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Ravens’ 2014 draft may prove strong, but immediate questions remain

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Ravens’ 2014 draft may prove strong, but immediate questions remain

Posted on 11 May 2014 by Luke Jones

Assessing the Ravens’ 2014 draft now is akin to judging a gift based solely on its wrapping paper.

Only time will tell how many of their nine selections will pay dividends in 2014 and beyond. Even assistant general manager Eric DeCosta acknowledged recently that the evaluation process is as much art as it is science — and luck — with a number of variables ranging from talent and intelligence to health and work ethic determining how successful a player will be.

But the initial reaction to what the Ravens accomplished over the weekend and how it specifically relates to the 2014 season? Underwhelming and redundant.

It has little to do with questioning the quality of players they selected as much as it felt like a repeat of the 2013 draft with an overwhelming emphasis on defense — at the same positions — for a second consecutive year. After selecting a safety (Matt Elam), an inside linebacker (Arthur Brown), and a defensive tackle (Brandon Williams) with their first three picks last year, general manager Ozzie Newsome grabbed an inside linebacker (C.J. Mosley), a defensive tackle (Timmy Jernigan), and another safety (Terrence Brooks) with his first three selections over the weekend.

“You never know what kind of shape the draft is going to take,” DeCosta said Saturday evening. “We go into it blind, and this just ended up being really a draft about substance. We got guys that we think are going to be here for a long time and are going to help us win games. They’re guys in the fourth quarter that should be big-time players for us over time.”

It would be unfair to strongly doubt the talents of Mosley or Jernigan — two players viewed as top 20 talents by more than a few draft pundits — or the potential of Brooks to become defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ starting free safety as early as this coming season. But it is reasonable to question what the selections of Mosley and Jernigan mean for Brown and Williams, two players many expected to step into starting roles this season.

Of course, the Ravens would privately tell you they’ve found the eventual successors for veterans Daryl Smith, Haloti Ngata, and even Chris Canty after grabbing 5-technique defensive end Brent Urban with their first choice on Day 3 of the draft. But that doesn’t sound like dramatic improvement for this season as the Ravens try to bounce back from an 8-8 record and the first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era.

While no one would confuse the league’s 12th-ranked defense with the 2000 Ravens a year ago, it was the offense that was the biggest culprit that needed major reconstructive surgery this offseason.

It’s true that the Ravens have already worked to address the league’s 29th-ranked offense with the hiring of new coordinator Gary Kubiak, the free-agent additions of 35-year-old receiver Steve Smith and 31-year-old tight end Owen Daniels, and the trade for Tampa Bay center Jeremy Zuttah, but the need for a right tackle and the desire for another impact pass-catcher virtually went untouched this weekend. Yes, the Ravens will always take the best talent available, but the fact that they’ve taken only one offensive player in the first three rounds in the last two years — out of a total of seven choices — is concerning for that side of the football.

Third-round tight end Crockett Gillmore has encouraging upside, but many consider him more of a developmental prospect than someone ready to contribute this year behind Dennis Pitta and Daniels. And while the organization thinks fourth-round running back Lorenzo Taliaferro could be one of the steals of the entire draft, the 230-pound back will need to prove his accomplishments at FCS school Coastal Carolina will translate to the next level.

Are those additions enough to not just improve but dramatically improve what was an abysmal offense a year ago?

“We’re all laughing because the whole board was stacked toward the offense,” said Newsome at the conclusion of the third round. “But Eric has made the comment several times that we’re being contrary — everybody else in this league is drafting offensive players and we’ve been drafting defensive players. But it was stacked more toward the offensive side, but the way it fell for us, it’s been the defensive players.”

Truth be told, the Ravens are higher on second-year linemen Rick Wagner and Ryan Jensen than most assume as the former is currently projected to be the starting right tackle with the season just under four months away. But considering the albatross that was the offensive line for a franchise-worst running game a year ago, Penn State guard John Urschel being the lone lineman selected by Newsome — in the fifth round — understandably raises eyebrows.

And even after their other defensive additions, the Ravens’ decision not to draft a cornerback after the free-agent departure of Corey Graham will also put more pressure on Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson as they compete for the No. 3 corner spot.

That’s plenty of dependence on former late-round draft picks who’ve made little impact in their time with the Ravens.

“We need to give these young guys a chance,” Newsome said. “I think guys should fail on the field, so we’re going to give these guys the opportunity to fail on the field. That way we know whether they can [play] or not. But we feel real good about them. And the other aspect of that, bringing in a new set of coaches, and they’re getting a chance to put their eyes on them, and they feel good about the young guys that we drafted last year.”

That message sounds contradictory to how some now view the 2013 selections of Brown and Williams after Mosley and Jernigan were picked in this year’s draft. There’s no shame in acknowledging Mosley and Jernigan as superior prospects on their board, but it’s only natural to wonder if the Ravens feel they whiffed on last year’s class more than they lead on.

Make no mistake, the draft should always be about the long run, but that doesn’t prohibit a team from immediately improving its prospects for this season, which leaves this weekend with questions still unanswered.

The truth is the Ravens won a Super Bowl based largely on offense two years ago but have been more committed to improving the defensive side of the ball ever since. And though the defensive-minded Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl in February, the Ravens’ tireless dedication to defense doesn’t appear to mesh with what the league has become as DeCosta even pointed out over the weekend.

“We’ve added a nice influx of young defensive talent,” DeCosta said. “We’ve always been known as a team that has prided itself on defense. This is a blue-collar community, and I think they’re going to enjoy watching these guys play.”

Maybe so, but fans will also continue to hold their breath about the offense until the Ravens prove otherwise.

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C.J. Mosley’s great, but Ravens’ draft class will be defined by who they take next

Posted on 09 May 2014 by johngallo

It’s a great start. But one player rarely makes for a great draft class.

It’s not surprising the Ravens took C.J. Mosley, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound inside linebacker out of the University of Ozzie Newsome, I mean Alabama.

What’s not to like: He runs a 4.63 40-yard dash and can jump 35 inches. He was one of the best linebackers available in the draft – one so good the Ravens would have picked him as high as No. 10, if you believe Ravens Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta.

“There’s no question in my mind that he’s going to be ready to play from Day 1,” Newsome, the general manager, said.

Mosley won The Butkus Award in 2013, given to the nation’s top college linebacker, after posting 108 tackles, forcing a fumble and defending five passes for the Crimson Tide.

“He’s the one guy that you can’t find anyone to say anything bad about him – how reliable, accountable and dependable he is on and off the field,” Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz said.

Coach John Harbaugh agreed.

“You’re going to love him,” he said. “You’re going to love his work ethic. You’re going to love his personality. He’s going to be in here Monday ready to go to work.”

Mosley is the sixth inside linebacker on the roster, but he was simply too good to ignore.

“We know we got better as a football team because of the way C.J. plays,” Newsome said.

Yes, Baltimore should be better with Mosley, but whether the Ravens can transform from a mediocre, 8-8 team to one that makes the playoffs will be determined by who they add with their final seven picks.

The Ravens have the Nos. 48 (second round), 79, 99 (third rounds), 134, 138 (fourth rounds), 175 (fifth round) and 194 (sixth round) picks, so they have plenty of chances to fill glaring weaknesses.

Here are three areas the Ravens must address:

Offensive line: If the season started tomorrow, who would start at right tackle? Raise your hand if you had Ricky Wagner, a fifth-round pick who played in all 16 games with two starts as a rookie last year. Upgrading an offensive line that was terrible in protecting Flacco and just as bad in creating holes for Ray Rice is critical if the Ravens are going to return to the playoffs. The Ravens have been superb at picking offensive linemen in the first round. Ogden (1996) played in 11 Pro Bowls and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame, while Ben Grubbs (2007) made one. The odd man out: Oher, who never lived up to his lofty expectations and signed with the Titans during the offseason.

Options:

Rounds: 2-4: Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA, 6-4, 307; Cyrus Kouandijo, Alabama, 6-7, 332; Morgan Moses, West Virginia, 6-6, 312; Jack Mewhort, Ohio State, 6-6, 309; Antonio Richardson, Tennessee, 6-6, 236; Cameron Fleming, Stanford, 6-5, 323; Billy Turner, North Dakota State, 6-5, 315; Michael Schofield, Michigan, 6-7, 301.

Rounds 5-6: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, McGill, 6-5, 298; Justin Britt, Missouri, 6-6, 325; Seantrel Henderson, Miami, 6-7, 331; Matt Patchan, Boston College, 6-6, 302.

My pick: Richardson.

Safety: The Ravens’ bolstered the position by signing former St. Louis Ram Darian Stewart in free agency. Stewart played in 13 games (six starts) last season, when the 5-foot-11, 216-pounder made 36 tackles. The Ravens need someone to replace James Ihedigbo, who signed with Detroit during the offseason. The Ravens drafted Matt Elam in the first round last year as they try to find the next Ed Reed, a future Hall of Famer and former defensive player of the year who made eight Pro Bowls.

Options:

Rounds 2-4: Brock Vereen, Minnesota, 6-0, 199; Dezmen Southward, Wisconsin, 6-0, 211.

Rounds 5-6: Craig Loston, LSU, 6-1, 217; Vinnie Sunseri (recovering from torn ACL), Alabama, 5-11, 210; Ahmad Dixon, Baylor, 6-0, 212; Tre Boston, North Carolina, 6-0, 204.

My pick: Loston.

Running back: Rice, Bernard Pierce and Bernard Scott – that’s the Ravens’ depth chart at the position right now. If the Ravens enter the season with that Holy Trinity of Mediocrity, Flacco might have to throw until his arm falls off if the Ravens are to make a deep run in the playoffs. Rice, Pearce and Scott combined for 373 carries for 1,110 yards – an average of 2.9 yards per carry – and six touchdowns. If that happens this season, the Ravens will have a really high draft pick in 2015.

Options:

Rounds 2-4: Carlos Hyde, Ohio State, 6-0, 230; Bishop Sankey, Washington, 5-10, 209; Tre Mason, Auburn, 5-9, 207; Jeremy Hill, LSU, 6-1, 233; Andre Williams, Boston College, 5-11, 230; Terrance West, Towson, 5-9, 225; Devonta Freeman, Florida State, 5-8, 206; Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona, 5-9, 207.

Rounds 5-6: Charles Sims, West Virginia, 6-0, 214; Lache Seastrunk, Baylor, 5-10, 201; Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern, 5-9, 209; James White, Wisconsin, 5-9, 204; De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon, 5-9, 174

My pick: Thomas.

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Ravens scheduled to pick 17th overall as 2014 NFL Draft gets underway

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Ravens scheduled to pick 17th overall as 2014 NFL Draft gets underway

Posted on 08 May 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Slated to pick higher than they have in any draft since 2006, the Ravens enter another critical phase of the offseason with eight selections in the 2014 draft.

With clear needs at right tackle and free safety as well as the desire to improve their depth at cornerback, running back, and the defensive line, general manager Ozzie Newsome will anxiously await how the first 16 picks of the first round play out with uncertainty surrounding a group of quarterbacks with mixed reviews. The Ravens hope to see a run of signal-callers early to improve their chances of the likes of offensive tackles Taylor Lewan and Zack Martin as well as Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix being available when they’re on the clock with the 17th overall choice in the first round.

Newsome confirmed at last week’s pre-draft press conference that the Ravens have already fielded calls from teams looking to move up in the first round, and the longtime general manager has a reputation for being willing to move back to accumulate more picks. Baltimore has traded its original first-round choice for later selections in two of the last four drafts.

While most of the Ravens’ brain trust remains in Owings Mills, each of the 32 NFL clubs have representatives in New York who are responsible for delivering the selected names to league officials. Player personnel assistants Kenny Sanders and Matt Jansen are representing Baltimore in New York.

In addition to four original draft choices in this year’s draft, the Ravens were awarded four compensatory picks earlier this offseason. Compensatory picks are prohibited from being traded.

Ravens’ 2014 draft choices
Round 1 – 17th overall pick
Round 2 – 48th overall pick
Round 3 – 79th overall pick
Round 3 – 99th overall pick (compensatory)
Round 4 – 134th overall pick (compensatory)
Round 4 – 138th overall pick (compensatory)
Round 5 – 175th overall pick (compensatory)
Round 6 – 194th overall pick

Follow WNST on Twitter for live updates and analysis from Owings Mills throughout the weekend.

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Even with position holes, Ravens need game changer in this year’s draft

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Even with position holes, Ravens need game changer in this year’s draft

Posted on 07 May 2014 by Luke Jones

The 2014 NFL draft is nearly upon us and the Ravens’ positional needs have been discussed ad nauseam over the better part of the last four months, but it’s still anyone’s guess how the first round will play out on Thursday night.

A list of quarterback prospects with mixed reviews threatens to turn the first round upside down if quarterback-needy teams jump the gun early, but signal-callers falling down the board could cause other positional talent to dry up quickly by the time the Ravens are on the clock with the 17th overall pick.

With Baltimore’s biggest needs clearly being right tackle and safety — followed by cornerback, running back, and the defensive line in no particular order — general manager Ozzie Newsome can only hope a tackle prospect such as Michigan’s Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame’s Zack Martin or Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix slides just enough for the Ravens to pounce. But even with months of preparation and years of experience maximizing pick value, you’re ultimately at the mercy of the teams who pick in front of you.

“I think there is a lot of luck with the draft. That’s why we value picks as much as we do,” assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. “The more picks you have, the more chance you have of getting lucky on a guy. Our whole mindset is to get as many picks as you can and then just pick the best available players. We try to make it a science. In the end, it’s probably more art than science.”

It’s for that very reason that many pundits anticipate the Ravens moving back in the first round, particularly if a player at a need position isn’t at the top of their board or they feel they have a number of available players rated evenly when they’re scheduled to be on the clock. The Ravens have traded back from their original first-round pick twice in the last four years.

Newsome has already all but ruled out the possibility of moving up in the first round due to the Ravens only having four tradeable picks in this year’s draft unless they want to consider the risky proposition of dealing future selections.

The practice of moving back to collect more picks sounds good in theory, but that art to which DeCosta was referring hasn’t provided lucrative returns in recent years. That’s not to say Newsome hasn’t added quality players as cornerback Jimmy Smith, wide receiver Torrey Smith, left guard Kelechi Osemele, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, and safety Matt Elam were taken over the last three years, but the game-changing discoveries have been few and far between in recent years.

Consider for a moment that the Ravens selected at least one player who would make it to a Pro Bowl as a member of the organization in 10 of the first 13 drafts in Baltimore, but not a single Pro Bowl player has been chosen since 2008 when running back Ray Rice was taken in the second round. Of course, a run of five straight playoff appearances that came to an end last season also meant the Ravens were picking somewhere in the 20s or later in contrast to the many top-10 picks they used to pluck future stars.

“When you pick higher in the draft, you have a greater chance of hitting a home run,” DeCosta said. “When you’re picking lower, you’re going to hit a lot of singles and doubles. A lot of our top picks were the fourth pick in the draft, the sixth pick in the draft. You don’t want to pick up there. The challenge is when you do, you have to nail it. You have to find one of those impact guys. We want guys that come in, they contribute, they’re good citizens, they play right away. We don’t care about Pro Bowls; we care about Super Bowls.”

DeCosta’s point is a fair one, but a simple question illustrates the need for the Ravens to find some good fortune and strike it big with their highest selection since 2008.

How many great players — not good or solid ones — do the Ravens currently have?

For years, they reaped the annual benefits of Hall of Fame talent like Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed, but they’re long gone. Perennial Pro Bowl choices Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata still own strong reputations, but are they really elite talents at this stage? Was last season an aberration or only the start of a dramatic decline for three-time Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice?

Quarterback Joe Flacco has proven that he can be great as he was in the 2012 postseason, but last year showed he needs far better players around him to maximize his talent. Right guard Marshal Yanda is a great one at his position, but his impact isn’t going to be felt as dramatically playing as an interior lineman.

Trading back for more picks and filling needs with solid players are sound practices, but the Ravens’ best hope of quickly bouncing back from a disappointing 8-8 season a year ago is striking it rich with a game-changing talent or two. Of course, that’s easier said than done as no one really knows exactly what they’re getting in a player when they hand in their card and commissioner Roger Goodell walks to the podium with the announcement.

Wednesday offered a reminder of supreme talent not always being snatched up in the first 10 picks as Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman became the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL three years after he was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.

If a unique talent — North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron comes to mind in the first round — falls into their laps at any stage, positional needs must take a backseat as Newsome and the front office will figure it out at certain spots if required.

“Part of my job is to not only look at 2014, but I’ve got to be looking at 2015 and 2016 and 2017 and how the roster is going to shape itself,” Newsome said. “And you add into that our salary cap and guys that we’ve got the opportunity to retain or not retain. So, a lot of times we’ll make a pick based on two years from now, because we know we won’t be able to keep a certain player based on our salary cap.”

The Ravens not only need a strong draft this weekend, but more draft picks from recent years such as Elam, Upshaw, linebacker Arthur Brown, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and running back Bernard Pierce must emerge as major contributors and look more like triples or home runs than the singles they’ve been to this point.

It’s not an indictment on the Ravens’ draft preparation as much as it is a feeling that they’re overdue to hit one out of the park when you take a look at their history.

With their earliest choice in six years and trying to bounce back from the first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens need to find a game changer or two — regardless of what position that talent might play.

It’s about time they get lucky again.

“We try to look at statistics and different things [like] analytics,” DeCosta said. “In the end, it comes down to players — the motivation of the players, the passion of the players, how they fit your scheme. Injuries are a big factor, football intelligence is a big factor, toughness is a big factor. Those are intangibles; those are hard to measure.”

Hard to measure, indeed, but the Ravens once found those gems on a near-annual basis.

 

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Rice uncertainty won’t impact Ravens’ draft plans at running back

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Rice uncertainty won’t impact Ravens’ draft plans at running back

Posted on 30 April 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The 2014 NFL draft may only be a week away, but the Ravens’ intentions at the running back position were clear long before running back Ray Rice got into trouble in Atlantic City back in February.

The 27-year-old is scheduled to be arraigned for third-degree aggravated assault in New Jersey on Thursday, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh knew several weeks before the incident between Rice and future wife Janay Palmer allegedly took place that the Ravens would be looking for help at the running back position. With Rice’s legal situation unresolved and the NFL possibly levying a suspension, Baltimore is almost certain to make a significant addition at the position between now and the start of the season.

But that decision had more to do with Baltimore’s 30th-ranked running game and league-worst 3.1 yards per carry average than Rice’s status for the start of the 2014 season.

“We’ll deal with Ray when that time comes,” Newsome said. “But, in talking with John all the way back to when we went to Jupiter to spend time with [owner Steve Bisciotti], we’ve been talking about adding one, maybe two running backs to our team. And this was before the incident that happened in Atlantic City. We felt like we needed to add some depth at that position coming out of the 2013 season.”

The Ravens signed veteran Justin Forsett earlier this month, but a running back will likely be a target on either the second or third day of next week’s draft. Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta was complimentary of Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Auburn’s Tre Mason, Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, and Jeremy Hill of LSU, who are all projected to go in the second or third round. Baltimore has also met with Hyde, Boston College’s Andre Williams, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, and Towson’s Terrance West.

With new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak implementing a new system, the Ravens will be looking for a natural fit to thrive in a zone blocking scheme.

“You’ve got guys in that second round, third-round area. You’ve got some good later-round picks, too,” DeCosta said. “I think the draft is such at that position where you can get a guy in any round – second through seventh – that can help you play some good football.”

Ravens trading back in first round?

Many pundits have labeled this year’s draft class as one of the deepest in years, and the Ravens seem to support that sentiment as DeCosta claimed they have roughly 180 players they consider to be “draftable,” which is up from the typical 140 to 150 they have on their board in a given year.

With so many talented players available, many have wondered if the Ravens would consider moving back from the 17th overall pick if the right deal comes along, and Newsome confirmed Wednesday that he’s already received calls to do just that.

“If we move back four, five or six spots, we might still have the opportunity to get one or two of those players and get the additional pick,” Newsome said. “That’s how we look at it. Can we pick at 17? We’ll be prepared to pick at 17, but also we’ll be entertaining trades to be able to move back if we have to, if we want to.”

Newsome admitted it would be difficult for the Ravens to move up to draft a player in the first round since they only have four picks they’re permitted to trade. Baltimore dealt its fourth- and fifth-round choices to Jacksonville last fall to acquire left tackle Eugene Monroe and traded its seventh-round selection to Indianapolis for offensive lineman A.Q. Shipley last spring.

The Ravens have a total of four compensatory picks — a third, two fourths, and a fifth — but those selections cannot be traded.

“I could probably say if one or two players start getting really close to us, we’d be clamoring trying to go up and get them,” Newsome said. “I can just say, I know John, I know Eric and I know [director of college scouting Joe Hortiz], and we’ll be telling Steve that we need to go get this player because we feel like he can impact us that much.”

2007 trade that wasn’t to be

Newsome confirmed a report that surfaced earlier this week about the Ravens nearly pulling off a trade in 2007 to select quarterback Brady Quinn from Notre Dame before the Cleveland Browns ultimately made a deal with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Ravens held the 29th overall pick and began discussing the quarterback as he fell in the first round, even calling Quinn and his agent Tom Condon to gather information. However, the Browns were willing to pony up their second-round pick and 2008 first-round choice for the 22nd pick while the Ravens simply stayed put and settled for left guard Ben Grubbs, a five-year starter and one-time Pro Bowl selection in Baltimore.

“What happened is we were in the midst of making a trade – a trade with the team that ended up making the trade to Cleveland – and Cleveland offered more than we did, which was [then-general manager Phil Savage],” Newsome said. “Phil offered more than we did. And so, they ended up drafting Brady Quinn, and we did not get him, because what Dallas and Jerry [Jones] wanted in the trade from the other team, we did not feel like we should go up to that level.”

While no one knows how Quinn might have fared had he landed in Baltimore, the Fighting Irish product and Ohio native was a flop in Cleveland where he made only 12 starts and threw 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Quinn said in an interview with AM 1570 WNST on Wednesday that he’d never spoken to the Ravens during the pre-draft process but often thinks how his career might have turned out differently had they pulled off the trade instead of the Browns.

Ravens fans can only breathe a sigh of relief seven years later as the organization selected quarterback Joe Flacco a year later.

Looking at cornerbacks

Most attention has gone to obvious needs at the right tackle and free safety positions in the early rounds, but the Ravens have yet to add a cornerback to fill the void of veteran Corey Graham departing via free agency.

Newsome and Harbaugh have both complimented the potential of young cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson, but neither has extensive experience. Hortiz estimated that as many as 12 cornerbacks will be drafted in the first three rounds with Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, and Texas Christian’s Jason Verrett among the candidates to go in the first round.

“We’ve always felt you can’t have enough corners,” Newsome said, “especially when you’re in a league now where it’s a passing league with people putting three or four receivers in the games. You don’t have too many corners.”

Auburn guy sticks up for Alabama

In the wake of Rolando McClain’s latest retirement and left tackle prospect Cyrus Kouandjio’s medical concerns at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, the University of Alabama has received plenty of scrutiny in terms of how reliable their players are at the NFL level, a sentiment that doesn’t sit well with Newsome.

Ironically, it was Hortiz, an Auburn alum, who defended Newsome’s alma mater during Wednesday’s pre-draft press conference.

“These guys, they may fail physicals or be question marks, but they are tough players,” Hortiz said. “They play through injuries, and they play in the NFL. Last year, the running back in Green Bay (Eddie Lacy) failed physicals, and he was rookie of the year. These Alabama guys, they get beat up; they play through it. [Ravens linebacker] Courtney Upshaw had a bad shoulder, and he’s a rugged, tough guy.

“I hate to hear the Alabama guys get beat up [in the media] so much – and I’m an Auburn guy – because all they do is play through pain, and they have such a mental and physical toughness. They get in the NFL and they do the same thing. Sorry to strike a nerve, but I’ve just been hearing it so much.”

 

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Seven players to watch in Senior Bowl from the Ravens’ perspective

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Seven players to watch in Senior Bowl from the Ravens’ perspective

Posted on 24 January 2014 by Luke Jones

Though many have considered this year’s Senior Bowl to be fielding its worst batch of NFL talent in recent memory, that didn’t stop the Ravens’ brass from flocking to Mobile, Ala. this week to continue preparations for the 2014 draft to be held in early May.

After 73 underclassmen entered last year’s draft and nearly 30 prospects declined this year’s invitation because of injury or personal preference, it’s understandable not to find a bumper crop of first-round talent, but that doesn’t mean general manager Ozzie Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz haven’t identified players who could be of interest to Baltimore.

Having needs all over the offensive line as well as at wide receiver, free safety, and tight end, the Ravens could be in the hunt for the proverbial “best player available” more than ever with few positions on either side of the ball overflowing with talent. Baltimore could also be looking to improve its depth at running back and along the defensive line once you move past the more pressing needs.

Much of the best talent in this year’s draft can be found among the record 98 underclassmen declaring early, but the Senior Bowl (Saturday 4 p.m. on NFL Network) will contain prospects projected to go from the second half of the first round all the way through the seventh and final round in May.

With each number representing a loose — and very early — projection of the round in which the prospect could be drafted, here are seven players of varying degrees of talent to watch in the 2014 Senior Bowl who could be of interest to the Ravens:

1. OL Zack Martin (Notre Dame)
6-foot-4, 305 pounds
Skinny: A four-year starter for the Fighting Irish, Martin’s performance at practices in Mobile turned plenty of heads to solidify his standing as a likely first-round pick. He doesn’t have the length you’d like to see in an offensive tackle, but draft experts think he has the technique and quickness to be a Pro Bowl guard at worst. His versatility makes him an attractive option for the Ravens, who aren’t set at any position on next year’s offensive line other than right guard. 

2. WR Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt)
6-foot-3, 206 pounds
Skinny: Underclassmen such as Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, and Marqise Lee dominate the top of the wide receiver rankings, which could make Matthews a very attractive pick in the second round. Very productive in his collegiate career and considered to be good after the catch, Matthews is a cousin to Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and is a smart player with a good feel for the game. With the Ravens on the hunt for a receiver, Matthews would be a fine choice if they go in a different direction in the first round.

3. FS Terrence Brooks (Florida State)
5-foot-11, 200 pounds
Skinny: Brooks played cornerback early in his collegiate career before switching to safety and excelling for the Seminoles. A standout performer in the national championship game earlier this month, he is strong against the run but has the range to play in the back end of the defense. With 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam expected to shift to strong safety this coming season, Brooks could be an intriguing Day 2 pick to be a factor at the free safety spot. 

4. OT Seantrel Henderson (Miami)
6-foot-7, 331 pounds
Skinny: The massive right tackle never realized his full potential with the Hurricanes, but his combination of size and quickness makes him an intriguing pick for any team willing to take the risk. With the Ravens’ stated desire to be much bigger across the offensive line, Henderson would be an interesting mid-round selection to take the place of free agent Michael Oher at right tackle. However, his history of suspensions due to violating team rules at Miami brings his maturity into serious question.

5. RB James White (Wisconsin)
5-foot-10, 195 pounds
Skinny: After living in the shadow of Montee Ball in previous years, White rushed for more than 1,400 yards in his senior season and was praised for his ability in pass protection during Senior Bowl practices this week. Though not an impressive physical specimen, White runs with toughness and is a capable receiver out of the backfield. With Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce both coming off poor seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens take a look at a running back in the later rounds. 

6. WR Kevin Norwood (Alabama)
6-foot-2, 195 pounds
Skinny: Besides the obvious Alabama connection that Newsome will like, Norwood could be an intriguing late-round option at wideout and has a reputation as a target who can effectively move the chains. Blessed with good size, Norwood is sound fundamentally and has a championship pedigree playing for the Crimson Tide. Speed is the biggest question mark for Norwood, which will likely make him a late-round pick, but he could be an intriguing developmental player working out of the slot.

7. P Kirby Van Der Kamp (Iowa State)
6-foot-4, 202 pounds
Skinny: It’s no secret that Sam Koch’s $2.8 million cap number for 2014 makes him a prime candidate to be cut, and Van Der Kamp is viewed by some to be the best punter in this year’s draft class. Whether the Ravens choose the late rounds or simply elect to go the undrafted free agent route, there’s a reasonable chance someone other than Koch will be punting for Baltimore in 2014. Van Der Kamp wouldn’t appear to be a bad choice in this batch of rookies. 

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DeCosta reportedly contacted by Dolphins for general manager opening

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DeCosta reportedly contacted by Dolphins for general manager opening

Posted on 10 January 2014 by Luke Jones

It appears to be that time of year again when NFL teams come calling for Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta about their general manager openings.

According to the Miami Herald, the Miami Dolphins have contacted DeCosta in regards to their opening following the dismissal of general manager Jeff Ireland. However, head coach Joe Philbin remains in place, which would certainly be a sticking point for any high-profile candidate having interest in the Dolphins job.

Multiple outlets were immediately shooting down the possibility of DeCosta having any interest Friday morning.

DeCosta has already been publicly named the heir apparent to Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome by owner Steve Bisciotti and is compensated as well as many general managers around the league, factors that have resulted in him declining interview requests in the past. The 42-year-old expressed his loyalty to the Ravens as recently as last offseason, and it’s difficult to imagine the Miami job being very attractive with the fallout of the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga continuing to hang over the head of the organization and Philbin still remaining as head coach.

“I love being a part of the Ravens and plan to stay here and help them win championships,” DeCosta said in a statement issued by the Ravens at the end of the 2012 regular season.  “I have no intentions of leaving this team.”

Of course, one should never say never in terms of his future, but DeCosta has been with the Ravens since 1996 and is considered a critical part of the organization’s present and future. It’s difficult to view Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ inquiry as anything more than a pipe dream considering DeCosta has turned down far more attractive job inquiries before.

The 57-year-old Newsome reiterated last January that DeCosta was the man who will eventually take his place but wasn’t thinking about retirement anytime soon.

“I know he’s going to be [the successor],” Newsome said during the week of Super Bowl XLVII. “Steve has said that. I know the Ravens will be in good hands when that time comes. That’s a long time away though.”

 

 

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McClain does Ravens favor in wasting no time with latest arrest

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McClain does Ravens favor in wasting no time with latest arrest

Posted on 22 April 2013 by Luke Jones

Perhaps the Ravens should thank troubled linebacker Rolando McClain for not waiting until after this weekend’s draft to show his true colors yet again.

After meeting with general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh less than two weeks ago to learn what was expected of him in receiving an opportunity to join one of the model organizations in the NFL, McClain found trouble once again by being arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in his hometown of Decatur, Ala. on Sunday night. The former Raiders linebacker — released earlier this month with his old team carrying $11 million in dead money this season just to be rid of him — showed how much he thought of the second chance awarded by the defending Super Bowl champions.

Even if the move appeared to go against everything the Ravens try to do in adding high-character players, the financial risk was minimal and Newsome made it very clear where McClain stood when asked about the 2010 first-round pick last week. A $700,000 base salary that included $400,000 in incentives based on playing time — none of the money guaranteed — reflects that the Ravens weren’t expecting much.

“Rolando is just getting an opportunity to come and make our 53-man squad,” Newsome said bluntly. “That’s it.”

To this point, all the Ravens have invested in the 23-year-old is time and an opportunity; he’s already proven to be unworthy of either.

But the timing of McClain’s latest run-in with the law reaffirms the Ravens’ need to address their inside linebacker position. By no means was it a position Newsome and the front office planned to neglect after McClain’s addition, but his projected status to man one of the Ravens’ starting inside positions in their base 3-4 system would have made it easier to focus on other positions of need such as offensive tackle, wide receiver, and safety.

The temptation would have been there to forgo an inside linebacker if players of similar stature at other need positions remained on their draft board, but not anymore.

“You always look at need. We say best player available, but you have to factor need into the equation,” assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said last week. “If the best player available is a quarterback in the first round, we’re not going to take him. You have to look at the best player available based on need. Obviously, if you have three players that are next to each other in your sequence and one player is a big need and the other players aren’t needs — even if the other players may be ahead of that one player that is a need — you’re going to flip your list because they’re all close.”

The Ravens shouldn’t waste any more time on McClain after he spit in the face of the gift handed to him by Newsome and Harbaugh. Details of his Sunday arrest remain vague and McClain is certainly entitled to due process as it relates to his legal standing as a citizen, but the fact that he even put himself in such a position again is enough reason to warrant the termination of his contract.

After veterans such as Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed exited amidst speculation that their opinionated locker-room presence was at least partially the reason why they were jettisoned, allowing McClain another chance sends a message to the rest of the locker room that such off-field conduct will be tolerated. The Ravens shouldn’t expect all players to be perfect — the prize of their free-agent class, Elvis Dumervil, doesn’t have a spotless reputation — but a headache like McClain who’s proven to be no better than a solid two-down linebacker to this point in his career simply isn’t worth the hassle and sleepless nights spent wondering what he’s doing.

Supporters of McClain’s signing pointed to the dysfunctional atmosphere cultivated by Oakland over the years, but that doesn’t provide an excuse to be a bad citizen. Newly-signed safety Michael Huff spent the first seven years of his career with the inept Raiders, but you didn’t see him build such a rap sheet or receive a suspension for conduct detrimental to the organization like McClain did last year.

The Ravens spent their offseason adding solid character veterans such as defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears to help complement a locker room that lost a significant amount of leadership following Super Bowl XLVII. A marginal player like McClain only threatens to disrupt a winning culture by sending the wrong message to the rest of the team already assembled in Owings Mills.

He simply isn’t worth the headache, a possibility the Ravens acknowledged with such a small investment in the former Alabama standout and confirmed by his inability to stay out of trouble before even taking part in his first practice with his new team.

Anyone’s deserving of a second chance, but McClain wasted no time in showing he’s not committed to the Baltimore Ravens.

That’s why Newsome will focus this week on finding the inside linebacker who is.

And he can thank McClain for the ungrateful reminder.

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Retirement “a long time away” for Ravens general manager Newsome

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Retirement “a long time away” for Ravens general manager Newsome

Posted on 29 January 2013 by Luke Jones

NEW ORLEANS — Much has been discussed about the pending retirement of Ray Lewis and the uncertain future of veterans such as Ed Reed and Matt Birk, but Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome eliminated himself from that discussion on Tuesday.

Some have speculated that the 56-year-old executive might ponder retirement if the Ravens win their second Super Bowl title in franchise history on Sunday, but Newsome eliminated that possibility when speaking with reporters at media day in New Orleans. The Ravens promoted Newsome’s right-hand man Eric DeCosta to the title of assistant general manager last January, but Newsome isn’t ready to step down just yet despite his confidence that the organization will be in fine shape after he retires.

Owner Steve Bisciotti has already publicly stated that DeCosta is the heir apparent to Newsome in Baltimore.

“I know he’s going to be [the successor],” Newsome said. “Steve has said that. I know the Ravens will be in good hands when that time comes. That’s a long time away though.”

DeCosta has often been linked to other organizations seeking a general manager, but the 41-year-old is being paid as well as many general managers in the league and has strong ties to the area through his wife’s family. He has been with the organization since starting as a player personnel assistant in 1996.

Newsome explained why DeCosta has been coveted by so many teams in recent years.

“Eric can process information very quickly,” Newsome said. “He came up through the program. You have to look at Phil [Savage], you look at George [Kokinis], you look at [James "Shack" Harris] — all of those guys were very good. With Eric and his ability to process information so quick, I don’t think he ever allows himself to put himself above the Ravens. Everything he wants to do, he wants to do for the Ravens.”

Newsome chuckled as he addressed his future and admitted last week how much fun he is having with the role after years of working in isolation from players as he studied film and worked on reports for potential college draft prospects.

The architect of the AFC champions has cultivated relationships with role players such as cornerback Chykie Brown and defensive lineman Bryan Hall while growing closer with the stars of the franchise.

“You get a chance to be around these guys,” Newsome said last week. “I’ve seen [Terrell] Suggs change, and I’ve seen Ray [Lewis] change, and I’ve seen Ed [Reed change]. To watch these guys grow and mature. Evaluating players is one thing, doing contracts is another, going down to the principal’s office and spending time with Steve [Bisciotti], that’s another thing. To be there with those guys and to watch those guys grow up, you can’t separate that. You can’t find anything better than that, so I enjoy it.”

FLACCO UPDATE: Newsome once again addressed quarterback Joe Flacco’s expiring contract, reiterating his intention for the fifth-year product to remain in Baltimore for years to come.

The Ravens will attempt to sign him to a long-term contract to avoid the need to use the franchise tag that is estimated to be $14.6 million for a quarterback in the 2013 season.

“People fail to realize that he was a dropped pass away from getting to the Super Bowl last year,” Newsome said. “So, what he did was just back up to what he did a year ago. He’s doing a great job. He has great chemistry with Jim Caldwell. Hopefully, as long as I’m the general manager in Baltimore, he’s the quarterback in Baltimore.”

 

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Harbaugh silent on status of Lewis — and everyone else — for Sunday

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Harbaugh silent on status of Lewis — and everyone else — for Sunday

Posted on 31 December 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have played their cards close to the vest when it comes to their plans for veteran linebacker Ray Lewis and his improbable comeback.

If Monday was any indication, we should expect much of the same this week as they turn their sights toward a wild-card meeting with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Lewis began practicing on Dec. 5 and was moved from injured reserve to the 53-man roster last week but hasn’t played in a game since tearing his right triceps on Oct. 14.

Asked what it would take for Lewis to finally return to game action this Sunday, Harbaugh offered no indication whether he expected the 37-year-old to play against Indianapolis. However, it’s difficult to envision the 17th-year linebacker not giving it a go with Sunday potentially being his last game in Baltimore.

“It will take me not putting his name on a piece of paper for the [inactives], and you will find out an hour-and-a-half before the game whether or not that takes place,” Harbaugh said. “It’s all going to be a game-time decision as far as anybody knows. That’s where we’re at. This is the playoffs.”

The Ravens have been more tight-lipped than usual in recent weeks regarding their slew of injuries, and it will only get worse as Harbaugh tries to keep their plans under wraps.

Sixteen players were listed on last week’s injury report and six starters were ruled inactive for the final regular-season game.

“We’re not talking about injuries, we’re not talking about activations,” Harbaugh said. “We really don’t care what you or anybody else thinks about that — as much as we love you — and we’re getting ready to play a football game.

Critics question whether Harbaugh’s tactics — which are, in fairness, becoming more common across the league — really provide any tangible advantage over opponents, but the Baltimore coach was unconcerned with anyone questioning him on Monday.

“I don’t think it really matters,” said Harbaugh when asked if the team truly benefited from hiding injury information. “I think that’s what we’re doing.”

No more shenanigans

Asked to revisit a pair of frustration penalties committed against Bengals rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict, Harbaugh offered an understanding tact but a matter-of-fact stance in responding to fouls committed by running back Ray Rice and guard Bobbie Williams.

The Ravens committed 10 for 102 yards in Week 17 and finished 31st in the league with 111 penalties this season.

“We don’t need any of that. We don’t need any penalties,” Harbaugh said. “We certainly don’t need any post-snap shenanigans. I don’t care what they do. I don’t care what they say. We don’t need a flag thrown. [We need to] be smart enough to make sure the flag is thrown on the other guy. It’s just that simple.”

In the first quarter, Rice was flagged for unnecessary roughness after pushing Burfict to the ground following a chop block and said after the game the rookie linebacker talked trash throughout the day.

“Ray was trying to finish a block. I thought it was more of an aggressive foul than anything else,” Harbaugh said. “I would counsel him not to do that in the future, but he felt like the play was still on. He didn’t know the play was over; he thought he was getting up to go rush the passer. Not that we excuse that. We don’t want any personal foul penalties.”

Williams’ infraction occurred in the second quarter when he retaliated after Burfict kicked him, according to the veteran offensive lineman. It was an uncharacteristic moment for the 36-year-old, who is regarded as one of the nicest guys in the Baltimore locker room.

“There wasn’t much there, but there was enough to be called, obviously, because it was called,” Harbaugh said. “We counseled him not to get involved in any of that.”

Black Monday

With seven head coaches receiving their walking papers on what’s become the annual “Black Monday” around the NFL, Harbaugh saw his good friend and mentor Andy Reid join the list of dismissed after 14 seasons as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Harbaugh and Reid spent nine years together as the former served as the Eagles’ special teams coordinator for eight seasons and secondary coach in 2007 before being hired to become the third head coach in the history of the Ravens on Jan. 18, 2008.

Joining Reid on the unemployment line were Chicago’s Lovie Smith, San Diego’s Norv Turner, Arizona’s Ken Whisenhunt, Cleveland’s Pat Shurmur, Kansas City’s Romeo Crennel, and Buffalo’s Chan Gailey.

“The toughest thing is on the families,” Harbaugh said. “As coaches, we all understand the nature of the business. Players, too, understand the nature of it. That’s part of the challenge, but it’s hard on families. It’s hard on kids who have to change schools, pick up and move and start in other cities and things like that. That’s what you feel for the most, and that’s kind of where your prayers go out towards.”

Of the seven coaches fired on the day after the conclusion of the 2012 regular season, three were hired — and have now been dismissed already — after Harbaugh took the Baltimore coaching job.

DeCosta staying put

In what should come as no surprise, teams have already contacted the Ravens with requests to interview assistant general manager Eric DeCosta regarding potential openings.

However, the longtime Ravens executive isn’t going anywhere. DeCosta was awarded a long-term, high-priced contract last year and is the heir apparent to general manager Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore. The Ravens reaffirmed that reality once again on Monday.

“I love being a part of the Ravens and plan to stay here and help them win championships,” DeCosta said in an official statement released by the Ravens. “I have no intentions of leaving this team.”

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