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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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Not paying injured Suggs would be costly move for Ravens’ future

Posted on 17 May 2012 by Luke Jones

Whether you believe Terrell Suggs’ claim that he partially tore his Achilles tendon while training in Arizona or just can’t shake the lingering whispers that he suffered the injury playing basketball, one thing is certain.

The Ravens are under no obligation to pay the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year his scheduled $4.9 million base salary in 2012 because the injury took place away from the team’s Owings Mills facility.

In a vacuum, the logical move would be to place Suggs on the non-football injury list, which would remove him from the 53-man roster for the first six weeks of the regular season while he tries to recover in time for the second half of the season. However, unlike the physically unable to perform list, this designation would allow the organization to withhold the portion of his salary covered by the games missed or the entire $4.9 million should Suggs be unable to return during the season.

It would clear salary cap room to create more flexibility in tweaking the roster or potentially acquiring another pass-rush specialist such as the Giants’ Osi Umenyiora in the unlikely scenario that a deal could be struck.

But the short-term cap relief would have far-reaching consequences for general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens in the real world of the NFL. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean it’s the wise action to take.

Though not held in the same light as future Hall of Fame defensive players Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, Suggs has etched his name into the legacy of the defense in nearly a decade of exceptional play. The 29-year-old has been a highly-regarded member of the organization who never squawked after twice being designated the team’s franchise player before signing a six-year, $62.5 million contract in July 2009.

An attempt to withhold his base salary might do irreparable damage to the two sides’ relationship with two years remaining on Suggs’ contract following the 2012 season. While it remains to be seen whether Suggs is able to regain his previous form as one of the most feared defensive players in the league, such an act could be viewed as a slap in the face to a player whose motivation occasionally came into question early in his career. And it probably wouldn’t create the proper mindset for a man attempting to come back from a severe injury at an accelerated rate.

The reach of this decision stretches beyond the injured Suggs, impacting the current locker room and even future Ravens not yet with the franchise. One of the reasons why the Ravens have been so successful over the years is their player-friendly reputation, attracting talented players who want to buy into the organization and continue its winning ways. To go after Suggs’ wallet would be a clear message to players that the organization will do the same thing to them should they land in a similar position one day.

The Ravens have a certain way of doing things and stripping Suggs of his base salary — even if it’s within their rights — doesn’t conform with the philosophies implemented by owner Steve Bisciotti, Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, and head coach John Harbaugh. As displeased as they might be with the circumstances that led to Suggs’ injury, it’s simply not a battle worth fighting with a valued member of their family they hope will continue to contribute in years to come.

Which leads to the dirty little secret regarding Suggs and the circumstances that led to the Achilles injury.

The new collective bargaining agreement prohibits teams from opening their training facilities until the middle of April, a stipulation the union wanted in order to provide more time off for its players. However, teams clearly expect players to begin training for the new season long before that time and any player not doing so is asking to eventually lose his job to someone else.

But doing so puts them at risk of losing money should they sustain an injury from any activity — such as lifting weights or running — occurring away from the team’s facility. Taking money from a player — even if the circumstances are questionable but not egregious — sets a dangerous precedent that might cause others to question their commitment and how hard they work away from Owings Mills if it’s going to put them at financial risk.

And that would jeopardize the top priority of the organization.

Winning.

The organization prides itself on the winning environment it’s created over the last 17 years. Suggs buys into that atmosphere as much as anyone — even if you think he may have used questionable judgment prior to the injury.

The Ravens may still elect to handle the matter privately with Suggs as WNST.net’s Drew Forrester reported at the time of the injury that the linebacker has a clause in his contract that subjects him to a $250,000 fine for participating in any unapproved physical activities. And that’s perfectly within their rights if that’s the route they choose to take.

But publicly taking a hardline stance with one of the best players in franchise history sends the wrong message to not only Suggs but to every other player in the organization. It draws a line in the sand saying our family atmosphere and winning culture aren’t as authentic as we made them out to be.

Such an action would damage their reputation as one of the most player-friendly organizations in the NFL.

And that’s worth far more to them than the $4.9 million — or some portion of it — potentially saved in 2012.

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Ravens officially name DeCosta Assistant GM

Posted on 17 May 2012 by WNST Staff

The Baltimore Ravens announced several promotions within their personnel department on Thursday: Eric DeCosta has been named Assistant General Manager, Joe Douglas has been elevated to National Scout, and David Blackburn has been tabbed an Area Scout.

DeCosta, 41, who has served as the Ravens’ Director of Player Personnel the past three years, joined the franchise in an entry-level position in 1996. He moved his way up through the personnel ranks, first as an Area Scout, then as Director of College Scouting, and was subsequently promoted to Director of Player Personnel in 2009.

DeCosta works closely with Executive Vice President/General Manager Ozzie Newsome to oversee both the college and pro scouting departments. During his tenure as the scouting director, the Ravens drafted Pro Bowlers OLB Terrell Suggs (’03), DT Haloti Ngata (’06), G Ben Grubbs (’07), G Marshal Yanda (’07), FB Le’Ron McClain (’07) and RB Ray Rice (’08).

“When we extended Eric’s contract earlier this year, we changed his title to Assistant GM,” Newsome said. “As Eric continues to grow in the personnel department, he is becoming a vital part of the decision-making process.”

Entering his 13th season with the Ravens, Douglas, 35, has served as the team’s Area Scout Southeast since 2009. From 2003-07, he evaluated players in the Northeast, and in 2008, scouted the entire East Coast. Douglas played a key role in scouting and evaluating first-round pick QB Joe Flacco – the Ravens’ all-time leading passer – and Rice, the two-time Pro Bowler.

Additionally, Douglas has organized and coordinated the team’s post-draft rookie free agent signing process, which over the past several seasons has produced standout players such as LB Jameel McClain, LB Dannell Ellerbe and WR LaQuan Williams.

“Joe is so deserving of his promotion to national scout,” DeCosta stated. “He’s a top evaluator and communicator, and he’s been loyal to the Ravens over the years. In his expanded role, he’ll be scouting players across the country, which only makes us better. We are very excited for Joe.”

Blackburn, 29, joined the Ravens as a Player Personnel Assistant in 2007 after serving one year as a graduate assistant at Butler University coaching cornerbacks. He has spent the past five seasons working with Baltimore’s scouting staff in a number of roles, including preparing advance scouting reports of upcoming opponents, analyzing free agent prospects for pro personnel, scouting draftable collegiate players at multiple schools and helping coordinate in-season free agent workouts/visits.

In his new position as an Area Scout, the 2004 graduate of DePauw University will scout prospects at schools in the Northwest, Southwest and Midwest regions.

“We are looking forward to working with David in his new role as an Area Scout,” Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz said. “He has done a great job the past five years working in both our pro and college departments, and he has received a well-earned promotion. David has a strong understanding of the type of player and person we look for in a ‘Raven.’ We’re confident he’ll give us another good set of eyes and ears to continue identifying the prospects we value.”

The Ravens also announced that Mark Azevedo has assumed the title of Area Scout Southeast, formerly held by Douglas. Azevedo, 30, was named an Area Scout in 2010, focusing the majority of his attention on schools in the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest regions. He originally joined the Ravens as a Player Personnel Assistant in 2005 and will now shift his primary responsibilities to the Southeast.

Additionally, Kenny Sanders, who spent the past two seasons interning in the team’s scouting department, has been hired as a Player Personnel Assistant. A 2004 graduate of Gettysburg College, he was a three-year letterman while playing defensive back. A Baltimore native, Sanders, 30, prepped at the McDonogh School.

Ravens “20/20 Club” Graduates: Current Personnel Staff
DeCosta, Hortiz, Douglas, Azevedo and Blackburn are all current graduates of the Ravens’ “20/20 Club,” which includes members of the team’s personnel staff who started with the organization as young personnel assistants and grew into evaluators with more input. The term “20/20” refers to hiring 20-year-olds for $20,000. According to Newsome, however, “The guys actually started when they were a little older than 20 and for more than $20,000, but that’s what we call them.”

Name                        Joined Ravens       Current Title
George Kokinis (Cle.)      1991                 Senior Personnel Assistant
Eric DeCosta                    1996                 Assistant General Manager
Joe Hortiz                        1998                 Director of College Scouting
Chad Alexander              1999                 Assistant Director of Pro Personnel
Joe Douglas                     2000                 National Scout
Mark Azevedo                2005                 Area Scout Southeast
David Blackburn             2007                 Area Scout

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Lacking sizzle, Ravens get creative to address pressing needs in draft

Posted on 28 April 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Trying to assess the Ravens’ 2012 NFL Draft the weekend it takes place is like a movie critic writing a review based on a trailer.

It’s no better than an educated guess, with no one really knowing what the future holds for the eight college players selected by Baltimore in the final weekend of April. But one thing appeared certain based on the expressions and comments of general manager  Ozzie Newsome and director of player personnel Eric DeCosta at the post-draft press conference.

The Ravens’ brass was frustrated at times and really had to work to land their players this weekend. There weren’t many high-profile names, but the front office did what they needed to do to try to address their most pressing concerns entering the 2012 season.

“I think we probably had to manufacture some runs this year,” DeCosta said. “We had some players that we liked and they got picked, and we had to get creative quickly on the fly. I thought the trade opportunity in the first round was fantastic. We were prepared.”

The stretch to which DeCosta was referring likely began after offensive tackle Riley Reiff was selected by Detroit with the 23rd pick. Stanford guard David DeCastro, Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower, Illinois pass rusher Whitney Mercilus, and Wisconsin center Kevin Zeitler came off the board in that order following Reiff, and all were players the Ravens would have strongly considered with the 29th pick.

It’s hard to argue with the end result of the Ravens trading back to the 35th pick and selecting Alabama linebacker-defensive end Courtney Upshaw, who provides a legitimate pass-rush threat to complement All-Pro linebacker on the opposite edge. His underwhelming workout numbers caused Upshaw to slip into the second round, but his pedigree playing for an SEC defensive powerhouse makes him a good bet to become another force in the Baltimore defense — even if not overnight.

“He is a really explosive player and heavy-handed,” director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. “He plays hard and he is versatile. He has played with his hand down and up, so he can stand up on two feet and play and then get down and play in the sub packages as a rusher.”

The Ravens’ other two Day Two selections, Iowa State offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele and Temple running back Bernard Pierce, look like solid additions. More will be initially expected of Osemele, who will be asked to provide serious competition against second-year lineman Jah Reid for the Ravens’ vacant left guard spot. Pierce’s addition not only fills the void left behind by the retiring backup Ricky Williams but provides an insurance policy should Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice hold out during training camp with contract talks moving at a snail’s pace.

But after the Ravens’ first three selections, the projections become far trickier as Newsome and the front office used their next three selections on FCS players with plenty of upside but many question marks as well.

The organization envisions Gino Gradkowski of Delaware as its center of the future, but there’s always the doubt over how players from the FCS level will adjust to the size and speed of the NFL, a dramatic jump for even the top players competing in BCS conferences.

Safety Christian Thompson of South Carolina State and Cal Poly cornerback Asa Jackson will add depth to the secondary but mostly be counted upon to fill special-teams roles vacated by departing veterans such as Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura. The Ravens hope Jackson can assume the punt return duties so No. 1 cornerback Lardarius Webb will not have to be exposed to the role as he was last season.

The Ravens are banking on their recent success of drafting FCS players such as quarterback Joe Flacco and Webb to strike again in 2012.

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