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AFC: Sanders gets one year with Ravens

By wire services
Published September 1, 2004

OWINGS MILLS, Md. - Deion Sanders is back in the NFL, this time with the Baltimore Ravens.

The seven-time Pro Bowl defensive back passed his physical Tuesday and formally ended his retirement by signing a one-year contract laden with incentives. Sanders will practice with the team for the first time today, and expects to play in the season opener Sept. 12 against the Browns.

Sanders, 37, played cornerback in his prime, but will be used as a fifth defensive back.

"This game is not all that complicated. We're going to try to ingrain him as quickly as we can," Ravens coach Brian Billick said Tuesday morning. "We have to make sure we know where he's at physically. He's here plenty early enough to have an impact."

Sanders has not played since the 2000 season, which he spent with the Redskins. He retired on the eve of the team's training camp in 2001, but the Ravens are convinced he still has enough talent to contribute to their bid to defend the AFC North title and advance to the Super Bowl.

"Based on people we've talked to, opinions we trust, I'm sure there's no question he's going to be able to compete. At the level he competed before? There's very few of us that can do things as well as we did before. At 50, I can attest to that," Billick said. "But what he will bring to the table for us will be substantial."

Sanders' experience will also be invaluable to a defensive unit that will look to him for guidance. During his days with the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys - when he was known as Prime Time - Sanders was one of the best cover cornerbacks in the NFL.

"To have him come here is an honor," Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister said. "There's so much that you can learn from a Deion Sanders; he's the type of guy that can take a young DB and make him grow up mentally, and prepare him for situations he otherwise wouldn't get without having the experience himself."

Said Billick: "What a resource. I can't imagine our younger players or our guys that have not had a lot of playing time aren't going to hang on every word that this guy has to offer."

Sanders will be used sparingly at first, but that will change if he proves to be effective.

"Everybody's made a big deal of his role here. Nickel is a beginning point; you've got to start someplace," Billick said. "But we'll expand it as we deem necessary."

Sanders began his comeback bid after talking with Baltimore middle linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive back Corey Fuller , both of whom he considers close friends.

"This man has everything. He has money, he has rings, he has fame, he has all of that," Lewis said. "But the simple mathematics of it all is he's just coming back to have fun and play football with his friends."

Billick is convinced that the flamboyant Sanders will work within the framework of the team and make the Ravens a better club. "This is not about the money," Billick said. "This is about a man who has a passion for a game, has a relationship with players who have a part of this, and we're a byproduct of this. We're going to gain from this."

DOLPHINS: David Boston was placed on injured reserve more than three weeks after the wide receiver suffered a season-ending knee injury. Boston, acquired in the offseason, was injured Aug. 6 during a preseason workout against the Texans. PATRIOTS: The team released quarterback Jim Miller and placed veteran defensive lineman Dana Stubblefield on injured reserve. Miller hadn't played in any of the three exhibition preseason ames since signing as a free agent last month. His departure leaves New England with Tom Brady, Rohan Davey and Kliff Kingsbury at quarterback. Stubblefield has an ankle injury. The 1997 NFL defensive player of the year signed as a free agent Aug. 5 after playing for Oakland last season.

RAIDERS: Charles Woodson signed a one-year tender for $8.782-million, joining the team after a 33-day holdout. "I guess it's just been long enough," Woodson said. "We tried our different tactics and it's just been long enough. It's time to get back in and get back to work."

Coach Norv Turner said Monday that Woodson wouldn't play in Thursday's preseason finale against St. Louis. Woodson, however, expects to be in the starting lineup when the team opens the regular season on Sept. 12 at Pittsburgh.

"That's my plan," he said. "I don't want to be around and not be playing or starting. So I'm going to do everything I can to get myself ready so ... when we play Pittsburgh, I'll be the starter."

Woodson had been working out twice a day in Houston, so the Raiders aren't as concerned about his fitness level as they are about his ability to play catchup in new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan 's 3-4 scheme.

"I think everybody is just ready for me to get in here, and get into the thick of things and get ready to play football," Woodson said. "The players, they understand my side. The coaches, all of them have been through it before with other players so this is nothing new to anybody. I'm not the first to do this and I certainly won't be the last. I think right now everybody is just ready for me to get out there and play ball."

[Last modified September 1, 2004, 01:10:40]


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