The Ravens may have made a small and unassuming roster move Friday, but to head coach John Harbaugh, the signing of Fred Walker was another big step in how his team is coming together.
As a cornerback, Walker will compete for the spot directly behind Pro Bowlers Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle. As a special teams standout, he bolsters a unit that Harbaugh, a former special teams coordinator, is committed to showcasing.
"[General manager] Ozzie's [Newsome] plan is to add valuable depth to the secondary this offseason, and he did that with Frank," Harbaugh said. "Frank can be a quality nickel for us, and he'll add athleticism and toughness to our special teams.
"It's a good signing for us."
Perhaps more importantly, Walker brings a brand of toughness and competitiveness that Harbaugh wants to instill in the locker room.
The 5-foot-11, 196-pound defensive back is ready to admit that he plays with something to prove. That may come from his upbringing in Tuskegee, Ala., a noted center for African-American education that was home to the likes of Rosa Parks and George Washington Carver.
It may come from a college career at Division II Tuskegee University, where he had to not only excel, but star, just to earn a look from NFL scouts.
Through a stellar four-year career, Walker finished with 92 stops, two sacks, 34 pass deflections and six interceptions. Suddenly, heads were turning to this little-known prospect.
"It's basically keeping a chip on your shoulder and feeling like you need to outwork everybody else coming out of a Division I school," he said. "Coming from a small school like I did, you really need to succeed to get people at the NFL level to notice you."
The New York Giants were the first to land this former "Super Sleeper," as Walker was named by the NFL Draft Report his senior season, selecting him in the sixth round of the 2003 draft.
Injuries to three cornerbacks catapulted Walker to the starting lineup for seven games during his rookie campaign, snaring two interceptions, including a 56-yard touchdown return.
"I consider myself a gritty player," said the 26-year-old, who has five career interceptions to his credit. "I think my ability to find the ball is a strength. I like to take the ball away and make the interception – not just bat it away. If it's in the air, I'm going for the interception."
But even that solid performance, bolstered by 32 tackles and five passes defensed, didn't guarantee Walker a spot on the first-string. He's been battling to get back to that level ever since then.
Walker was signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2007 by the Green Bay Packers, where he settled in as a solid nickel and dime back in sub packages and continued to stand out as a gunner on special teams.
"Frank brings us some flexibility to the secondary," said director of pro personnel George Kokinis. "He plays outside, the nickel spot and the dime spot. He's an experienced guy, but he's still young. Frank has good speed and loves to play."
"He's also done a nice job on special teams. As a core member of the Packers' special teams unit, he produced. We need guys that can step up and fill roles on defense and special teams, so he can help us."
Kokinis was also taken with Walker's toughness and determination. During each of Green Bay's two meetings with the division rival Chicago Bears last year, Walker dropped Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Hester for negative yardage, a 2-yard loss on a punt in the first meeting, and then a 1-yard loss on a kickoff later in the season.
"He took it as a personal challenge to go against Devin Hester, and he made a couple of tackles against him in the hole," said Kokinis. "As a core member of the Packers' special teams unit, he produced."
Walker spent a few hours at the Ravens' headquarters Friday morning, visiting with coaches to discuss his offseason expectations and his projected role on the field.
He came away from those initial introductions confident that he is the right type of player for the purple and black.
"They said that they think I can help the defense as an aggressive player," Walker explained. "Coach Harbaugh said that he wants to continue the Ravens brand of football, where people know that you're going to get hit hard and pounded to the ground.
"That's my type of football."