Gaither: "I always want to be a Raven"

OWINGS MILLS – Jared Gaither is looking forward to rejoining his teammates Monday at the Baltimore Ravens' training complex for the offseason conditioning program, and the towering offensive tackle is determined to prove that he's been working hard. Following an injury-plagued season where he battled neck, foot and toe problems, Gaither has previously been training on his own in Miami Beach.

"Definitely, I'm looking forward to it and being back with the guys," Gaither said in a telephone interview. "I've had a pretty good offseason. I got to recharge my batteries. I've mostly just been rehabbing.

"I got with some people to try to get through my injuries and I feel good now. Everyone understands that I'm committed to the team. I can't wait to get to work."

A restricted free agent who was assigned the first-round tender, Gaither has been in the news more than usual lately.

Last week at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., Ravens coach John Harbaugh expressed disappointment that Gaither hadn't reported for the offseason conditioning program.

Shortly after Harbaugh conducted an extensive conversation with Gaither's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes, Gaither confirmed that he planned to report for workouts.

Gaither, 24, said it doesn't bother him that Harbaugh singled him out.

"I've got no problem with that," he said. "He's the coach. I'm a player. It was never a problem. We communicated. Coach Harbaugh wants all of us to be there.

"I talked to the coaches and let them know I'm coming on Monday. Everybody was good with it. I had planned to be there all along, so there was really no problem there. Everything is good." Gaither said he had a good reason for not attending the offseason program.

The 6-foot-9, 340-pounder felt like he was making major progress is rehabilitating from his injuries, none of which required surgery. Gaither was limited to 11 starts last season with rookie Michael Oher filling in for him at left tackle.

The most serious injury occurred in a September game against the New England Patriots when he suffered a severe neck stinger, a scary episode where he was carted off the field as a precautionary measure. His X-rays were negative and the White Plains native had full movement of his arms and legs.

"Anytime you get injured, especially the injuries I had to work through, you want to make sure you do everything you can to get better and get stronger," Gaither said. "I was really kind of in the middle of some therapy, and I didn't want to abruptly discontinue it. I've been strengthening the areas where I had some problems and keeping the other areas strong."

Gaither was assigned a $2.3 million tender. The Ravens could receive a first-round draft pick in compensation for Gaither if another team signs him to an offer sheet and they opted not to match. There have been several unconfirmed trade rumors surrounding Gaither, but nothing concrete. The Ravens have made it clear that they want to hang onto Gaither, but they want him working out under the supervision of their strength coaches and trainers.

"I really believe Jared is going to be a premier offensive tackle in this league," Harbaugh said. "The thing we need him to do is to get up there and start working on it. I talked to Drew Rosenhaus and he tells me he's getting Jared in shape. The last time I checked Drew Rosenhaus doesn't coach the offensive line in the National Football League. Jared needs to be in our weight room with our players with our offensive line, becoming the player he can become. ..

"There's no leverage that's gained by not being with the team working out. If he thinks he's gaining some kind of leverage well he's not making himself the best player he can be. So, that's our position. Come out and go to work and become a great player."

Harbaugh said he didn't know if any other teams had made inquiries about Gaither's availability to general manager Ozzie Newsome. The restricted free agent signing period ends on April 15.

"I don't know if Ozzie has gotten calls or not about that, it's still early in that process," Harbaugh said. "We don't want to lose Jared Gaither. We need Jared Gaither as a Raven. I really like Jared. I think he's going to be a great player.

"I just want to work with him. We want to get him in and work with him. I know he wants to work. I know he's working hard right now. The other stuff will take care of itself."

One point that Harbaugh made last week was that the Ravens want to see a great commitment from Gaither before they make a major financial commitment to him.

"To think that you're going to gain something by staying away, this is a team sport," Harbaugh said. "Come in and be the very best you can be. As a coach and a general manager and an owner you look at that and you say, ‘That's the kind of guy we want to have for the long term that we want to make a long-term investment because we can trust him and count on him to be there.' The other thing is you kind of go, ‘Well, I don't know. Is this the kind of guy we can trust and count on?'"

Gaither emphasized that he and Harbaugh both want the same things.

The former University of Maryland player reiterated that he wants a long-term contract extension and hopes to be in Baltimore for a long time.

"That's right," Gaither said. "I just want to go out and perform. Whatever Ozzie feels like he needs for the team, he'll get it done. Drew is my agent, and it falls upon Ozzie and the team to work that out. That's the business side of the game.

"I'm a Raven and I want to always be a Raven. If they would like to have me for that long, they know my desire. They know me as a person. I'm not really worried about it. I know it will take care of itself."

Following the Ravens' AFC divisional playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Harbaugh said he approached Gaither in the locker room to discuss the future.

"I walked up to him and said, ‘Hey, we're going to have a great offseason. You need to get bigger and stronger and therefore more durable,'" Harbaugh said. "And he was right on that. He absolutely was, ‘Coach, that's what I'm going to do.'"

Now, Gaither said he intends to back up that promise.

"I'm all about getting stronger and making myself the best player I can possibly be," Gaither said. "I can't wait for the season to start. I'm very excited about everything that's going on with the team. We want to go to the Super Bowl, and I want to be a big part of that." Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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