Ravens have high hopes for Demps

Leaning toward Will Demps' locker stall, fellow rookie J.R. Johnson put on his best Howard Cosell impression to interrupt an interview with his own teasing questions for the Baltimore Ravens' undrafted strong safety. Balling up a fist into an imaginary microphone Monday, Johnson pantomimed: "Will Demps, you played a strong preseason. You made a couple of big plays early. The crowd loved you. How are you going to pull off another performance like that?"

Demps chuckled his way through a few choice clichés, mentioning the need to have fun while working his way back from a dislocated elbow that cost him the first two games after an eye-opening preseason.

"There it is, folks," Johnson said. "Demps is still confident, back after the interview."

The amusement never ceases, nor does the apparent enthusiasm surrounding Demps' return for the winless Ravens (0-2) as they prepare for Monday night's encounter against the undefeated Denver Broncos.

Demps hasn't played since starting against the New York Giants in the preseason finale, but still has designs on earning back the position he took away from veteran Anthony Mitchell in August behind a series of memorable plays.

Despite the rust of inactivity, Demps has taken repetitions with the starting defense this week and said his elbow has responded well to contact. The Ravens haven't declared a starter opposite free safety Ed Reed yet.

"I lost two games under my belt, so I'm working hard this week," Demps said. "The advantage of preseason is that I know what to expect out there. I know what we have to do on defense and special teams. I have to be prepared mentally."

After leading the Ravens in turnovers in August, including all practice sessions, the question looms: Can Demps duplicate that production in NFL games that actually count?

"He's a playmaker," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Demps, who had to earn a scholarship after arriving on the San Diego State campus. "That's what we saw before. We're hoping to have that show up again, obviously, here in the regular season.

"He's a guy that you look up and he was always around making tackles, intercepting the ball."

In the preseason opener against the Detroit Lions, Demps returned an interception of a Joey Harrington pass for a touchdown for the decisive points in a 12-6 win.

Then, Demps collected the Ravens' lone interception in a loss to the New York Jets.

He tackled Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb for a sack in the third preseason contest. On the tackle of McNabb, Demps wrapped up the acrobatic Eagles star in open space to stop Philadelphia from converting a 3rd-and-9 from the Ravens' 19-yard line.

"Demps will be a good spark for us," said nose guard Kelly Gregg. "When you look at a guy like that, a free agent who makes the squad and is now starting, that makes everyone want to be accountable.

"If he keeps doing a good job, he'll get to play."

In the preseason, Demps, 22, forced the Ravens coaching staff to notice his progress. He emphasized aggression while avoiding mental mistakes.

"I just have to play my game," Demps said. "I made a lot of plays during the preseason and I guess that's what they expect me to do."

During Demps' absence, no Baltimore defender has collected an interception. Mitchell has greater stature at 6-foot-1, 211 pounds than Demps, generously listed at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds. Mitchell has eight tackles and no pass deflections.

"Will's pretty good," acknowledged Mitchell, a special teams ace promoted when Corey Harris signed with Detroit. "Who's going to start? You're asking questions you've got to ask a coach. I'm not a coach. I'm a player."

Demps started at the bottom of the Aztecs' depth chart and sans an athletic scholarship. He left school with two all-conference certificates, 229 career tackles and five interceptions.

Now, Demps wants to become more than a mere training camp diversion. He wants to be a legitimate NFL defensive back.

"I still feel I have to make big plays," Demps said. "I'm just going to be prepared whether I'm starting or not."

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