Ravens scouting the combine

OWINGS MILLS -- As the NFL launches its annual mass job interview, ideal prospects for the Baltimore Ravens carry a fairly specific criteria. Linebackers, running backs, offensive tackles and cornerbacks are strongly encouraged to apply.

With a delegation of scouts, coaches and executives representing the Ravens at the NFL scouting combine this week at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, the defending AFC North champions are expected to concentrate heavily on evaluating those four positions as they scout 335 draft-eligible prospects.
Here's why:
All-Pro outside linebacker Adalius Thomas is considered likely to depart via free agency as one of the top 10 free agents. Plus, veteran middle linebacker Ray Lewis has only two more years remaining on his contract.
Former Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis, whose productivity has steadily declined since being named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2003, is due a $5 million roster bonus March 3 and might not be back unless he restructures his contract.
All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden is pondering retirement. Even if he decides to return, this is likely to be his last season. Cornerback Samari Rolle struggled in deep coverage last season, appearing to lose a burst of recovery speed as he was burnt for several touchdowns. Depending on what transpires in free agency, the Ravens are likely to be seeking depth or starting candidates through their favorite avenue to replenish their roster: the two-day college draft, which begins April 28.
"With Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore has a great track record of finding players that can help them pretty quickly and I'm expecting them to take a hard look at outside linebackers like Anthony Spencer," said Mel Kiper Jr., the ESPN draft analyst and Baltimore native who has been studying the draft since the late 1970s. "Spencer is kind of like Shaun Phillips from the Chargers. He's very productive. He can play on his feet. With Adalius Thomas' situation, he could fill that role with Baltimore. They could also go for a running back or a cornerback early."
A 6-foot-3, 261-pounder who registered 26 1/2 tackles for losses and 10 1/2 sacks as a Purdue senior last season, Spencer is regarded as an athletic pass rusher who could play defensive end in a 4-3 alignment or project to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Meanwhile, the Ravens spent a lot of time at the Senior Bowl evaluating Texas cornerback Aaron Ross, the Jim Thorpe Award winner.
"Aaron Ross is so physical in run support, he's an intimidating, hard-nosed ballhawk," Kiper said. "I worry about his speed because he can be beaten and doesn't catch up that effectively. I downgrade him some for not having that explosive, catch-up speed, but he'll go pretty high in the draft."
Only a few offensive tackles have first-round grades like Wisconsin standout Joe Thomas and Penn State blue-chipper Levi Brown. This is regarded as a deep draft for guards and centers with one mock draft linking the Ravens to versatile Auburn guard Ben Grubbs.
Baltimore is looking for a quarterback to eventually succeed Steve McNair, but this draft is extremely thin under center after elite prospects like LSU's JaMarcus Russell and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn. Kiper was fairly high on Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton as a developmental prospect, possibly as high as the third round.
The Ravens have the 29th overall pick of the first round after a franchise-best 13-3 campaign. That might be too high for the running backs expected to be available after Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson and Cal's Marshawn Lynch are selected.
Louisville's Michael Bush, who's recovering from a broken leg, has the next highest grade and is regarded as a late first-round, early second-round candidate.
Kiper was also complimentary of Nebraska runner Brandon Jackson, Auburn's Kenny Irons, Ohio State's Antonio Pittman and Fresno State's Dwayne Wright.
"Historically, running backs are going to go be successful in the NFL even if they don't get picked in the first round," Kiper said. "You can find a bargain. Look at Maurice Jones-Drew with Jacksonville and he went in the second round.
"Teams will say they mostly go off what they see on film, but how fast Michael Bush runs is going to go a long way toward how high he gets drafted and how much money he gets paid. They might not get a Jamal Lewis type, but the Ravens should be able to find a solid runner if that's the way they want to go."
NOTE: The Ravens only have two safeties under contract with starters Ed Reed and Dawan Landry, so they will be looking for someone to create depth.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland

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