Ravens confident in DeCosta

OWINGS MILLS – Eric DeCosta was a true scholar, a man of letters devoted to the library.<br><br> Long before he became the youngest director of college scouting in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, DeCosta was a dean's list student pondering the merits of law school, English literature or becoming a writer. Three academic pursuits that demand analytical thinking skills, the ability to process detailed information and communicate ideas and theories.

For DeCosta, though, his career track took a dramatic turn that still involves all of those traits only in an entirely different realm: the science of evaluating football players.

In 1995, DeCosta was a graduate assistant coach at Trinity College working on his master's thesis on King Philip, the fierce ruler of the Wampanoag Indian tribe in Massachusetts who led a gory, fiery campaign in 1675 against the English colonists.

That was the summer when DeCosta became an intern with the Washington Redskins' personnel department, where he worked 18 hours a day. That was where he met Redskins scout Scott Cohen, who heard about a foot-in-the-door job under Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and recommended that DeCosta apply for it.

Now, DeCosta, 34, is preparing for his first draft next weekend without former director of player personnel Phil Savage, the new general manager of the Cleveland Browns.

When his eyes get bleary from lack of sleep and his fingers sore from rewinding and fast-forwarding countless football videos, DeCosta stands up in his second-floor office at the Ravens' training complex to stay alert. He keeps scanning and cross-checking until he feels he has an accurate read on a player's potential.

"From my earliest times as a boy, one of my fondest memories is watching the draft with my dad, getting the publications, talking about the players, I was enthralled," said DeCosta, who was elevated to his present position in 2003 after four years as the Ravens' Midwest area scout. "Being a CEO, someone who runs a business, putting personnel in place and building a good organization are the kind of things that always appealed to me.

"That's what the draft is: finding players who conform to the notions you have in place. The players that you like have the qualities, passion and football ability to make you better."

When Decosta first got to Baltimore in 1996, he was an office guy with the title of player personnel assistant. He continually drove forgettable players back and forth to the BWI airport as the Ravens rebuilt their roster.

Back then, tape was scattered all over the floor at the Ravens' modest old headquarters. Today, they reside in a $31 million state-of-the-art facility built by principal owner Steve Bisciotti.

Even in disheveled surroundings, the 5-foot-9 native of Taunton, Massachusetts was learning on the job from Newsome, from Savage and from future New England Patriots executive Scott Pioli.

Forget law school, DeCosta was hooked on the NFL.

"I was basically at kind of a crossroads when I got the call from the Ravens," DeCosta said. "I was coaching and really enjoying that, but I wasn't making any money. At some point, you have to start paying bills and you have to stop stealing food from the cafeteria to survive.

"It didn't really feel like an NFL franchise with the tapes all over the floor, but this was my dream come true. I was learning how to be a scout."

Soon enough, Newsome called DeCosta into his office and asked him to watch tape with him for the first time.

It was blockish, 250-pound linebacker Tyrus McCloud, whom the Ravens drafted in the fourth round in 1997 out of Louisville.

"I'm a 26-year-old guy running around with a chicken with his head cut off and I'm watching film with Ozzie," DeCosta said. "Midway through, Ozzie said, ‘What do you think?' and I said, ‘Ozzie, he seem like a limited athlete to me,' and Ozzie said, ‘I agree with you.'

"At that point, it was kind of like a light bulb went off in my head. Ozzie Newsome agrees with me."

His epiphany on a stiff linebacker that didn't last led to expanded duties.

In 1997, DeCosta scouted players for three days per week at roughly 20 schools, learning from an older scout.

He spent his Sundays on the sideline wearing a headset next to former Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, who didn't favor the use of such new-fangled technology.

It was DeCosta's job to relay the plays to Marchibroda. Those were the only words he uttered as he listened to elite assistants Marvin Lewis and Kirk Ferentz.

"It was an awesome learning experience," DeCosta said. "I got to hear the interplay between the coaches, their adjustments and communicate that to Ted Marchibroda, who was more of an old-school guy who didn't like to wear the headset. It was probably one of the more invaluable things to my development."

By 1998, DeCosta was the Ravens' Midwest scout, recommending future starters like defensive end Tony Weaver, linebacker Ed Hartwell and offensive guard Bennie Anderson.

Although he spent over half of the month on the road, DeCosta maintained a home in Baltimore, where he met his wife, Lacie, and had a daughter, Jane Elizabeth.

DeCosta also got to know Savage, whom he calls his best friend in the NFL.

Each time it appeared that Savage was on the verge of leaving Baltimore, whether it was the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles or Jacksonville Jaguars, DeCosta was asked by Newsome: ‘Are you ready?'

Once the Ravens promoted Savage to director of player personnel in 2003 when James Harris left to run the Jaguars' personnel department, DeCosta got his big promotion to director of college scouting.

It demonstrated what the organization thought about DeCosta in terms of his work ethic and intelligence.

"I remember the day Ozzie called me in 1996 and said, ‘You have a really bright future, you're going to go really far in this league,'" DeCosta said. "I never forgot that. I've been preparing myself for this. It's been the perfect environment to learn football in."

In DeCosta's first draft as director of college scouting, the Ravens selected NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Terrell Suggs and starting quarterback Kyle Boller.

Even when DeCosta was at Trinity, he would make a draft board of the high school players he wanted to recruit.

He enjoyed comparing players, finding out who the best athletes were and most importantly, who was a tough guy and who wasn't. And it helped train him for what he does now on a far more advanced level.

DeCosta said he stares directly into college players' eyes during job interviews as he throws out questions he already knows the answer to about off-field incidents. He's trying to detect and reject outright liars while discerning as much as he can from body language.

It's the search for character over characters.

"I can read a guy pretty quick by studying his eyes, looking at his face," DeCosta said. "I try to see his inner character and usually I can do that in five minutes."

An undersized fullback in high school, DeCosta was a scrappy, undersized linebacker at Colby. He lettered three times at the small Maine college and was named team captain.

His professional self-scouting report:

"I was probably a try-hard overachiever," DeCosta said. "I wasn't the biggest guy. I was very productive at that level, but I wasn't a good athlete in terms of what we scout. I wouldn't be on the radar screen. I do think I approached the game like our players approach the game."

For years, DeCosta has been preparing to be the top scout who advises Newsome on making the big-picture decisions.

This will be his first time without Savage, who helped Newsome draft 10 Pro Bowl selections, including offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis with the Ravens' first two picks in 1996.

"No question, there are a lot of similarities between Eric and Phil," Newsome said. "Eric was ready two years ago if we had lost Phil. It's like the backup quarterback waiting for the other guy to move on."

Added DeCosta: "What greater resource for me to learn from than Phil Savage?"

DeCosta quipped that about the only major change to the Ravens' process without Savage is the venue of their annual Friday dinner the night before the draft.

"We're eating at Liberatore's instead of Captain Harvey's because I like Italian food better than seafood," DeCosta said.

The Ravens employ the same method of obtaining prospects: best player available with an emphasis on production and character over computer numbers derived from Olympic-style workouts.

"We don't draft the pretty girls at the combine that run 4.3s and don't play," DeCosta said. "We want the guys that when we put in the tape in October and spend eight hours in a dark room, they are the ones who make every play.
"We have a saying in Baltimore: If you inflate, you must debate. If you want to move a guy up the board, you've got to rehash and talk about why you are trying to do that."

San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan asked the Ravens for permission at the Senior Bowl to speak with DeCosta about becoming their general manager earlier this year.

However, DeCosta signed a contract extension with Baltimore a year ago and informed Newsome that he wanted to stay with the Ravens.

"I have a great deal of respect for Mike Nolan, but this is where my home is," DeCosta said. "I want to be a general manager one day, everybody has those personal ambitions, but I know what I don't know and I know what I have to learn.

"I want to bring this team back to a Super Bowl, and I have a lot of faith in the people within this building. I wouldn't leave for anything at this point."

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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