Ravens looking for versatile DB

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens are hunting for versatile defensive backs who can run, hit and cover, especially since they're advertising a starting safety job opposite Ed Reed. If elite Texas safety Mike Huff is no longer available at the 13th overall pick, the Ravens could execute a trade-down scenario.

And if general manager Ozzie Newsome is able to find a trading partner to move back into the high teens or early 20s of the first round and pick up a third round pick, he's still likely to have a deep pool of talented safeties and corners to peruse. Newsome didn't attempt to retain four-year starting safety Will Demps, who joined the New York Giants. Plus, nickel back Deion Sanders retired and Dale Carter, 35, is unlikely to return. "It's a good safety board," said Newsome, who has B.J. Ward and Robb Butler as his only safeties on the roster besides Reed. "It's a situation where we would like to get one, two or even three people. We need to have an influx of young corners and safeties and we need a nickel back." The Ravens have emphasized their desire for a player big and tough enough to play safety who's fast and skilled enough to play cornerback or nickel back. Imposing Virginia Tech cornerback Jimmy Williams has experience at safety, and the Ravens are enamored of his blend of size (6-foot-2, 211 pounds) and 4.4 speed. Contrary to published reports that said Williams was dropping on draft boards because of a supposedly arrogant approach, Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said he had no problem with Williams when he interviewed him at the scouting combine. "When Jimmy Williams played safety, he was probably one of the best players in the country at any position," DeCosta said. "He has tremendous ball skills." Characterized as the most athletic Seminole since Sanders, Florida State cornerback Antonio Cromartie represents a gamble because he's coming off a major knee injury. His size (6-2, 208 pounds), speed (4.41) and pure cover skills are major strengths, but he only played in 25 college games with one start. "I think Cromartie could be a Pro Bowl safety," DeCosta said. "He's got a swagger to him and he's from Florida. Those are the kind of guys we've always liked to pick." Cromartie visited the Ravens' training complex along with Tennessee's Jason Allen. Allen is another size-speed guy at 6-1, 208 pounds with 4.39 speed who overcame a dislocated hip from last season. His nasty disposition is a plus along with his ability to line up at corner and safety. "Allen dislikes receivers," DeCosta said. "I think he's got the right mentality to be a very good player in this league." Stocky Ohio State safety Donte Whitner visited the Ravens last Thursday. Known as an intimidating hitter, he excels on the blitz and covers a lot of ground, but lacks height at 5-10. South Carolina safety Ko Simpson visited the Ravens, and might pique their interest in the second round with the No. 44 pick. Simpson (6-1, 210 pounds, 4.45 speed) is aggressive and usually around the football. He recorded 17 tackles against Kentucky last season. Nebraska safety Daniel Bullocks (6-0, 210 pounds, 442 speed), who had a private workout for Baltimore, is another potential second-round target. His twin brother, Josh, starts at safety for the New Orleans Saints. "Bullocks is a little stiff athletically, but big and very fast," DeCosta said. "He's probably a better downhill run defender than a rangy free safety." It doesn't sound like USC safety Darnell Bing (6-2 225 pounds, 4.60) is swift enough for the Ravens, who regard him as more of a small linebacker than a complete safety. "Bing has a good body, but, athletically, he's slightly challenged," DeCosta said. "I think he's too big for the safety position. He's not physically as explosive as a linebacker. He's a little bit of a ‘tweener and if you take Darnell Bing, you're going to have to find a defined role for him. He's not going to do everything real well." If the Ravens decide to draft a pure cornerback in the first or second round, there are a few solid options. Clemson's Tye Hill is only 5-9 and 184 pounds, but clocked a 4.30 and won the ACC track championships at 60, 100 and 400 meters. "You worry about his lack of size, but from a speed and playmaking standpoint, he's as good as anyone," DeCosta said. There has been a wide divergence of opinions on South Carolina cornerback Johnathan Joseph, an athletic 5-11, 191-pounder with 4.31 speed. Some analysts rank him as a high first-round picks, and others have him going in the second round. "He's a little more immature, but has better potential," DeCosta said. "He's not where Hill is yet, but could still get there. You bet on the cuff with him." DeCosta lauded Miami cornerback Kelly Jennings for his cover skills, but expressed concern about his lack of strength and zest for tackling. Ohio State junior cornerback Ashton Youboty might have gone in the first 15 picks next year if he had returned to school, according to DeCosta. "He's real gifted, just inconsistent on his technique and doesn't tackle well all the time," DeCosta said. "He blew some coverages last season." CHARTING THE DEFENSIVE BACKS Here's a look at some defensive backs on the Ravens' radar screen heading into the NFL draft. 1. Texas S Mike Huff 2. Virginia Tech CB-S Jimmy Williams 3. Florida State CB Antonio Cromartie 4. Tennessee S Jason Allen 5. Ohio State S Donte Whitner 6. Clemson CB Tye Hill 7. South Carolina CB Johnathan Joseph 8. Nebraska S Daniel Bullocks 9. South Carolina S Ko Simpson 10. Fresno State CB Richard Marshall 11. Ohio State CB Ashton Youboty 12. Miami CB Kelly Jennings In addition to 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

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