Lorenzo Neal: "I want to be a Raven"

OWINGS MILLS -- Lorenzo Neal is intent on bucking the odds after 16 NFL seasons of using his body as a battering ram for countless violent collisions with linebackers. Two years shy of his 40th birthday, the four-time Pro Bowl fullback isn't planning his retirement.

Instead, the 5-foot-11, 255-pound veteran lead blocker would like to play another season or two.

And he'd prefer to do so for the Baltimore Ravens.

"I know I can still play, and I feel like I can still play at a high level for a few more seasons," Neal said in a telephone interview. "I would love to be a Baltimore Raven again. I spoke to the coaches after my exit physical and I had a good conversation with Steve Bisciotti, and they said they appreciated what I brought to the team in terms of leadership and intangibles.

"I understand Lorenzo Neal isn't as good as I used to be when I was younger, but I still have the desire to get better and improve. When you're not as good as you used to be, you work even harder to be stronger at technique. You have to constantly prove yourself. You fine-tune other things. You work on your center of gravity; you work on your legs, your change of direction and your quickness. I still enjoy the game. I love to block."

At this point, no deal is imminent for Neal with the Ravens or any other NFL team.

However, the unrestricted free agent remains hopeful that something will be worked out prior to training camp. Last season, Neal was a late addition to the Ravens after they had already reported to McDaniel College in Westminster.

"My phone is definitely on," Neal said with a laugh. "I don't know if I necessarily need to be at every minicamp and the offseason program to get ready for the season. I think when it gets close to camp and they need that spark is when something will happen. I would love to be back in Baltimore."

To get ready for next year, Neal said he's been doing Pilates and stretching exercises to prevent injuries.

He's certain after five starts and appearances in all 16 games last season that he should continue to play. He still sees the same pop when he engages defenders in one-on-one confrontations.

"I ask myself those questions after every season," Neal said. "It's about being the best. I watch the film to see what I did wrong. I like to evaluate and look for where I can improve. I'm not satisfied. You can always do the small things better. I'm training hard and I'm getting my body ready to play football again."

Neal rushed for 25 yards on 12 carries last season, catching seven passes for 35 yards, but that's not why offensive coordinator Cam Cameron recommended that Baltimore sign the former Fresno State All-American heavyweight wrestler. Neal was brought to Baltimore for his physical nature and leadership.

The Ravens wound up making it all the way to the AFC title game after going 5-11 a year ago. Now, Neal believes the Ravens are on the cusp of making it to the Super Bowl.

"I just wait for that perfect fit, and I think it's with the Ravens," Neal said. "The right fit for me is a team that feels like they're close to winning it all, a team like Baltimore or Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or Arizona. There are only seven or eight teams I would really want to play for. I feel like I can help anyone with my intangibles and skills."

Although the combined impact of thousands of hits over the years has taken its toll on his body and possibly shortened his neck an inch or two, Neal is convinced that there's something left in him: the passion to play.

"A lot of people say, 'I wish I was good,' and my dad always told me, 'Working will, wishing won't,'" Neal said. "At my age, I have to work that much harder to deliver the blow. "If you don't play this game with passion, you can't play football.

"A lot of guys play football because of what it does for them, but those guys won't last. You have to love football. It's a hard, hard game. Once a hungry dog tastes blood, he wants more of it."

NOTES: Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas is scheduled to visit the Ravens today. He's the consensus top-rated safety, running a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash and registering a 37-inch vertical leap at the NFL scouting combine. ... Oregon cornerback Jairus Byrd met with Ravens team officials at the scouting combine. He has been hampered by a groin injury, which prevented him from working out at his Pro Day and at the combine.

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

Gaither cashes in

By Aaron Wilson


OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither cashed in under the NFL's performance-based pay system that rewards players for playing time, ranking 13th in the league by receiving an additional $301,856 in compensation.

Under the system, the payment amount is derived through a player index that divides playing time by adjusted salary, including base salary, prorated portion of the signing bonus and incentives earned. That figure is compared to other players on the team to determine the payout.

San Diego Chargers offensive tackle Jeromey Cleary ranked first in the NFL with an additional $405,859 in pay. The league paid a total of $105 million to players under the performance-based system this year.

A former University of Maryland lineman, Gaither started 15 games last season in establishing himself at left tackle in replacing retired All-Pro Jonathan Ogden. He made $370,000 in base salary and is due $460,000 in 2009 as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.

Gaither signed a three-year, $1.228 million contract in 2007 that included a $118,000 signing bonus. Besides Gaither, several other Ravens did well under the performance-based pay system.

Ranking behind Gaither: strong safety Jim Leonhard ($226,389), fullback Le'Ron McClain ($181,056), safety Haruki Nakamura ($167,951), linebacker Jameel McClain ($163,365), cornerbacks Fabian Washington ($107,463) and Corey Ivy ($101,834), offensive guard Ben Grubbs ($101,485), fullback Lorenzo Neal ($98,575), guard-center Chris Chester ($95,659) and quarterback Joe Flacco ($91,359).

NOTES: The Ravens have scheduled top-ranked Cal center Alex Mack (6-foot-4, 307 pounds) for a visit. ... Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer met with Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson at the NFL scouting combine. "He told me we've got our guy with Joe Flacco, but we're always looking for depth," Hoyer said in a telephone interview. "It was a good talk."

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

Ravens Insider Top Stories