By Joe Platania
The band Tavares reached the top of the pop and dance charts in 1975 with a tune entitled "It Only Takes A Minute."
The song equated finding a new girlfriend to finding a new job and the pitfalls that can accompany both tasks. However, Ravens rookie linebacker Tavares Gooden may not need much longer than a figurative minute to become a part of one of the NFL's best linebacking corps.
Gooden, a University of Miami product who was a third-round pick (71st overall) in this year's draft, is a quick, physical presence with great lateral speed and a tenacious tackling style who many believed was too small at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds to be in the NFL. Except for the part about being a third-round pick, does that sound like anyone Ravens fans might already know?
"Me and Ray [Lewis], we're brothers," Gooden said during last week's passing camp, the second of which takes place this week. "Anybody out of the University of Miami [who's] a linebacker, you're a brother. Me and Ray, we actually did some workouts before I came back here. He wanted to drill me on workouts.
"He said he's going to worry about the film part when we get back here, and when I get done in July, I'm going to head back down to Miami and work with him there."
During his time at Miami, Gooden idolized the nine-time Pro Bowl pick and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year so much that he wore the future Hall of Famer's No. 52. For now, he's donning No. 49 as he learns the pro routine.
While many -- including himself -- see Gooden as a successor to Lewis, he didn't exactly take the same path to the game's highest level.
Lewis, who entered the 1996 draft after his junior season, was an anchor in the middle of some of Miami’s most successful teams and earned an All-America berth after playing three and a half years in the middle. At the time of his departure, Lewis stood fifth on the school's all-time tackle list.
Conversely, Gooden began his Hurricanes career as a weakside linebacker in 2004, switched to the strong side (covering the tight end) two years later and finally found a home in the middle during his senior campaign as the program suddenly found itself struggling in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But Gooden flourished in his new role, registering a career-high 100 tackles (60 solo) with three pass breakups and an interception.
Lewis does see one key similarity between himself and his new protege.
“Aggressiveness, aggressiveness," Lewis said. "He’s aggressive, he just wants to fly around and hit everything. I was telling him the other day, and I said, ‘If nothing else, I just want you to touch the ball every play. That’s what I want you to do. I want you to touch the ball every play.’ Understanding that, once you actually channel what he has inside, he’s going to be a great player. He’s going to be a great player."
For now, Gooden is doing what most rookies simply must do this time of year -- learn the playbook, contribute on special teams and know his place.
“Trying to learn the terminology, that’s the toughest thing," Gooden said. "The defense is [similar] to what I did in high school. I think I know the defense, but if they give you a different call, whether they want you inside or outside leverage, it’s just a whole different call. I think that’s the biggest thing, trying to learn the terminology.”
But considering Gooden's background and the veteran players that now surround him in Baltimore, the Ravens' brass believes that understanding the team's aggressive schemes shouldn't be much of a problem.
"Any time you get a player from the Miami Hurricanes, you know you get someone who loves the game, who runs to the football and knows and understands how to play the game," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "It gives us depth, but it helps us on special teams right away.”
College scouting director Eric DeCosta agrees.
“He’s just a good football player," DeCosta said. "The guy’s explosive. He’s just a good player. When he plays well, people will draw their own conclusions once he gets here. I think he’s coming into a great situation. But he’s just a good football player. He had a great year this year. We think he’s got a lot of potential.
"He made huge strides from his junior year to his senior year, in terms of improving his play and really taking the next step in becoming an elite college linebacker. We love good, fast, aggressive linebackers in Baltimore. We know when we see one, and Ozzie and I both feel really good about him.”
Gooden feels good about himself as well. But he has to understand that he has to wait his turn.
"He’s over there itching on the sideline [saying], ‘I want to be in, I want to be in,'" Lewis said. "And I say, ‘Your time is coming, your time is coming.’ But all of these young guys are like that. You have to pick and choose what you want to teach them and how fast you want to teach them, and they’ll go from there.”
For Gooden, it might only take a minute.
Issue 3.23: June 4, 2008