Ravens feel like they've upgraded

OWINGS MILLS - Besides issuing superlatives about their haul of draft picks this weekend, the Baltimore Ravens reflected on how they've dusted themselves off from the rubble of salary-cap carnage.

General manager Ozzie Newsome likened the process of overhauling the roster to climbing a mountain. Since releasing several veterans from the Super Bowl championship roster prior to missing the playoffs in last year's 7-9 season, the Ravens feel like they're on the verge of becoming contenders again.

Newsome said the transition contained several phases, with every decision Baltimore has made being centered on the next two upcoming seasons. "Halfway through training camp last year, we probably couldn't have selected 45 guys we thought were good enough," Newsome said. "It's going to be different this year. We've got some quality competition. "I think that is what's going to make our football team better." Beginning with the acquisition of Arizona State pass rusher Terrell Suggs, Cal quarterback Kyle Boller and Georgia running back Musa Smith on Saturday, the Ravens said they were continually surprised at what they were able to obtain in the NFL draft. "We've been able to add excellent balance," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "This is a solid group. We have depth across the board at virtually every position." Before the second day of the draft was completed Sunday, Baltimore acquired Alabama defensive end Jarrett Johnson, whom it regarded as a potential second-round selection, in the fourth round along with bullish Wake Forest fullback Ovie Mughelli. Newsome, a former standout with the Crimson Tide, said Johnson's intensity mattered more than his lack of ideal size. And the Ravens considered Mughelli to be one of the best, if not the best, lead blockers available. Especially at the 134th overall selection. Then, Baltimore drafted stocky Tennessee nose guard Aubrayo Franklin, a 6-foot-1, 307-pounder, in the fifth round. Baltimore director of player personnel Phil Savage said Franklin was one of the only true nose guard prospects in this draft. Savage noted Illinois offensive tackle Tony Pashos, the club's second fifth-round pick, as a competitive 337-pounder who excelled in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten Conference. Baltimore also added Notre Dame safety Gerome Sapp, whom director of college scouting Eric DeCosta lauded for his range as a centerfielder, in the sixth round. DeCosta said Sapp's value was pushed down by a lingering wrist injury that he expects him to fully recover from. Then, Baltimore added the Oklahoma Sooners' pass-catching tight end Trent Smith in the seventh round. DeCosta compared Smith favorably to Pro Bowler Todd Heap in terms of route running and hands. Closing out its draft with two more seventh-round picks, Baltimore chose Central Florida center Mike Mabry, whom Savage labeled as a potential sleeper, and Utah safety Antwoine Sanders. Sanders will be a 26-year-old rookie after opting to work for three years after graduating from high school. Newsome said Baltimore turned down a couple of opportunities to trade for additional picks in next years's draft. He said he didn't see any receivers worth drafting in the second day. The Ravens are expected to host free agent wideout Marcus Robinson at some point. Newsome also noted how the development of Heap, the rehabilitation of running back Jamal Lewis and the addition of veterans like defensive back Corey Fuller and offensive tackle Orlando Brown has bolstered Baltimore's outlook. Asked to predict how much tougher it will be to make Baltimore's roster this fall, Billick said without hesitation: "More difficult than it was last year, I can tell you that. "What I like about this, particularly these second-day guys if they make this club, we're a better team than last year. And that's a win-win scenario across the board."

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