Ravens like second-tier options at LB, QB, RB

OWINGS MILLS – Linebackers, quarterbacks and running backs are definitely on the Baltimore Ravens' wish list extending beyond the first few rounds of today's NFL Draft.<br><br>Drafting a potential successor to All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis would rank first among these secondary needs, but won't be a high priority with the No. 22 overall pick.

If Georgia free safety Thomas Davis, whom Baltimore projects as an outside linebacker, somehow slipped down draft boards, the Ravens would be extremely tempted.

Trading backward could possibly lead the Ravens to Georgia linebacker Odell Thurman, Virginia linebacker Darryl Blackstock or Florida linebacker Channing Crowder.

Thurman has a history of off-field issues, including bar fights, and spent a year at Georgia Military Academy after being kicked off the Georgia football team. His mother died in an automobile accident when he was 10, and his father died two years ago from liver and kidney failure.

Thurman is an aggressive hitter at 6-foot-1, 237 pounds with 4.63 speed over 40 yards.

"The good thing about it is we've got Musa Smith here," said general manager Ozzie Newsome, who will use the Ravens' third-string running back and former Georgia star as a character reference.

The Ravens' starting linebackers for a planned shift to the 4-3 are essentially set: Lewis in the middle, Adalius Thomas or Peter Boulware on the strongside and newly-signed Tommy Polley on the weakside.

"The addition of Tommy Polley was big for us in the current configuration we're in, and we feel good about ourselves, but Tommy Polley is on a one-year contract," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "So to bring in an inside guy to develop in that role can be attractive."

The Ravens believe they have the luxury to wait, though.

Director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said the Ravens could find a quality linebacker similar to former starter Ed Harwell as late as the fifth round. Hartwell was a fourth-round pick in 2001 out of Western Illinois.

DeCosta mentioned Connecticut's Alfred Fincher and San Diego State products Kirk Morrison and Matt McCoy as potential candidates. Louisville linebacker Robert McCune would fit the Hartwell mold as he's a stocky tackler at 6-0, 244 pounds with 4.51 speed.

"You have the Fincher kid at Connecticut," DeCosta said. "He's a solid kid that has come up the board as of late. And then the Morrison kid from San Diego State - both of those guys are mid-level guys, but they're good value kids at the right place."
The Ravens only have two quarterbacks on the roster, starter Kyle Boller and backup Anthony Wright, who's entering the final year of his contract. Kordell Stewart isn't expected to return.

"We like the quarterbacks," Newsome said. "It's not out of the realm that we might take one with the fourth-round pick."

Offensive coordinator Jim Fassel worked out quarterback Dan Orlovsky on the Connecticut campus. DeCosta said he watched 10 games of Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Ivy League Player of the Year.

"Fitzpatrick is very intelligent as you would expect, but also a good player," DeCosta said. "I've watched him live and he is a viable NFL quarterback."

Arizona State's Andrew Walter, Louisville's Stefon LeFors, Purdue's Kyle Orton, Georgia's David Greene and even former Florida State starter Adrian McPherson are other possibilities.

A former prep Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball in talent-rich Florida, McPherson was thrown off the team at FSU for stealing a blank check and was charged with gambling on pro and college games, reportedly always taking the Seminoles to win.

"As an NFL talent, he ranks pretty high," DeCosta said. "In this league, one guy's trash is another person's treasure. I think someone will take a chance on him and he'll wind up starting."

Meanwhile, running back Jamal Lewis is coming off ankle surgery and is serving four months in prison for a drug charge. Smith is recovering from a broken leg, and Chester Taylor is in the final year of his contract.

Options include Louisiana Tech's Ryan Moats, Kansas State's Darren Sproles, Southern Illinois' Brandon Jacobs and Tennessee's Cedric Houston.

"We can spend a lot of time looking at the second tier of running backs, maybe the fourth, fifth, sixth rounds, possibly third round if one of those elite guys kind of slips down to us," DeCosta said. "If we've learned one thing over the years, it's a physical position and guys do get hurt."

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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