Gaither Getting An Early Jump

Jared Gaither
Jared Gaither was ruled academically ineligible by the University of Maryland but now finds himself a member of the Ravens. (Toni L. Sandys - The Post)
By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 18, 2007

It didn't take long for Jared Gaither to get his first real test as a professional football player. On the opening day of Baltimore Ravens training camp, the rookie tackle was matched up against outside linebacker Terrell Suggs in one-on-one drills. Gaither more than held his own against one of the NFL's best pass-rushers and a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

"He shocked me," said Suggs, who is 6 feet 3 and 260 pounds. "I'm impressed."

It's nothing new in Gaither's nascent football career; he has stirred coaches and fellow players with his rare combination of size (6-9, 350) and athleticism, and he has intrigued them with his potential.

The Ravens surrendered a 2008 fifth-round pick to acquire Gaither in July's supplemental draft and signed him to a three-year contract that included a $118,000 bonus. So far, after 2 1/2 weeks of training camp, Gaither has been the biggest surprise on the Ravens -- literally and figuratively.

The 21-year old tackle, who is in his fifth full season of organized football, could have been anchoring the University of Maryland's offensive line this fall. Instead, he has been starting at left tackle for the Ravens, protecting quarterback Steve McNair's blind side while 10-time Pro Bowl selection Jonathan Ogden is on the physically unable to perform list with a toe injury. Gaither played the entire first half of Baltimore's preseason opener against Philadelphia on Monday night and didn't give up a sack. He also opened up a big hole that led to a 16-yard run by Willis McGahee.

"When people talk about potential -- I call that the 'P word' -- I always go to another 'P word,' " said Greg Roman, who as the Ravens' assistant offensive line coach has been working closely with Gaither. "Process. The process that he's got to go through step by step, that's the key. . . . Potential -- everybody's got a certain potential, but it's how they go through the process that determines how far they go."

It was the process that tripped up Gaither at Maryland. As a freshman, he started eight games at left tackle, didn't give up a sack and was named a third-team freshman all-American by College Football News. The following year, he was suspended for two weeks during the preseason for an unspecified violation of team rules and then was moved to right tackle, where he shared time with Dane Randolph.

Gaither acknowledged he was frustrated with his diminished role as a sophomore, particularly after he played so well as a freshman. Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said, "There were some days he didn't feel like practicing, and then there's Dane Randolph practicing very, very hard." Gaither missed all of spring practice in order to concentrate on academics, but he was declared ineligible for the 2007 season in June.

"To me, personally, it wasn't academics as much as it was his spirit was broken," said Joyce Suggs, Gaither's mother. "It's not that he couldn't get through the work; he just lost interest."

"I think Jared just got bored at Maryland," said Robert Prunty, the coach at Hargrave Military Academy, where Gaither spent a postgraduate year. "I think he was ready to go to the NFL."

Instead of trying to regain his college eligibility, Gaither opted for the supplemental draft. More than a dozen teams showed up at Maryland's campus to watch Gaither go through a combine-style workout days before the July 12 draft. Friedgen spoke to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and General Manager Ozzie Newsome about Gaither.

"There's a maturity factor. He's just 21 years old, and we've seen many, many guys like him come into the league, mature and become very good players," said Eric DeCosta, Baltimore's director of college scouting. "There are no guarantees, but it's early, and we've been very impressed up to this point. We think the kid has a bright future."

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