Craft speaks softly and carries a big hit Veteran gives Stallions a defensive cornerstone


Baltimore Stallions cornerback Douglas Craft speaks softly, measuring his words the way he sizes up opposing wide receivers.

Craft also has had a calming effect on Baltimore's defensive backfield.

Four months ago in the season opener at British Columbia, Baltimore lost cornerback Karl Anthony to a season-ending knee injury. The Stallions then conducted a summer-long audition at Anthony's position, giving Gary Wilkerson, Corris Ervin and Courtney Griffin shots at the job.

Craft's arrival six weeks ago after his release by the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL ended the search.

No wonder, after the month Craft has produced in the secondary. In four games, he has recorded 12 tackles, forced a fumble, recovered one, and given Baltimore stingy pass coverage.

His coaches and teammates talk about Craft's rare combination of size and speed and his impeccable practice habits. At 6 feet, 195 pounds, Craft is bigger than most of the wide receivers he covers. With 4.3-second speed in the 40-yard --, he is faster than most. Throw in the technique and tricks he has honed in two previous Canadian Football League seasons with the Calgary Stampeders, and you have a certified stopper on the corner.

"Great size and unbelievable speed for a cornerback," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said.

Craft "is one of the most physical corners in the league. It's like having a linebacker out there," said halfback Ken Watson, who played with Craft in Calgary.

"He came in and settled things down, blended right in with our system, doesn't take a play off," fellow cornerback Irv Smith added. "The coaches are high on him and I'm high on him."

Tonight against British Columbia, Craft moves from the right side to Smith's left corner spot, while Smith nurses a shoulder injury.

Right or left doesn't matter. Craft is just glad he is seeing action in Baltimore, which signed him through 1996. After his NFL tryout didn't pan out, he listened to offers from a handful of teams, including Calgary, before choosing the Stallions.

"I just thank God for putting me in a place like this," said Craft, 26. "The players welcomed me with open arms, like I'd been here all season."

Of his two years with the Stampeders, 1993 and 1994, Craft said, "It was disappointing, losing in the semifinals both times. Everybody is saying Calgary is going to the Grey Cup. I didn't want to go back there and be disappointed again. I'm very happy here."

Almost as happy as Matthews was when Craft became available last month.

"We thought he was one of the top free agents coming out, and we made a run at him at the beginning of the year, but he opted to go to the NFL," Matthews said. "We feel very fortunate that when he became available, we had the need and he was able to step in and pick us up."

Craft made his impact felt immediately. In his home debut four weeks ago, he introduced himself at Memorial Stadium by collecting five tackles, forcing a fumble and recovering one in a 42-32 victory over Shreveport.

"The best way to be accepted on a new team is to make some plays," Matthews said. "He did that, and it was neat to watch."

Craft plans on a few encores.

"I don't have to be concerned about making the All-CFL team," Craft said. "My focus is on helping Baltimore win the Grey Cup."

Stallions tonight

Opponent: British Columbia Lions

Site: Memorial Stadium

Time: 7:30

6* Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7 FM)

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