Ravens impressed with rookie class

OWINGS MILLS - As a football team without glowing statistical distinction in the phases of offense, defense or special teams, the Baltimore Ravens were forced by the salary cap to set a different sort of mark. Shedding expensive veterans like Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson, the Ravens became the youngest team in the league since the advent of the 53-man roster.

Strangely, or perhaps as part of some fortuitous grand plan devised by the Ravens' executives and coaching staff, beginning the season with 19 first-year players and an eventual average age of 25.3 years didn't unravel into an unpleasant experience.

Bolstering their remaining core of a few select veterans with a mixture of draft picks who lent immediate credibility to positions previously bereft of talent and undrafted free agents, the Ravens compiled a 7-9 record and competed for the playoffs until the final days of the regular season.

Several rookies became starters. Several, too, have been earmarked to retain that status even though Baltimore reportedly has $17 million available to spend underneath the projected NFL salary cap of $73.9 million.

Also, the Ravens are scheduled to flip a coin against the Seattle Seahawks in March for which club will be awarded the 10th or 11th overall selection in the upcoming draft.

"I am never going to underestimate winning," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said, "but that is not what we were after this year. When we decided to make the transition, our goals were to develop players and understand who those players were as far as their future with us. If winning happened, it would be a bonus.

"That's because they need to learn how to win in the league. That is part of their development and you never know how fast it will happen." With that thought in mind, here's a review of the Ravens' rookie class of 2002, beginning with the club's 10 selections in last April's draft.


When the Ravens drafted the consensus All-American safety from Miami (Fla.) with the 24th pick of the first round, there was little fanfare even though defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and secondary coach Donnie Henderson couldn't stop smiling when he arrived in Baltimore. Reed wound up starting every game for the Ravens, tying the team's rookie record for interceptions with five.

He blocked the first two punts in franchise history and he earned a reputation as a reliable tackler in run support. Reed finished fourth on the team in tackles with 86 to go along with a sack, 13 pass deflections and a forced fumble.

"I was able to do a lot of things to help the team win," Reed said. "What happened for all of the young guys will give us something to build on. The way we learned has us headed in the right direction."


Although the second-round pick from Notre Dame only had 3.5 quarterback sacks, he did draw compliments from the coaching staff for his consistency against the run at defensive end. Weaver strung out plays and used leverage well for 65 tackles in 16 starts. At 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, he's the only lineman with ideal size for his position in the 3-4 defense.


The Ravens were immediately criticized for spending a fourth-round pick on a punter, but Zastudil solidified a spot left open when Kyle Richardson departed. Zastudil averaged 41.6 yards per punt and finished second in the league with 31 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. He did have two punts blocked.

Despite billing as a "secret weapon" because of his background as a quarterback, Zastudil didn't experience any success on fake punts.


Fourth-round pick from Minnesota went into a downward spiral midway through the season, possibly dropping as many passes as he caught (10 catches). Despite his size and route-running ability, Johnson was clearly outplayed by free agent Randy Hymes, the converted former Grambling quarterback who averaged 20.5 yards on his six receptions in two starts.


 Brawny fifth-round pick from Alabama started six games in double tight end sets and caught 11 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown.


 Diminutive return specialist was plucked out of the sixth round and utilized his speed and moves for a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown, the longest in the league this year. He turned in averages of 16.1 yards and 20.6 yards per return on punts and kickoffs, respectively.


 Former Notre Dame wide receiver was suspended for the final four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy because he reportedly tested positive for ephedrine, a banned substance. Hunter, a sixth-round pick, caught five passes, but had a 63-yard return against the Indianapolis Colts and is recognized for having top athleticism.


 In an understudy role to running back Jamal Lewis, the sixth-round selection from Toledo rushed for 122 yards on 33 carries and caught 14 passes for 129 yards and two scores. Taylor also averaged 23.6 yards per kickoff return.


 The Ravens' final pick in the sixth round was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for returning an interception 98 yards for a touchdown and blocking a punt against the Cincinnati Bengals. He intercepted three passes for the season, tied rookie linebacker Bart Scott for the lead in special teams tackles with 17 and had 43 additional tackles in nickel and dime situations.


Quarterback from Stephen F. Austin was the Ravens' lone seventh-round pick, and he failed to make the final roster cut in August.


 Among the notable rookie free agents besides Scott, who intercepted a pass in a 13-12 win over the Tennessee Titans, Will Demps started until the end of the season when he was replaced by veteran Anthony Mitchell at free safety. Demps collected 64 tackles, a sack and an interception.

Massive nose guard Maake Kemoeatu (6-foot-5, 330 pounds) played in every game behind starter Kelly Gregg and had 32 tackles and two sacks.

"We'll always begin and end with the draft, because those are the guys you get for a minimum of four years and you train them the way you want to train them," Newsome said. "We will always augment through free agency."

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