Could the Ravens go defense in first round?

OWINGS MILLS -- The NFL is like most high-profile corporations with virtually nothing done in a vacuum, ignored or not eventually imitated as the highest form of flattery. That's why it won't be a surprise this spring when a ripple effect is expected to transpire as a reaction to how the New York Giants won the Super Bowl.

The Giants dismantled the previously-undefeated New England Patriots behind a fierce pass rush on quarterback Tom Brady.

A heavy run on defensive linemen is anticipated. Six defensive ends are projected as first-round picks. Two defensive tackles are tabbed for the top 10. And Virginia defensive end Chris Long is a strong candidate to be picked first overall by the Miami Dolphins.

"I think it's a copy-cat league," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said during a conference call. "Ray Lewis pointed out how the formula for beating the Patriots is to get pressure on Tom Brady. That's what Rex Ryan preaches, not playing soft and passive, and taking your chances in coverage by attacking upfront.

"It's great to say you want to do that, but it's another thing to have a Michael Strahan, an Osi Umenyiora and a Justin Tuck. Not many teams have a Umenyiora as a pass rusher. That's one thing the Ravens have to improve."

One year after setting a franchise record for sacks, the Ravens' pass rush slumped last season as defensive end Trevor Pryce's broken wrist and torn pectoral kept him out of the lineup for several games. With linebacker Terrell Suggs drawing constant double-team blocking attention, he dipped to a career-low five sacks.

Due to Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan's potential unavailability for the Ravens at the eighth overall pick and highly-graded defensive talent who could complement Suggs, Baltimore could address the front seven with their first pick.

Strong candidates for that spot include swift Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston and stout USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, a disruptive inside force capable of collapsing the pocket and penetrating gaps.

"If Gholston's still there at No. 8, he would be hard to pass up," Kiper said. "It wouldn't shock me if he was there even though I think the Jets need him. He's a guy who fits that mold and played this year with his hand off the ground. We've seen guys like Shawne Merriman and DeMarcus Ware drop a little bit in the past.

"Guys like Gholston have historically done the best as rookies. You're always trying to find those combo guys. You can spotlight someone like him a little bit more."

Gholston recorded 14 sacks last season for the Buckeyes, notching one against University of Michigan star offensive tackle Jake Long for one of two sacks Long ever allowed.

At 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, Gholston has the strength to bench press 455 pounds and the aggression and speed to excel in pursuit.

He's another hybrid pass rusher, meaning he's smaller than most defensive ends and bigger than most outside linebackers. In that vein, he's similar to Suggs, who was named the Ravens' franchise player this week.

"I've had a lot of conversations and other personnel people and coaches, and quarterback play and pass rush have always been the premium," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome told reporters at the NFL scouting combine. "When you've got a good one, you'd better keep them. That's why we're franchising Suggs."

Meanwhile, Ellis could be another option for the Ravens if Gholston, Ryan and LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey are off the board when they're on the clock.

Ellis is regarded as a pure nose guard at 6-foot-1, 307 pounds with 4.9 speed over 40 yards. He dominated the competition at the Senior Bowl, displaying outstanding leverage and quickness.

Last season, Ellis registered 8 1/2 sacks, 58 tackles and 12 tackles for losses. While the Ravens are already stocked with quality interior defensive linemen with Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata under contract, Ellis might be too good to pass up.

As Newsome reiterated this week, "We always take the best player."

Ellis' presence could also create some trade conversation since the Cincinnati Bengals, who draft one pick behind Baltimore and are in desperate need of someone to stop the run.

Trading down for extra picks is always an attractive scenario.

"If Ellis is there, I could see Cincinnati thinking about moving up to get him," Kiper said. "If he drops a little, they could jump up for him and Baltimore's phone could ring."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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