Ravens preparing for first draft without Savage

OWINGS MILLS – Phil Savage and his erudite knowledge of football players are now in the vicinity of Lake Erie.<br><br> And his defection to Cleveland in January to become the Browns' general manager after nearly a decade in Baltimore represents a major shift in the Ravens' draft room.

While Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome had the final say on every draft pick that includes nine Pro Bowl selections, Savage's ultra-detailed opinions on college prospects and folksy, common-sense approach to evaluating talent were highly valued.

There was also an invaluable comfort level and trust between Savage and Newsome, two Alabama natives.

For years, Newsome has groomed highly regarded director of college scouting Eric DeCosta for this added responsibility knowing that Savage would eventually leave. While confident that DeCosta, a 34-year-old Massachusetts native, is well prepared, Newsome acknowledges that Savage's departure will have a definite impact.

"It was a great relationship I had with Phil," Newsome said. "I could read him, he could read me. Along the way, Eric has been right there, in between the both of us, learning from Phil and getting to know me.

"It will be different. I remember the great high-five me and Phil had after we picked Todd Heap when he fell to us. It will just be Eric and I high-fiving this year."

As director of college scouting before later being promoted to director of player personnel, Savage was essentially the Ravens' top scout.

Savage was counted on to know everything there was to know about a player, his strengths and weaknesses, computer numbers, character, intelligence and family background. He also oversaw the scouts.

And Savage wasn't shy about voicing his opinion, including a strong dissenting one prior to the Ravens' inaugural season in 1996 when Baltimore had to choose between mercurial Nebraska running back and imposing UCLA offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth overall pick.

Savage made a convincing argument to former principal owner Art Modell that the organization would never be able to sleep soundly if it drafted Phillips because of his propensity for trouble, including a disturbing history of domestic violence.

Savage was absolutely right.

Phillips could never stay out of trouble, and Ogden emerged as an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and likely future Hall of Fame selection.

Besides Ogden, the Ravens took perennial All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis with the 26th pick of that draft.

The Newsome/Savage team also hit on several other future Pro Bowl selections, including linebacker Peter Boulware, cornerback Chris McAlister, running back Jamal Lewis, tight end Todd Heap, safety Ed Reed, linebacker Terrell Suggs and special-teams ace Adalius Thomas.

"Ozzie Newsome has believed in me each step of the way: 71 draft picks in a row we looked at each other and said, ‘It's Smith, it's Jones,'" Savage said. "There was never a disagreement in nine years. If you go back and look at the record book of the Ravens over the last nine years, if we took a bad player, we generally followed it up with a good one."

While Baltimore consistently connected in the first round, including the latter portion with Lewis at No. 26, Reed at No. 24 and Heap at No. 31, the Ravens have also built quality depth in the later rounds.

Their only major miss in the first round in nine years was drafting inconsistent, drop-prone receiver Travis Taylor with the 10th overall pick in 2000.

"Phil was very thorough obviously to have his ability to grade a player," Newsome said. "The way he could build a consensus in the room, he was a firm believer in allowing everyone the opportunity to have their say."

What changes without Savage is that DeCosta, will literally be sitting closer to Newsome and his opinions will carry greater weight, but the system of grading players hasn't changed.

The Ravens' process is exactly the same. It's still the mantra of ‘best player available,' and Baltimoe doesn't rely on outside scouting services to provide information.

The Ravens still expect every area scout to unearth every relevant and irrelevant detail on a player, just as DeCosta did for years as the team's Midwest area scout.

What the Ravens won't have anymore is Savage's sage advice when they're on the clock. They do have a copy of his notes on this year's draft class. Plus, there's the positive influence he had on DeCosta.

"I'll miss, quite frankly, Phil sitting next to me," said DeCosta, who called Savage his best friend in the NFL industry. "His wisdom and guidance and his friendship I'll miss more than anything, but I'm excited and I'm looking forward to the competition with Cleveland big-time."

The Browns have the third overall pick of the first round and could possibly draft Utah quarterback Alex Smith, Miami cornerback Antrell Rolle, Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson or Michigan wideout Braylon Edwards.

"Phil will do well in Cleveland," Newsome predicted. "There's no doubt in my mind. It's all the process, and he knows the process."

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland. If you are reading this article via a news portal, you can find the original on RavensInsider.Com
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