Speaking to reporters gathered in Orlando for this week’s NFL owners meetings, Ravens coach John Harbaugh touched on an array of topics ranging Tuesday morning, from the status of running back Ray Rice to the backup quarterback position.
A day after owner Steve Bisciotti made it clear that Rice would remain with the organization despite his legal trouble, Harbaugh reiterated his support for the troubled 27-year-old while acknowledging the obvious embarrassment felt over the Ravens’ three arrests this offseason that have prompted many to question team leadership. Wide receiver Deonte Thompson and offensive lineman Jah Reid were also arrested in a three-week period that started with Rice’s domestic violence incident in Atlantic City last month.
Harbaugh confirmed what many assumed in stating that newly-acquired veteran Jeremy Zuttah projects to be the Ravens’ starting center in 2014, replacing incumbent and 2012 fourth-round pick Gino Gradkowski.
“We traded for Jeremy for him to be the starting center. That’s the plan,” Harbaugh told reporters in Orlando. “[I] had a conversation with Gino yesterday. It was good communication and he’s in a good place. Gino’s a solid young guy. Jeremy is a more experienced center/guard in this league. The thing I liked on tape – we studied him pretty hard – he’s a big, rangy guy. He’s got length, he’s got size in there, he’s got experience and he’s also got, we think, a knack for the scheme we’re going to run offensively. He’s a good fit for us.”
The coach added that the organization would prefer to keep Kelechi Osemele at left guard and views second-year lineman Rick Wagner as the current starting right tackle among players under contract. Of course, the Ravens are expected to continue the search for more help in free agency and the draft, so the offensive line remains fluid beyond the four known starters: left tackle Eugene Monroe, right guard Marshal Yanda, Zuttah, and Osemele.
After recent reports that the Ravens were interested in quarterback Brandon Weeden before he signed in Dallas, Harbaugh confirmed that the organization is exploring the possibility of adding another quarterback. Current backup Tyrod Taylor has one year remaining on his rookie contract, but the head coach confirmed that the Ravens haven’t been overwhelmed with how the 2011 sixth-round pick has played in limited opportunities. Baltimore has carried only two quarterbacks on its 53-man roster in each of the last four seasons.
“We’ve been very happy with Tyrod, and we feel like he has a great future,” Harbaugh said, “but we have been a little disappointed how he’s played in games certainly. We feel like he’s a lot better than he’s showed. I know he feels that way too. We feel like Tyrod’s best football is by far definitely in front of him, but he’s only got one year left with us, so we need to add a quarterback into the mix, whether it be offseason or in the draft.”
The tight end position remains a point of discussion as Harbaugh confirmed interest in re-signing Ed Dickson while acknowledging interest in former Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels, who obviously has strong ties with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and new tight ends coach Brian Pariani. Dennis Pitta and University of Maryland product Matt Furstenburg are the only tight ends currently under contract.
Reporters asked Harbaugh about the status of retired linebacker Rolando McClain, whose rights are still owned by the Ravens. The coach didn’t completely rule out a return for the 24-year-old but added that he hasn’t spoken to McClain and remains skeptical unless he receives proof that the former Oakland Raider is working hard and is serious about returning to football.
“Who [is he] as a person right now? Has he grown up?” Harbaugh said of McClain. “He had a lot of growing up to do obviously. And how hard he’s working, how hard he’s working at Alabama right now. If he’s working his rear end off, then I’m kind of excited about him. If he’s not, then I’ve got no interest in him being on our team.”
Harbaugh confirmed that the Ravens will pick up the contract option for 2011 first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith as this is the first year we’ve seen this part of the rookie system come into play after the collective bargaining agreement that went into effect in 2011 standardized four-year contracts for all drafted players. The system does present teams a fifth-year option to use for first-round picks entering the final year of their rookie deals. The Ravens hope to sign both Smith and wide receiver Torrey Smith — also entering the final year of his rookie deal — to long-term extensions to keep them in Baltimore.
Baltimore is still looking to draft a safety despite last week’s signing of Darian Stewart, and Harbaugh offered praise for Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who is projected to be a first-round pick and regarded as the top safety in the draft. General manager Ozzie Newsome said at the start of the offseason that the Ravens would be looking to add a more athletic safety with 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam expected to play closer to the line of scrimmage.
“Safeties are interchangeable these days,” Harbaugh said. “There are certain traits you look for. I’m looking at the safeties now in the draft. You want tacklers and you want guys with range and you wants guys with ball skills.”
The Ravens would also like to add depth on the defensive line following the free-agent departure of Arthur Jones, but 2013 third-round pick Brandon Williams is the current favorite to take Jones’ starting spot.
According to the coach, Kubiak recently put the finishing touches on the Ravens’ new offensive playbook before it was then distributed to players. Harbaugh was also told that quarterback Joe Flacco has plans to get together with his wide receivers for informal throwing sessions before the start of the offseason training program next month.