said. "Maryland gave me every chance. The work kind of piled up on me, and it was a shock at first how hard it was.

"That kind of hurt my grades early on and made it hard to catch up. I did learn a lesson. I can always work harder."

Meanwhile, drafting Gaither likely fills a void on the Ravens' depth chart behind Ogden and new right tackle Adam Terry.

"Jared has a chance to play in this league, even at a high level," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. "It would have been interesting to see how high he would have gone in the draft had he played one or two more seasons at Maryland.

"He's got size and ability. He wants to start working with us right away, and our coaches will make that happen."

Gaither started 17 of his final 21 games at Maryland, setting a Terps offensive line record with a 36-inch vertical leap.

A highly-recruited basketball player in high school, Gaither doubled as a defensive tackle and tight end as a senior. He declined a basketball scholarship offer from South Carolina.

During one year of high school football, he registered 89 tackles and nine sacks, catching three passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Florida, Georgia, Pittsburgh and Clemson offered him football scholarships.

Newsome credited director of college scouting Eric DeCosta and Ravens team owner Steve Bisciotti, a high-profile University of Maryland athletics booster, for recommending Gaither.

"Give some credit to Steve who set me up with Ralph Friedgen," Newsome said. "Ralph thinks highly of the young man and gave excellent background on him."

Gaither grew up in Maryland in Washington Redskins country, but has never attended a Ravens game. He said he was extremely familiar with Ogden, who's regarded as a future lock for the Hall of Fame.

"I'm hoping to learn everything he knows," Gaither said. "I patterned my game after him and Tarik Glenn. It would be great to play behind him because he obviously knows a lot about the game."

It remains to be seen whether Gaither will emerge as a supplemental draft success story like Cris Carter or Bernie Kosar, or follow the career path of busts like Brian Bosworth or Steve Walsh. He's hoping his untraditional route into the NFL will serve as a motivating factor.

"I think it helped me because not everybody has to go through these things," Gaither said. "I had to fight back from a low GPA and from not being in school. I would definitely like to go back and get my degree there. This whole thing made me stronger."

NOTE: The Ravens officially signed fourth-round draft pick Antwan Barnes to a three-year contract with a total worth of $1.402 million, including a $287,000 signing bonus.

Barnes is the second rookie to agree to terms with Baltimore following third-round offensive lineman Marshal Yanda.

The Ravens have six remaining draft picks to sign before players report to training camp July 29 in Westminster, including first-round offensive guard Ben Grubbs.

Here's a Insider report from Tony Pauline on Gaither: Jared Gaither/OT/University of Maryland: The book on Gaither reads pretty much the same for most teams; first-round physical talent with great upside yet a prospect with late-round work ethic and intellect. The greatest obstacle for teams is deciding how quickly Gaither will be able to come in and contribute.

One league source told us most teams feel Gaither is not only significantly lagging in his conditioning, but "his head will be spinning his first day in camp things will be moving so fast."

There is a real belief Gaither's contributions this season will be minimal and most think he will not be ready to play on an NFL level for at least a year, but probably not until his third season.

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

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