The Baltimore Ravens' roster remains under construction, a process that grew more difficult during free agency due to a tight salary cap situation and other teams coveting the AFC North champions' free agents. The Ravens are still dealing with the departures of Pro Bowl offensive guard Ben Grubbs, veteran outside linebacker Jarret Johnson and defensive end Cory Redding, but managed to retain two starters in center Matt Birk and inside linebacker Jameel McClain.
So, there isn't a significant amount of difference between where the Ravens stand today in terms of needs heading into the NFL draft at the end of this month and where they were a month ago at the launch of free agency.
The Ravens are still searching for a viable replacement for Grubbs at left guard, a long-term alternative to Birk, a 35-year-old six-time Pro Bowl selection, could use a sizable wide receiver to complement Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin and would like to continue to bolster their pass rush.
And a convincing argument could also be made for seeking potential, eventual successors to middle linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed.
With that many potential areas to address, the Ravens' draft strategy is shaping up as a multi-pronged approach for their 29th overall pick of the first round and their current total of eight selections.
"I try to come up with a theme every year before the draft," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said during a draft press conference at team headquarters. "My theme this year is deep depth. It sort of goes back to Branch Rickey, quality out of quantity, a lot of picks just to get as many players as you can.
"I think we need a lot of good young players. Last year, we thought we needed playmakers and we brought in Torrey Smith, we brought in Jimmy Smith. We got some guys like that. My philosophy with the draft is we want as many picks as we can get."
With the Ravens, trades are always a legitimate scenario.
They have maneuvered in the past to acquire quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive tackle Michael Oher, or traded back to acquire extra selections. They traded out of the first round two years ago, winding up with outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, starting nose guard Terence Cody and starting tight end Ed Dickson.
"You guys will say we're going to trade back," DeCosta said. "That doesn't mean that, but we want as many picks as we can get because I think the draft is all about luck. The more picks you have, the better chance you have to get lucky. We need players at every position across the board. The more picks we have, the better chance we have to hit on a few guys. That's really where we are with that."
The Ravens acquired Oher with the 23rd overall selection three years ago by moving up in a trade with the New England Patriots.
The Ravens traded their first-round pick two years ago to obtain three picks from the Denver Broncos, who famously drafted Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
A year ago, the Ravens moved up in the third round by sending two selections to the Philadelphia Eagles to get offensive lineman Jah Reid. At the moment, Reid is first on the depth chart at left guard.
"We make calls to teams ahead of us and behind us to alert them that we have the potential to move," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "At 29, I think the best way to start off is you have to have 29 players because you can't control the other 28. If you're on the clock and 28 players have been taken, you have to be ready to take that 29th if the phone call doesn't come."
Should the Ravens stand pat in the first round, they could have some intriguing options available to them.
The most likely scenario would be drafting an offensive linemen such as Wisconsin center Peter Konz, Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler and University of Georgia offensive tackle-guard Cordy Glenn.
The Ravens met with talented Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams at the NFL scouting combine, but he has some character issues and isn't regarded as having a strong work ethic.
The Ravens have Oher at right tackle, but left tackle Bryant McKinnie is heading into the final year of his contract and has had issues with his conditioning and run blocking.
The consensus best offensive guard, Stanford standout David DeCastro, is expected to go in the first half of the first round.
"I don't think much has changed from the end of the season," Newsome said. "We need to add some players on the offensive line."
The top wide receivers expected to be available when the Ravens are picking are big LSU standout Rueben Randle and athletic, albeit raw Stephen Hill of Georgia Tech. Hill was the star of the combine with his 4.36 speed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds.
He's mostly graded as an early second-rounder, but would be an attractive target if the Ravens traded back.
"He's an explosive guy who played in that triple-option offense and really jumped off the film in terms of vertical speed," director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "He's raw like a lot of guys are who have come out of that offense like Demaryius Thomas. Their route polish isn't quite there, but his athletic traits are really outstanding and exceptional, rare for the position."
The best pass rushers like Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, Illinois' Whitney Mercilus and South Carolina's Melvin Ingram are likely to be off the board by the time the Ravens pick.
USC defensive end Nick Perry is more of a 4-3 style player, but could be converted to outside linebacker because of his 4.5 speed.
"It's pretty good," said Hortiz, speaking generally about the class of pass rushers. "If you look at the defensive end and the rush ‘backer position, it's pretty full."
It's regarded as unlikely that versatile Alabama middle linebacker Donta' Hightower, who reminds many draft analysts of Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, will last until the end of the first round.
If he's around, Hightower could fit in at several front seven positions for Baltimore and could eventually be groomed to take over for Lewis.
"Hightower is a great player, there's no doubt about it," DeCosta said. "He's an explosive guy. We've seen him play many times, obviously with the Alabama connections. We are going draft the best player that's available. If that's an inside linebacker and we think that guy can be a really good player for us, we're going to take him."
Reed has already declared that he's going to play this season and perhaps more as he enters the final year of a six-year, $44 million contract. However, he'll turn 34 at the start of next season and has battled a painful nerve impingement in his neck for the past few seasons.
Plus, the Ravens only have strong safety Bernard Pollard under contract for this year.
Alabama safety Mark Barron and Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, who met with the Ravens at the combine, are two potential first-round targets.
"Safety is like a lot of positions, we feel like we could use some depth at that position," DeCosta said. "Mark Barron is a great player. Harrison Smith is an interesting guy, too. He's a big, rangy safety who runs pretty well."
A year ago, the Ravens selected cornerback Jimmy Smith in the first round and wide receiver Torrey Smith in the second round.
Smith contributed as a nickel back and Smith emerged as the deep threat the Ravens had sought for many years.
"I don't know if we manufacture our board, but Jimmy was the highest-rated player on the board when it came time for us to pick," Newsome said. "It wasn't even close. When we got to Torrey, it was the same thing. Sergio [Kindle] was a guy that we would have considered taking with the first pick.
"He was still the highest-rated guy on our board at the time. Some needs have to go into play, because we have to fulfill them. But we still, and we have said this for 16 years, we will not take need over a real good player at another position."
The Ravens will have roughly 150 players on their draft board.
Typically, their wind up making all of their picks out of their top 100.
"That doesn't always happen," DeCosta said. "Sometimes, we have to go outside of the lines. There have been a couple years where we've actually had to pull a few players up from outside our 150, but that doesn't happen very often.
Many times the Ravens have had a player they wanted simply fall to them, including Reed, Grubbs and former tight end Todd Heap.
"I don't want to give away my trade secrets," DeCosta said, "but we feel like our pick will be one of our top 20 players."
Ravens notebook: Ravens ‘happy' with Rice talks
OWINGS MILLS -- No deal is imminent at this time between the Baltimore Ravens and Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, the defending AFC North champions' franchise player.
Assigned a one-year, $7.742 million tender, Rice stated this week that he has outplayed his rookie contract.
Although the Ravens aren't close on a contract with Rice, they do agree with him saying that he deserves a new deal.
"That was a rookie contract, so, yes, I would like to think that every player with the Ravens that we draft, hopefully, outplays their first contract," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "So, yes, he has."
And Newsome did express that he's happy that progress is being made in the discussions between France and Ravens vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty.
"We're happy with the progress that we're making with negotiations," Newsome said. "But to say from where he was to where we put the franchise tag on him, that's a significant increase."
As an unsigned franchise player, Rice is not required to attend any offseason activities, training camp or even games.
Although Rice has said he would like to participate in minicamps and organized team activities, the reality is he's not expected to show up without a new contract. Especially not until the July 16 NFL deadline to negotiate a long-term contract extension for franchise players.
If no deal is reached by that date, then Rice has to play this season under the franchise tag.
Past Ravens franchise players Terrell Suggs and Chris McAlister opted to skip offseason activities and even didn't show up on time for training camp.
"Until a guy actually signs his franchise tender, he's not under contract and we are not allowed to even ask him to come to our mandatory minicamp," Newsome said. "We understand those things. We've experienced that before and we'll be prepared."
Meanwhile, the Ravens are approximately $1.75 million under the NFL salary cap limit without borrowing money from future years.
They don't intend to mortgage the future.
"It's not unique," Newsome said. "We've been here four or five other times I can recall. With us, the cap is very fluid. Teams do some things that we try not to do. We just don't try to put everything into one year.
"We did one year, in 2001, and you saw what happened. We had to just turn the whole team over. But we tried to make the run to win two Super Bowls in a row. I think we learned from that."
Newsome insisted that the Ravens can still add players to the roster if they want to despite their tight salary-cap situation.
"Regardless of what the number we are at the cap, we have a plan," Newsome said. "We talk about the cap, basically, every day. If there's a good player that can come in and help our football team, we'll be able to fit him under our cap."
The Ravens are looking to broker long-term deals with Rice, quarterback Joe Flacco and restricted free agent cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams.
"The reason is why we want to get the long-term deals done with those players is because we like them," Newsome said. "And we want them to be in Baltimore for a long time."
Webb and Williams have both been offered contracts by the Ravens.
"We are involved in negotiations with both," Newsome said. "And what the status is, I don't know. Our restricted guys are guys that we would like to extend to longer-term deals."
FLACCO CONFIDENT: The Ravens aren't concerned about Flacco boldly proclaiming that he's one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL even though most in the league would dispute his assessment.
"Without a doubt," Flacco told a Baltimore radio station. "What do you expect me to say? I would assume everybody thinks they're a top five quarterback. I think I'm the best. I don't think I'm the top five, I think I'm the best.
"I wouldn't be very successful at my job if I didn't feel that way. That doesn't mean that things are going to work out that way. It just means that's the way it is, that's the way I feel that it is and that's the way I feel it should be."
Although Flacco was hardly expected to underrate himself, his comments have drawn criticism around the NFL considering the superior statistics and accomplishments of other quarterbacks.
"I don't think any player, any coach, any team does not think that they aren't the best at what they do," Newsome said. "And, for Joe to say that, I think it's a common thing. The aspect of it that I think we also look at is that if you make a statement like that, you also have to prepare yourself to be the best. And I'm sure that Joe is also doing that."
NOT GIVING UP ON KINDLE: Two years after outside linebacker Sergio Kindle suffered permanent hearing damage in one ear and other injuries when he fractured his skull during a fall down two flights of stairs, the Ravens remain hopeful that the former second-round draft pick will eventually fulfill his potential.
"We'll have a full offseason," Newsome said. "I think we know what some of the issues are, and we will attack those issues. It'll be interesting to see."
The Ravens haven't committed much money to the former University of Texas star, but they have given the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder an opportunity to rehab from his injuries and get back on the field.
"In all fairness, it's probably unprecedented what he has had to face, that kind of an injury," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's really unusual. Like our doctors tell us all the time, we're treading in unknown territory. He's made great progress.
"The year of practice really helped him. He's going to get every opportunity, and we're going to coach him like crazy, and we're going to make it our mission to get him on the field and get him playing, because he has talent and he wants to do well."
When asked about Kindle's hearing impairment, which he has acknowledged makes it difficult for him to pick up the defensive signals, Newsome replied: "Huh?" then laughed before saying: "Next question."
REED EXPECTED TO RETURN: The Ravens reiterated that they anticipate free safety Ed Reed playing next season.
Reed recently told South Florida reporters that he's not retiring and plans to play four or five more seasons.
"I have not had a conversation with Ed since our last game, to be honest," Newsome said. "As of right now, whoever we play in that first game this year, I anticipate Ed Reed being our starting free safety. That's as much information as I have at this point."
QUICK HITS: The Ravens are happy with backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a sixth-round draft pick last year from Virginia Tech. "Everybody competes for every spot every year, every practice, and Tyrod is no different," Harbaugh said. "We like him a lot." ... The Ravens don't necessarily put a ton of stock in the Wonderlic exam given to draft prospects, but do use it as part of their evaluation. LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne scored a four on the timed test, a very low score. However, Claiborne has a learning disability. "The tests are supposed to be confidential, and only a few people get those, which is unfortunate that a test would come out," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "We do look at the Wonderlic test. Obviously, the body of work that you refer to, the tape, how the guy plays, is the most important thing. In regards to the Wonderlic test, we treat that like a lot of other things. It's a flag. It could be a concern. It could mean that we have to do more work on a guy, bring a guy in, spend a day with him here in Baltimore, interview a guy at the combine, have the coaches spend some time with him, have him watch some football tape, talk to some other people at the school to get some more information. We don't base our decisions on a Wonderlic, just like we don't base our decisions on a 40-yard dash, a vertical jump and, in most cases, on a guy being arrested. We take the whole body of work, we look at it, we compare each player and we make our decisions." ... With the NFL's emphasis on player safety, the Ravens' scouts now include the number of concussions a player has suffered in their scouting reports. ... One year after the botched trade caused by the Chicago Bears and former general manager Jerry Angelo failing to communicate properly with the league office, Newsome has little interest in the topic. "The league's point of view is, and in everything we do we draw a bright line, and the bright line is, there has to be communications by both clubs with someone from the league office," Newsome said. "End of story." ... The Ravens still expect outside linebacker Paul Kruger to do well as the leading candidate to replace veteran outside linebacker Jarret Johnson as the starting strongside linebacker. Kruger had 5 1/2 sacks as a situational pass rusher last season. "He's going to have to compete like everybody else, and someone may get drafted that he's going to have to do battle against," Harbaugh said. "Albert McClellan will be in the mix, and others potentially, but I'd be surprised if he doesn't rise to the occasion and have a heck of a year." ... The Ravens expressed confidence in offensive tackle Jah Reid's ability to convert to left guard where the 6-foot-7, 330-pounder is currently atop the depth chart. "His issue is not going to be left side, right side," Harbaugh
said. "I don't even think it's going to be his height; some people are concerned about his height at guard because he's a very good bender. He can play either position. I've heard it said that he might be a little bit better at tackle than guard, and you can make that case, it's possible. If he's one of our top five linemen, he's going to be out there, and really, he's aggressive, he's long, he's really a mean, nasty guy. He's a very good athlete. He's really good in the zone schemes that we run. If he's our left guard, if he earns that job, we're going to be happy to have him in there, and we'll be a pretty formidable left side. He did it last year, and he looked good doing it. It's not like he can't get his pads under people. He can do it. He's capable of doing that." ... Nose guard Terrence Cody has been working out at the Ravens' training complex every day. According to Harbaugh, "He looks tremendous."
Ravens open preseason against Falcons
Other three games against Lions, Jaguars, Rams
OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens will kick off the preseason against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Ravens' slate of preseason games was announced Wednesday, and the defending AFC North champions begin their schedule Aug. 9 at the Georgia Dome.
The Ravens have played six of eight preseason games against the Falcons in Atlanta and defeated them, 21-7, last summer.
The Ravens' preseason home opener is against the Detroit Lions on Aug. 17 at 8 p.m., a game that will be nationally televised on FOX.
And the Ravens host the Jacksonville Jaguars for their third preseason game on Aug. 23. The Jaguars upset the Ravens, 12-7, last season in a Monday night regular-season game.
Baltimore concludes the preseason on the road against the St. Louis Rams on Aug. 30.
The Ravens have traditionally played the New York Giants, Washington Redskins or the Philadelphia Eagles during the preseason, but won't do so this year due to Baltimore squaring off with all three NFC East teams during the regular season.
This marks the Ravens' first preseason game against the Jaguars, and their third against the Lions and Rams.
Kickoff times haven't been determined yet for three of the games.
Meanwhile, the dates and times for the Ravens' regular-season schedule will be released by the NFL later this month.
They have their annual AFC North schedule of home-and-road contests against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens' other home games are against the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Giants and Dallas Cowboys.
The other road games are against the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans, Redskins and Eagles
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