High Expectations For Gooden

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Tavares Gooden  has never been a stranger to living up to high expectations.

Whether it was as a child growing up in the shadow of his brother, whom Gooden claims was a high school football star in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to attending the University of Miami, where Ray Lewis, Dan Morgan, Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams, all former Hurricanes and NFL first-round draft picks.

No. 56 always looked up to Lewis especially, even earning the nickname "Baby Ray" and donning the Baltimore great's No. 52 in college.

When the Ravens selected him in the third round of the 2007 draft, they envisioned someone that could be their next great linebacker.

With the departure of Bart Scott via free agency, Gooden is confident he can once again meet a lofty standard.

"Being the youngest in my family, I've always had to exceed whatever somebody else did," Gooden said. "My brother – he was a great football player – and I was the baby. So, I was always called 'Little Byron,' 'Little Stump'. So, I had to go through that.

"Now, it's the same thing with Ray – they're like, 'Baby Ray.' Eventually, I just want to come out here and make my coaches proud, make my team proud and earn my own name."

Already, Gooden has shown flashes of greatness. At a lithe 242 pounds, Gooden is incredibly quick sideline-to-sideline, so it is easy to see how he totaled 100 tackles as a senior in 2007.

But Gooden hopes his thumping ability will add another big-hit presence to the Ravens' smashmouth defense.

"[We've] got guys out there… You hear stuff like you're watching an army movie or something – Haloti [Ngata] crashing into somebody, and Kelly Gregg," said Gooden. Then you get those holes and those openings, and you just fill them as a linebacker. I think that's the biggest part of being with the 'ones.' Those guys, they really know how to get after it."

To the outsider, the phrase "Play Like A Raven" may be slightly abstract, but in Baltimore, players, coaches and fans know exactly what that mentality entails.

Physical. Dominating. Hard-working.

Even though Gooden only saw action in four games as a rookie because a hip injury landed him on Injured Reserve, the Ravens believe he embodies those qualities.

"Tavares, he started out last year a tremendous Raven," said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. "Now, he's just what you look for when you bring somebody into this family. It's too bad he got hurt last year, because he was showing it on special teams. He was right there, ready to give us some depth, and he worked all offseason – done everything he could possibly do – and he showed it on the field now this camp.

"Ray and [linebackers coach] Vic Fangio do a tremendous job coaching them, and Ray's out there always kind of giving them the pointers that you have on the field. That's been… His closeness with Ray has really showed in Tavares' improvements."

The addition of Gooden offers a glimpse into what the Ravens' defense could look like for years to come.

Safety Ed Reed, 31, signed a seven-year contract extension in 2006, the same year the Ravens took defensive tackle Haloti Ngata 12th overall. Linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs recently inked a six-year deal. And, cornerback Domonique Foxworth came to Baltimore this February with a four-year contract.

"They brought us all in last year, and you didn't need to be a rocket scientist to know that Bart, Ray and 'Sizzle' [Suggs] were all up on their deals," noted Gooden. "They brought in another linebacker. You never knew how it was going to unfold, but this is how it is.

"Now it's time for us to start playing together, start building communication. Ray is doing everything he can. He's not just saying, 'I'm going to be in Canton. I'm going to let these guys go.' He's showing us, he's teaching us the way, how to play defense like a Raven." 

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