Ravens' Gaither studying up
"Guys worry all the time about getting cut," Ravens rookie Jared Gaither said. "You can't let the business side of the NFL take away the passion and love that you have for the game." (Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam / December 23, 2007)
These days, Gaither, the Ravens' raw-boned rookie offensive tackle, directs his energies toward learning the team's playbook - a binder as thick as a math textbook - and acclimating himself to life in the NFL.
By most accounts, he has met the Ravens' expectations for a 21-year-old from Prince George's County who skipped two years of college to turn pro in the league's supplemental draft in June.
"Jared has the ability but not the experience," said Chris Foerster, the Ravens' offensive line coach. "Now it's a matter of connecting the dots."
Gaither has played in five games, started two and earned a nod from Jonathan Ogden, the All-Pro tackle he's being groomed to replace.
"He has a shot," Ogden said of his 6-foot-9, 330-pound shadow. "He has more natural talent than most. With what God has given him alone, he's got a shot."
In the NFL, rookies are seldom seen and rarely heard. Like Gaither, they toil on special teams, grasp at the nuances of the game and, if thrust into the spotlight, try not to mess up. That's their rite of passage.
"You can't prepare for [the first season] because you don't know what you're preparing for," said the Ravens' Adam Terry, a third-year tackle. "It's like walking into a blizzard. Everything is fine until you hit that white blink of snow."
For a while, it seemed Gaither was going to ride out that storm by hibernating. With training camp over, he rented an apartment in Owings Mills and routinely overslept.
"Early on, he had his ups and downs getting [to practice] on time," Foerster said. "His body clock didn't work that way. He admitted he just wasn't a morning person."
When Gaither missed a weightlifting session, teammates set the big lug straight.
"The pros aren't as structured as college is," veteran center Mike Flynn said. "You have to set your own schedules here."
Gaither listened. Now, he takes a one-hour nap after practice and goes to bed by 10 p.m. He also set each of his clocks ahead 10 minutes. Just in case.
"I don't like to rush," he said.
Though quiet and reserved, he has fit in, teammates said.
"Being a rookie is like being the new kid in school," linebacker Gary Stills said. "You don't want to be picked on, or to stand out."
When you're 6-9, that's hard to avoid. But teammates took to "Big Gaith" in training camp, where he survived a rookie hazing. While signing autographs, he was bushwhacked by several Ravens who doused him in Gatorade and wrapped him in duct tape.
The incident was comical, defensive tackle Kelly Gregg said. "When [270-pound] Jarret Johnson jumped on Jared's back, he looked like he was riding a camel."
Though hog-tied, Gaither managed to break the double layer of tape on his wrists and ankles. Hercules unchained.