Vaught's Views: Ravens give Abney the chance he wanted

April 26, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

As teams kept making selections, Derek Abney began to wonder if his name was going to be called Sunday.

The talented Kentucky wide receiver-kick returner thought he might go as high as the fourth round of the National Football League draft. Or at least in the fifth or sixth rounds.

Instead, he watched television at his aunt's home in Lawrenceburg Sunday with friends and waited. And waited. And then waited some more.

Several teams called to inquire about his interest in signing a free agent contract when the draft ended. He heard from Cincinnati, which mainly went for defense in the draft, along with Miami, Detroit and the New York Giants.


"I just didn't know if I was going to get drafted," said Abney.

Finally, though, the call he had been waiting on for years came when Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome called to tell him the Ravens were going to choose him in the seventh round with the 244th pick.

"All I wanted was a chance to make an NFL team. Now I have that opportunity," Abney said. "Obviously, I was hoping to go higher, but the fact I am going to a great program like Baltimore makes up for that. I love Baltimore. I don't know why, but I always have. And they need a returner."

Baltimore was only team to give him an individual workout

The only team to give Abney an individual workout was Baltimore. Abney knew he did well because that was the first time his foot, which he injured late last season, had felt normal. That's also when the Ravens told him they planned to draft a kick returner to challenge Lamont Brightful, a two-year veteran from Eastern Washington.

Abney set five NCAA records, 11 Southeastern Conference marks and 14 school records for kick returns. He had eight kick returns for touchdowns (six punts, two kickoffs) and amassed 5,856 all-purpose yards at Kentucky.

Brightful, a defensive back, averaged 24.2 yards per kickoff return and 7.5 yards per punt return last season. He did not return a kick for a touchdown. He did have a 95-yard kickoff return for a score in 2002 and averaged 16 yards per punt return that season.

Abney's chances to make the roster probably will depend on his return ability. While he was UK's leading receiver the last two years, the Ravens significantly upgraded their receiving corps Sunday when they acquired veteran receiver Kevin Johnson from Jacksonville. The Ravens tried to claim him last year when he was put on waivers by Cleveland, but Jacksonville took him.

The Ravens also drafted Washington State receiver Devard Darling in the third round and Northern Arizona receiver Clarence Moore in the sixth round. Counting Abney, they now have 12 receivers on the roster and probably will not keep more than six when the season starts.

"I've always had to prove myself," Abney, who will report to Baltimore Thursday for three days, said. "I did in high school. I did when I came to Kentucky from Wisconsin. I have lived on overcoming expectations. That has motivated me and going in the seventh round, and not higher, is only going to provide extra motivation for me.

"The draft is more art than science. Every year players that are not drafted high, or maybe not even drafted at all, turn into really good players. I just want a shot to make a team. Now I have that."

If he makes the roster, he'll be guaranteed at least $225,000 his first season. That's the rookie minimum.

"There are a lot worst things than that," Abney, who also has an engineering degree, said.

No other UK player was drafted

He has several former teammates who wish they had been picked even in the seventh round because no other UK player was drafted.

That had to stun quarterback Jared Lorenzen, especially since so many other quarterbacks went late in the draft. Michigan's John Navarre (Arizona), Wyoming's Casey Bramlet (Cincinnati), LSU's Matt Mauck (Denver), Texas Tech's B.J. Symons (Houston), Wisconsin's Jim Sorgi (Minnesota) and Washington's Cody Pickett (San Francisco) all went in the final two rounds.

Lorenzen has a rocket arm and great field vision. But he also has a weight problem. He struggled with being too heavy during his UK career and word spread that he had added weight again after his workout with the Ravens even though he still had enough agility to dunk a basketball.

Teams obviously were worried that his chronic weight problem was not worth risking a draft pick on. He probably will sign a free agent deal and be invited to a training camp, but he still expected to be drafted.

Offensive linemen Antonio Hall and Nick Seitze also thought they might be drafted. Instead, the only offensive lineman drafted from Kentucky was Eastern Kentucky center Larry Turner by St. Louis in the seventh round.

Defensive lineman Jeremy Caudill impressed scouts with his speed, but his ability to overpower linemen and rush the quarterback was suspect. Receiver Chris Bernard also went undrafted.

"I was surprised Jared wasn't drafted because he has so much potential," Abney said. "I thought the other guys would get picked, too. But you just never know. I'm just glad I have my chance and now it's up to me to take advantage of it."

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