USC's Justice at peace

USC's Justice at peace

OWINGS MILLS -- Winston Justice isn't shy, prone to accepting a spot in the background or short on ambition when it comes to his growing status in the upcoming NFL draft.

The athletic USC offensive tackle refuses to concede anything to top-ranked University of Virginia offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, a polished blocker considered one of the safest prospects regardless of position.

"I think I'm the best tackle," Justice said in a telephone interview between workouts on the USC campus. "People always mention my name after Ferguson, and I respect him, but I believe I'm a better player and a better athlete and I'll prove it in the NFL. Personally, I believe I'm a top-10 talent, but I can't predict how the draft is going to go."

If Justice isn't selected in the first 10 picks, the 6-foot-6, 319-pound all-conference blocker could be available for the Baltimore Ravens with the 13th overall selection as a potential right tackle candidate and an eventual replacement for All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden.

NFL talent evaluators were gushing about Justice, who played right tackle at USC to protect left-handed quarterback Matt Leinart's blind side, following his eye-opening performance at the Trojans' Pro Day.

Justice registered a 39-inch vertical leap, bench pressed 225 pounds 38 times and covered 40 yards in 5.08 seconds despite a sore calf muscle. He doesn't turn 22 until September.

"He's an outstanding football player on tape, number one," Carolina Panthers coach John Fox said. "A 39-inch vertical jump is off the charts for a big guy, and his bench press was phenomenal with those long arms. He's a young player, so I think the upside on him is tremendous."

Although some scouts' enthusiasm about Justice is tempered by character concerns, Justice said he gained valuable perspective from two brushes with the law that he describes as youthful errors in judgment.

Justice was suspended for two semesters for a student-conduct violation after being arrested in March 2004 for flashing a toy gun at another student. Justice called it a prank that went awry. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of exhibition of a replica firearm and was sentenced to 60 days of electronic monitoring and three years of probation. USC won the national title without him.

"Me and some friends were playing a game and we thought we knew the person in the car that we pulled the toy gun on," Justice said. "It's something that I'm always going to regret doing, and I'm always going to be sorry and kicking myself for it. I'm trying to show that I am a good character guy.''

The pellet gun incident followed an embarrassing episode in Justice's past.

In July of 2003, Justice pleaded no contest to solicitation of a prostitute in his hometown of Long Beach, Calif. He was fined $300 and sentenced to three years of probation.

"I've learned from my mistakes," said Justice, who was 17 years old when he arrived at USC. "NFL teams already know everything about what happened and the conversation usually goes, ‘What did you learn from it?' I grew a lot and I've learned not to take anything for granted in life."

During his year away from football, Justice took up boxing under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, a former trainer for heavyweight Mike Tyson. No, he didn't learn anything about biting ears during their sparring sessions.

"Boxing made my hands and feet quicker," said Justice, who met with the Ravens at the scouting combine. "Being a big guy, I didn't have trouble finding sparring partners and it made me tougher. It was a blessing in disguise."

Justice's NFL tour includes the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys. The Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills and Ravens are interested, according to his agent, but haven't scheduled a visit.
"I would love to play for the Ravens because they're a great organization," said Justice, who as an 18-year-old freshman All-American held Ravens outside linebacker and former Arizona State star Terrell Suggs to no sacks. "It would be an honor to learn from Jonathan Ogden, one of the greatest linemen ever to play the game. I'm hoping to have that kind of career."

NOTES: Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, the son of former NFL quarterback Dave Whitehurst, is scheduled to visit the Ravens' training complex Tuesday. ... The Ravens plan to attend University of Connecticut basketball player Ed Nelson's workout on Friday, according to his agent, Joe Linta, The projected tight end is 6-6, 265 pounds.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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