Baltimore Ravens Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta-along with the rest of the Ravens staff-has had a busy off-season.
And he may be just as anxious as the Baltimore Ravens fan-base out there to see how each piece of the puzzle that has been added to the Ravens roster this year fits into John Harbaugh’s grand scheme of things.
“This is a very good team that we’ve put together,” DeCosta told WNST’s own Rex Snider and Nestor Aparicio Saturday during WNST’s “Curing Cancer-One Call At a Time Marathon” benefiting Harbor Hospital. “And we’re just chomping at the bit to get this thing started.”
DeCosta, who has been with the organization since the team began play in Baltimore, has seen both the glory days of the Ravens in 2000 as well as the inability of the team to get over the hump in January, as the team has the last two years getting into the playoffs only to lose to the Steelers and the Colts.
Having been promoted last year from Director of College Scouting (a role he held previously from 2003-2008) to a more inclusive role as Player Personnel Director, DeCosta had a bigger role this off-season when it came to making choices that would be help the Ravens make that final push toward getting to the Super Bowl.
And DeCosta saw firsthand what this team needed: guys with talent who could make some big plays.
“I think what we wanted to do this off-season was to add some additional play-makers,” DeCosta said. “Play-makers come in all different shapes and sizes and positions.”
And finding more weapons and choices for quarterback Joe Flacco besides Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, and Ray Rice was the first need to address.
“We added the receivers that we wanted. Anquan Boldin was a huge priority for us.”
DeCosta was of course talking about the former Pro-Bowl wide receiver who was traded to the Ravens right before April’s draft for third-and-fourth round picks, a much better bargain for the Ravens than in years past, when Arizona was asking for Day-1 picks and more.
“Bringing in an Anquan Boldin, bringing in a Donte Stallworth, Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson…those are guys in their own way who can make plays for you, whether it’s down the field or in the red zone.” I think clearly one of the issues we wanted to address was getting better inside the 20, and one of the ways to do that is with a big, strong receiver like Anquan Boldin.”
But DeCosta didn’t say that the receivers the team had last year weren’t capable of doing that job. DeCosta said the biggest issue last year was just getting healthy guys on the field, and they feel like by bringing in fresh legs in the draft, mostly at tight end behind Heap, should open things up for Flacco.
“And we think Dixon and Pitta both have the potential opposite Todd Heap to post some mismatch-problems down there in the red zone. And hopefully we can be more effective down there. That was sort of a sore spot for us last year as we went back and looked at our whole team.”
“We moved the ball very well from the 20 to the 20, but we didn’t finish quite as much as we wanted to, and I think those guys are going to pave the way toward helping us this year.”
DeCosta said that Dixon and Pitta, selected one after the other in April’s draft, are very similar tight ends that if one doesn’t pan out, the other shouldn’t miss a beat.
“I think size wise they’re similar; both guys also run very well. I think Pitta’s probably a little more accomplished right now cause of his running routes while Dixon’s probably a little more athletic. Both guys catch the ball well,but Pitta probably has slightly better hands than Dixon.”
“Dixon’s probably the guy who can catch the ball and run away from people. And Pitta is more of a guy who on third-down can make a big play for you between the numbers, take a big hit and hold on. We think they complement each other very well, and also complement Todd Heap very well.”
DeCosta really said they aren’t overly impressed with either one over the other; in fact, the Ravens organization as a whole is just happy to have the two signed as early as possible and having them working to get better instead of arguing about money and numbers.
“Were excited both guys signed their contract early and they’ve been working really hard. And we look forward to those guys developing a nice report with Joe Flacco.”
While people were heralding the Ravens organization for adding a Pro Bowl caliber wide-out like Boldin, the Ravens also garnered some attention by reaching out to Donte Stallworth, who was recently reinstated by the NFL after being involved in a drunk-driving accident that left a man dead-with Stallworth at the wheel.
This was a move far beyond an organization that has valued the character and integrity of its players, but DeCosta said the Ravens did their homework on Stallworth and found that he was no different than any other player on their roster when it came to attitude, and that he has owned up to his mistakes.
I think he’s a contrite individual. He made a horrible mistake that he has to live with. We wanted to give him another chance.”
“We spoke to a lot of different people who knew Donte. We did our homework. We have a comfort level with him. We think he’s going to be a great addition to the team. Everything we’ve seen has been very, very impressive to this point. And hopefully this guy produces like we know he can.”
The other glaring need last year was the defensive secondary, especially when it comes to the corners and if All-Pro Ed Reed is going to come back healthy from hip and shoulder injuries.
What did DeCosta and Newsome do? They went out and signed former Pro Bowlers who were still available in corner back Walt Harris and safety Ken Hamlin. All-in-all, it’s about having some band aids-good ones-until guys like Lardarius Webb, Fabian Washington, and Haruki Nakamura can come back from their season-ending injuries from last year.
“Walt Harris impressed us in the OTAs that he was participating in, and also Kenny Hamlin is a guy I’ve always admired as a player. He’s had some really good seasons. I think a combination of all those guys, in conjunction with Lardarius coming back-who we were very high on-and Fabian Washington, I think we’ll have a solid group.”
“We think that we’ve got some young guys who can play, and we think the veteran presence we brought in post-June 1 will help us as well.”
And when it comes to Washington and Webb, DeCosta said that those two coming back this year from serious knee injuries can almost be considered signings on their own because most GMs and training staffs would have written both of them off for this year.
“I think its been reported that both guys are ahead of schedule, and that’s fair to say,” he said. “Both guys have worked extremely hard this off-season to put themselves in the position. I’ve never seen two players, quite honestly, who have worked as hard as those two to get on the field as early as possible.”
But maybe the move that was most-questioned before training camp starts is the most recent signing.
The Ravens recently reached out to former starting quarterback Marc Bulger, recently released by the Rams, and tabbed him to be the backup quarterback behind Joe Flacco.
This, with the Ravens already having former Heisman Winner Troy Smith and John Beck, who knows offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s playbook like the back of his hand, already on the roster.
And if Bulger were to hit his incentives in his contract this year, he could make more than Flacco does this year.
DeCosta explained that this move was by far one of the most important moves the team addressed, because if something were to happen to Flacco, the rest of these additions would be flushed down the toilet in a quarterback-driven league such as the NFL.
“I think we called on memories of guys like Randall Cunningham who helped us back earlier this decade win some games, some important games. The backup quarterback position is easy to overlook, and we didnt want to do that.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time building this team, trying to put this team in a position to compete in January, helping them to win in February. I think just the idea of having a really, really good backup quarterback who can win games for you down the stretch- if he has to play-is something we wanted to do.”
And when evaluating Bulger, they looked at his intangibles and what he brings to the table just as if Flacco wasn’t on the roster.
“He is a guy we’ve always admired. I think part of his struggles over the last few years have been because the talent level wasn’t quite as good as he’s been accustomed to. He’s a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, very very accurate passer, and he’s thrown for a ton of yards”
“He knows our offense very well because its essentially the same offense he played in St. Louis. It’s the same terminology under Mike Martz. The Mike Martz offense is very similar to the Cam Cameron offense, so there is very little learning curve.”
And Bulger seemed just as happy to be in Baltimore-and out of St. Louis-as much as Eric DeCosta, Ozzie Newsome, and John Harbaugh were to have him here.
“I think he’s at the point in his career, having lost a lot of games over the last couple years that he just wants to win,” DeCosta noted. ” He wants to be in a culture where he has a chance to win games, and I think Baltimore’s a good place for him.”
DeCosta was posed the question about the future of NFL football next year with the threat of a lockout between the owners and the players of the league. With no new collective bargaining agreement signed, the NFL did not renew its annual salary-cap, so teams were not restricted by the amount of money they could spend on free agents this year.
The Ravens appeared to be consistent players this off-season, so Aparicio and Snider posed this question to DeCosta: How did the cap-or lack thereof- affect the Ravens this year when it came to signing and acquiring players?
DeCosta’s response? It didn’t affect them at all. They just stuck to the same plan that was laid down from the top in owner Steve Bisciotti.
“We’ve tried to be responsible. We had a long time to really think about what our plans were going to be, and how we were going to handle the various situations. We’ve had a game-plan in place, and many many meetings on regards to the cap on how we’re going to operate.”
“It hasn’t affected what we’ve done. It hasn’t changed the way we do things. We’re still responsible. We’ve made moves that we would have made if there were a cap, quite honestly.We haven’t done anything based on not having a cap…it really hasn’t impacted us too much.”
And now that the off-season is over and the influx of free agents is over( or so we think), DeCosta likes the overall product they have on the field projected.
“Ozzie, Steve, Dick Cass, John Harbaugh, and myself have met many times on how we’re going to do things. We’re confident we have a good approach,we put a good team on the field, and that we’ll be successful this fall.”
“We’ve made a lot of good moves in my opinion. Obviously I’m biased, but I think that this team is in a position to win. I think the players and coaches realize that, as well as our scouting staff.”
And DeCosta said that he hopes to now as soon as possible when the season kicks off Monday, September 13th against the Jets.
“I’d like to see us start fast. It’s going to be tough with a tough schedule, but I think this team is better than last year’s team. ”
WNST thanks Eric DeCosta and several other Ravens who brought their celebrity status onto our marathon benefiting Harbor Hospital. If you still would like to contribute to the Harbor Hospital Cancer Center, follow the link here .
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