When former Maryland offensive tackle Jared Gaither reports for his first NFL training camp, he won't have very far to travel.
The Ravens selected Gaither in the fifth round of the NFL's supplemental draft yesterday, acquiring a player they believed would have been a first-day selection in next year's draft for the cost of a fifth-round pick.
"If you would tell us that we drafted Jared Gaither in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, we'd be doing handstands and cartwheels," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "We think we took an interesting step today."
Gaither, a massive 6-foot-9, 324-pound lineman, is an intriguing prospect whose two-year career at Maryland was marked by impressive performances on the field but considerable disappointment off it. During his freshman season, the tackle started nine games and did not allow a sack. Before his sophomore season, he was suspended from the team for two weeks for academic and other reasons but rejoined the Terps after missing one game and played well, anchoring an offensive line that gave up only 19 sacks.
After failing to raise his grade point average this past spring, he was declared academically ineligible to play football for the 2007 season.
"Coming in playing as a true freshman, the work kind of got piled up on me," said Gaither, who had been away from the team while he tried to regain his eligibility. "That hurt my grades, and it was an uphill battle from there."
That battle ended when Gaither received the news last month that he would not be allowed to rejoin the Terps. He hired an agent and, once he gained entry into the supplemental draft, turned his attention toward working out for scouts.
The Ravens were among several teams that scouted Gaither. They talked with coaches and others at Maryland and brought him in for an interview and physical this week. With Gaither having declared so late, the team essentially did nine months of scouting in about two weeks, yet felt confident in its decision to select him, even with his off-the-field issues.
"We did our homework," said DeCosta, who likened Gaither to a stock with great potential that was performing poorly. "We are aware of all of the issues surrounding him. It's always a matter of weighing risk versus reward. If you hit on him, you're hitting on somebody that could pay some dividends."
Making the risk more manageable for the Ravens was the fact that they will receive multiple compensatory picks in next year's draft from teams that signed away free agents Adalius Thomas, Tony Pashos and Ovie Mughelli. They also received a ringing endorsement from Gaither's college coach, Ralph Friedgen.
"Ralph thinks highly of the young man and gave excellent background on him," general manager Ozzie Newsome said.
DeCosta said Gaither is "a tremendously talented guy with a lot of size. He has loads of natural ability. We're excited about his long-term potential."
That promise can only be realized if Gaither displays a maturity that has been absent from the player's repertoire. The Ravens are hoping that will be the case, but they know they are rolling the dice.
"I think we're confident that he'll become a valuable member of the team," DeCosta said. "If he doesn't, we can simply walk away."
Note -- The Ravens signed linebacker Antwan Barnes, their fourth-round draft pick, to a three-year contract, Newsome announced. Barnes, the second Ravens draft choice to sign, is Florida International's all-time sack leader with 23. A two-time All-Sun Belt Conference selection (as a junior and senior), Barnes played in 45 career games, starting 38, and totaled 224 tackles, becoming just the sixth player in FIU history to amass 200 email@example.com
Sun reporter Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.