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Chapter 7: How to find a franchise quarterback

Posted on 19 February 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“You can always look at how the guys play. You just look at the tape. But at the combine you find out what kind of people they are. What’s important to them? How important is football to them? How important is their family to them? If we get those two things right, we’ll be right most of the time.”

 – John Harbaugh (March 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

AN NFL SCOUT’S LIFE EXISTS with the perpetual hope that every time he shows up on a campus to watch a kid run, or gets on a plane to fly to a college town to see a game in the fall, or fires up his iPad to watch film, he wants to believe he’s about to find the next player who will help his team win the Super Bowl.

It’s the eternal quest for any NFL scout – find the next Pro Bowl player who can become a Hall of Famer. Or, at the very least, find a player who can help you win every year for the next decade.

By the time Baltimore Ravens area scouts Andy Weidl and Joe Douglas got in their cars and made the one hour drive north up Interstate 95 from Owings Mills to Newark, Delaware on November 10, 2007, Joe Flacco wasn’t a secret to the college scouting world. And he certainly was no stranger to Douglas, who joined the team in 2000 and is known to all in the Ravens organization as “Big Joe D,” whose job it was to scout the Northeast for the team from 2003 through 2008. Douglas was made famous during the Ravens’ summer of 2001 filming of “Hard Knocks” on HBO as “The Turk,” the lowly scout who has the duty of summoning players from the locker room to the office of the head coach where “Coach wants to see you, bring your playbook” means you’ll be leaving the campus and chasing your NFL dream elsewhere.

Incidentally, UrbanDictionary.com defines “turk” as “someone who is extremely brave.” Joe Douglas spent six months talking Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and Joe Hortiz into drafting a Division 1-AA quarterback from Delaware in the first round of the NFL draft.

Douglas, by any measurement, is as brave as Joe Flacco is fearless.

By 2007, Douglas had moved up the ranks of the scouting system and was making that fateful Saturday a “quarterback doubleheader” – a rare chance to see two teams in one day, both with targets who could be the next quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens. The afternoon game in Newark featured the Delaware Blue Hens hosting the Richmond Spiders in a Division I-AA matchup. The nightcap on the docket was Boston College visiting the Maryland Terps in College Park and Douglas would be joined by longtime Ravens scouts Eric DeCosta and Joe Hortiz, whom he’d meet at the I-95 Park and Ride near Catonsville so they could travel together to Byrd Stadium. Their target that evening was visiting Eagles quarterback Matt Ryan, who many thought would be the first quarterback – if not the first player – taken in the April 2008 draft.

Incidentally, Douglas was rooting hard for Richmond that afternoon and not out of disdain for Flacco or Delaware. Douglas was the starting left tackle for the Spiders from 1995-1998 and had been through many battles with the Blue Hens on the field. He was also quite familiar with many of the coaches and players in this contest. Even when he didn’t attend Richmond games – and it was rare to see his alma mater in person because NFL scouts don’t scout a lot of I-AA football games unless there’s a specific prospect they want to evaluate – his father would give him weekly Spiders reports from stands.

It was Douglas’ dad, Joel Douglas, who first told Big Joe D about Joe Flacco a year earlier after seeing the 2006 matchup in Richmond.

“He went to the game with my uncle and he called me up and said, ‘I don’t know who that Delaware quarterback was, but Richmond couldn’t stop him,’” Douglas said of a day when Flacco, then a junior who was making his seventh start for the Blue Hens, went 31-of-45 for 305 yards and a pair of TD passes in a come-from-behind 28-24 win over the Spiders. “Honestly, I was more mad that Richmond blew the lead than I was concerned about who Delaware’s junior quarterback was that day.”

The NFL scouting calendar begins in May after the draft. DeCosta and Hortiz enlist the entire organization to target potential candidates to scout for the following year. By August, the scouts plan their entire schedule for the fall, trying to chunk as many practices, games, campus visits and interviews as possible into the schedule while also trying to see the Ravens play some games at home and away. As an NFL scout, this is the most important time of

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 29 December 2018 by Luke Jones

Sunday’s scenario for the Ravens appeared highly unlikely eight weeks ago.

A three-game losing streak and a hip injury to Joe Flacco made 4-5 Baltimore look like a team going nowhere fast, but a revamped run-heavy offense led by rookie Lamar Jackson and the top-ranked defense in the NFL have sparked the Ravens to five wins in their last six games. That surge and Pittsburgh’s late-season slide have put John Harbaugh’s team in position to win its first AFC North championship since 2012 with a victory over Cleveland on Sunday.

However, the Browns have also been resurrected by the strong play of their first-year quarterback. The Ravens got a glimpse of what Baker Mayfield could do in Cleveland’s 12-9 overtime win in Week 5, but the top overall pick from Oklahoma has only gotten better since Hue Jackson’s dismissal, throwing 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions with a 115.2 passer rating over the last six games — five of them wins for the Browns.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns meet for the 40th time in the regular season with Baltimore holding a colossal 29-10 advantage and an 18-3 mark in the John Harbaugh era. Cleveland is seeking its first season sweep since 2007, which was also the last time the Browns finished a campaign with a winning record.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Terrell Suggs will record his 20th career sack against Cleveland. Most attention has been on Flacco’s expected departure and Harbaugh’s uncertain future, but Sunday could be Suggs’ final regular-season game with the Ravens, especially if Eric DeCosta chooses to make more drastic roster changes that wouldn’t include re-signing the 36-year-old. No team has surrendered more sacks to the seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker in his career, and left tackle Greg Robinson has the lowest Pro Football Focus grade along a Browns offensive line that’s surrendered only three sacks over the last six games.

2. Breshad Perriman will catch a touchdown pass against his former team. No, I’m not forecasting the doomsday scenario of a last-second Mayfield-to-Perriman touchdown to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs — I’m not that rotten — but the former first-round bust has found a place as a solid contributor in Cleveland, catching 13 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown in 199 snaps. Injuries and poor hands predictably made him an unpopular figure in Baltimore, but it had become apparent after his lost 2017 season that Perriman needed a fresh start if he was going to get his career on track.

3. The rookie quarterbacks will combine for four turnovers in their first meeting. This game’s short-term consequences overshadow the big-picture possibility of this being the first of many meetings between two former Heisman Trophy winners playing in the same division, which is fun to ponder as a football fan. That said, the Browns defense ranks second in the NFL in takeaways while the Ravens have forced five turnovers over the last three weeks after lacking in that department all year. Mayfield and Jackson will both make impressive plays, but each will show their inexperience as well.

4. Gus Edwards will rush for 100 yards and a touchdown to protect a second-half lead. At first glance, Cleveland ranking 24th in rush defense bodes well for the Ravens, but the Browns have held their last three opponents — who all rank in the top 12 in yards per carry — to a combined 3.3 yards per attempt. Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers quietly contained the Baltimore rushing attack in the second half, but I expect Browns coach and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to sell out to contain the edges against the speedy Jackson, which will open more inside running lanes for Edwards.

5. The defense will lead the Ravens back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 in a 23-16 win. Since Week 11, Baltimore ranks second in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric while the Browns are fourth, which speaks to how formidable both teams have become down the stretch. In a game I expect to be close throughout, I’ll take the team that has the best overall unit on either side of the ball, and that’s the Ravens defense. Wink Martindale has this defense playing at an elite level even when the Baltimore offense has bogged down as it did in the second half of the Chargers game. The Ravens need to be ready to play against an improving team with a quarterback already moving toward folk-hero status in Cleveland. The Browns would love nothing more than to knock the original Browns out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year, but the Ravens’ narrative change that began last week against the Chargers will continue in Week 17, leading to a happy New Year in Baltimore after a few nervous moments.

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With heavy hearts, Ravens need to keep it simple in Cleveland

Posted on 17 September 2016 by Luke Jones

The tenor of Sunday’s game in Cleveland has understandably changed for the Ravens with the passing of longtime defensive assistant Clarence Brooks after his yearlong battle with  cancer.

As beloved as the 65-year-old was by the entire organization, it’s fair to wonder how head coach John Harbaugh’s team will respond playing a game a little over 24 hours following his death. The predictable cry will be to rally behind his memory, but these are human beings with feelings that stretch far beyond the football field. Not acknowledging that reality would be to trivialize Brooks’ life.

Still, the Ravens understand they have business to handle in their second game of the young season. The approach doesn’t change despite it being an emotional weekend.

Keep it simple against the Browns.

With an active roster currently including 17 rookies — nearly one of every three players — Cleveland is the consensus worst team in the NFL, especially on the heels of a blowout loss to rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and Philadelphia last week. But let’s not ignore the fact that the Ravens are coming off a 5-11 season themselves and haven’t had a winning road record in a season since 2010.

As a reminder to any fans and media predicting a laugher, some of Harbaugh’s best teams haven’t exactly blown out Cleveland on the road.

Think what you want about the lowly Browns, but this is their home opener and a statue of the legendary Jim Brown is being unveiled before the game as part of an alumni weekend for former players. You’ll find little optimism along the Cuyahoga River for 2016, but Cleveland has to be viewing a home contest against the Ravens as one of the few games on the schedule that could be winnable.

It’s the first home game for new Browns head coach Hue Jackson, a one-time Baltimore assistant who is very familiar with the AFC North after serving as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator the last two years. The Ravens need to be prepared for anything on Sunday and should certainly remember that Browns quarterback Josh McCown lit them up like a pinball machine in Baltimore last season.

“We are expecting Hue to throw the kitchen sink at us,” said linebacker Terrell Suggs of Jackson’s offensive innovation. “We are preparing for everything. They have a receiver over there who was once a quarterback, so we are expecting everything. Some Wildcat, Polecat offense — we are expecting everything. Don’t be surprised if they come out there with that ‘Little Giants’ formation [or] the Flying V.

“They have something up their sleeve for us. We just have to be able to prepare for it and react for it.”

Gadgetry still shouldn’t matter because the Ravens have the better and more experienced roster.

Protect the football, don’t commit foolish penalties, and take advantage of mistakes that an inexperienced team is bound to make on both sides of the ball over the course of 60 minutes.

On offense, be aggressive, but don’t try to be too cute to build an early lead before controlling the tempo with a ground game that needs to improve from Week 1. Defensively, the pass rush will be a concern without Elvis Dumervil, but the secondary cannot allow speedy receivers Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor to shake loose for big plays.

The plan doesn’t sound all that complicated, because it’s not against a team short on talent and building for the future.

“You have to pay attention,” wide receiver Steve Smith said. “You can’t go in there and say, ‘Well, with their record [last year] and their circumstances, this is going to be an easy day.’ You can’t go in there and think that or presume that because you will embarrass yourself if you do that.”

The last three games between these AFC North teams in Cleveland have each been decided by a single possession. Performances at FirstEnergy Stadium over the years have rarely been pretty, but the Ravens just need to come away with a win.

We still wonder how good Baltimore can really be in 2016, but much optimism goes out the window if you lay an egg and lose to a team that some have even discussed possibly going 0-16. If you can’t win this road game, which ones are you feeling good about the rest of the way?

On Sunday, the Ravens’ biggest opponent is themselves. They don’t need to play their best football to win, but they must be good enough.

And especially with heavy hearts on top of the normal challenges of playing on the road, the Ravens need to keep it simple and smart.

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Ravens shift focus to McCown for Sunday’s game in Cleveland

Posted on 12 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After besting Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor in Week 1, the Ravens figured to play another mobile quarterback in their second game of the season.

Instead, they’ll face a journeyman who’s had their number in recent seasons.

With Cleveland placing starter Robert Griffin III on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, Josh McCown will make the start in the Browns’ home opener on Sunday. Head coach John Harbaugh is well aware of the 37-year-old’s ability as he threw for 457 yards and two touchdowns in a surprising 33-30 win in Baltimore last season.

“I remember this guy just having no conscience and just throwing the ball in there and completing passes against us,” Harbaugh said. “We have a lot of respect for him. We know what kind of a player he is. We know how good he is, and he’s super good against us. We know we have our hands full. It will be all hands on deck to get ready for the offense led by Josh McCown.”

It’s fair to wonder if the Ravens would have preferred to face Griffin, whose once-promising career has been derailed by injuries and inconsistent play since his Pro Bowl rookie season in 2012. The Baltimore defense did an exceptional job keeping Taylor in the pocket and taking away the deep ball, a strategy that likely would have been employed against a healthy Griffin.

Though spending much of his career as a backup, McCown is a more traditional pocket passer who has hurt the Ravens with his arm over the last few years. Dating back to the 2013 season, he is 2-1 against Baltimore with 885 passing yards, four touchdown passes, and no interceptions.

Harbaugh knows it will also be a challenge facing new Browns head coach Hue Jackson, a one-time Ravens assistant who had much success as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator the last two seasons. Of course, he’s not working with the same talent level in Cleveland as he did with the Bengals.

“Hue Jackson is a ringmaster, so to speak,” Harbaugh said. “He gets in formations, he’s still at it [and] is very creative. He finds ways to attack your defense at your weakest spots. He’s going to formation you. He’s going to motion you. He’s going to run various kinds of routes, various kinds of runs. He’s going to put tackles out, tackles over, tackles in. Everybody is going to be in different spots, and you’re just going to have to find a way to defend all of their play-makers at all times.”

After holding the Bills to seven points and 160 total yards on Sunday, the Ravens hope the defensive improvement accompanies them on the road as they seek a 2-0 start for the first time since the 2009 season. Meanwhile, the rebuilding Browns are trying to regroup after a 29-10 loss to Philadelphia.

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