Ross: 'You can't measure heart'

WESTMINSTER -- With a powerful stride, Cory Ross scooted upfield to elude confused defenders trying in vain to locate the diminutive running back. As Ross ducked behind blockers who stood a foot taller and outweighed him by at least a hundred pounds during the Ravens' 29-3 victory Monday night over the Philadelphia Eagles, there were no signs of the constant pressure of life on the roster bubble.

All that Ross displayed was an ever-present smile, and hard-chugging, short legs that propelled him to a game-high 65 rushing yards on 11 carries, including a 24-yard burst, in his bid to make the team for the second consecutive year.

Although Ross is one of the smallest running backs in the NFL at 5-foot-6, 201 pounds, he doesn't lack power in his stocky body or determination.

"No one can measure your heart," Ross said Wednesday afternoon at McDaniel College following an extra running session after practice. "You dig deep down inside. When all the odds are against you, that's when you turn it on the most.

"It's tougher every year to make the team. There's always somebody out there trying to take your job, but you can't let that bring you down. I just look at it like I'm trying to make the team again. You've got to perform, do your job and have fun."

However, Ross' prospects are tougher today than a year ago because of a few factors.

One, the former Nebraska star is no longer the immediate insurance policy behind incumbent return specialist B.J. Sams for kickoff and punt returns, a role he filled a year ago. The Ravens drafted speedster Yamon Figurs in the third round to learn behind Sams, and Ross is now the third option on returns.

Secondly, the Ravens have a pretty full depth chart at running back with Willis McGahee as the starter, Mike Anderson and Musa Smith as his primary backups, a former fourth-round draft pick in second-year tailback P. J. Daniels and the addition of a solid rookie free agent in Greg Pruitt Jr.

Ross isn't unaware of his circumstances, but he's definitely not overwhelmed by them.

"You can't do that, you can't look at it that way," Ross said. "It's part of me. I know the odds. I know the chances, but, at the same time, I know what I can do. I believe in myself. I believe in the scheme and what the coaches are doing."

Affectionately nicknamed Kirby Puckett last year by linebacker Bart Scott because of Ross' resemblance in build to the fire-hydrant like former baseball star, Ross is taken seriously by his teammates.

"He has a tremendous heart," offensive guard Jason Brown said. "We're pulling for him. You saw him making some great cuts, showing some great explosiveness on the inside and outside.

"During the offseason, he was here busting his butt to try to secure a role on this team. Off the field, he's very quiet and he doesn't have that little-man syndrome. On the field, his presence is known."

In relief of Sams last season when he fractured his ankle, Ross took over return duties for four games and averaged 21.6 yards per kickoff return and 2.8 yards per punt return. In a playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, he returned six kickoffs for 124 yards and two punts for 30 yards.

The former second-team All-Big 12 selection reported to training camp in better shape after having dropped about six to seven pounds through a more disciplined diet and workout regimen.

"I feel faster," said Ross, a two-time Offensive MVP for the Cornhuskers with 2,743 career rushing yards. "I feel good running right now. I can definitely get into my cuts quicker and I have better stamina."

One year ago, Ross emerged as a darkhorse for the final roster.

Can he duplicate that feat and avoid the chopping block on final cutdown day once again?

"I can't worry about that," Ross said. "I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing and let my stats and performance talk for me. You can't worry about what happens if I do this or if I do that. You do what you do, and you hope. You never give up hope."

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

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