Ravens outline draft outlook

OWINGS MILLS -- Here's the Baltimore Ravens' take, at least the on the record discussion, regarding the upcoming NFL draft. Please keep reading for further details.

RAVENS 2008 PRE-DRAFT LUNCHEON

GENERAL MANAGER OZZIE NEWSOME, HEAD COACH JOHN HARBAUGH

& DIRECTOR OF COLLEGE SCOUTING ERIC DECOSTA

Ozzie Newsome opening statement: "Welcome. As you know this is the 13th time that I've had the opportunity to come before you before the NFL Selection Meeting, which is also called the Draft. This year is no different than any other from my perspective. I think one of the things that have been enjoyable for me over the past 2½-3 months is John [Harbaugh] and his staff and the interaction that we've had in the draft room. It's been good from my perspective in that some of the coaches that John has brought to us have been in some very good draft rooms.

And, it is good for us to be able to bounce some information off of those guys as to how they looked at some of the players that we drafted and how they would talk about some of the players that they drafted. So, it's been a very good interaction between the two. Then, he added two guys that came out of the collegiate ranks in Chuck Pagano and Greg Mattison. Greg, coming out of the SEC, which is in my opinion, and I know [former Ohio State Buckeye and WBAL Radio's] Stan White might disagree, the best conference in football. Also, Chuck, who was in the ACC, which when you consider Miami and Florida State and people like that [is a strong conference]. They bring a wealth of information from those conferences and those players – having played against them, having recruited against them. So, they just bring some added information.

At this point, we are down the road, as far as being ready to pick at the eighth spot. We had four guys in today, two of them were draft eligible [and] two of them were not. We have a workout scheduled tomorrow that a contingent of the crew is going to. I think we've got a couple more workouts next week before we convene again on Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday we will go over offense, and Thursday we will go over defense where we will dot our I's and cross our T's. But, I feel very good. I am reminded that when my head was spinning down at the East/West practices, and you guys saw me duck out of the coach's search to go down to the game.

I was standing between Phil Savage and [James] "Shack" Harris, two guys that I've worked with, and [they were] saying, ‘Your plate must be very full.' I said, ‘Yeah, that's true because at this point we don't have a head coach or a staff. But, I think I can figure out who the eight best players in the country [are]. I think I can handle that aspect of it, and once we get that done, we can move forward.' With that, I'll turn it over to Eric [DeCosta] to summarize, and then we'll let John have a say also."

Eric DeCosta opening statement: "From my perspective it's been a great spring. The coaches have brought a lot of energy to the meetings. I think the one thing I'm very proud about is the scouts and coaches have really worked very well together throughout the last three months, and it has been very seamless, in my mind. I'm excited. I've said this is probably the most critical draft we've ever had, based on our needs on this team, based on the future, our record last year and where we want to get to. So, I'm very excited. We've all talked – the three of us – about sleepless nights, waking up in the middle of the night. John came down and said last week, ‘Are you having trouble sleeping?' And, I said, ‘Yes.' I'm very excited, and I can't wait."

John Harbaugh opening statement: "I was happy to hear that. It's been a great process. Coming in from Philadelphia and then seeing how Baltimore operates and how Ozzie Newsome runs his draft, it's a great confidence builder for a coach, for a first-year coach coming in here. This is a very impressive process that's run here, and we've had a chance to sit in [the meetings] for a number of weeks and listen to the scouts read their reports and watch Eric and Ozzie run the show, and it's just been awesome. There is no other word I can use to describe it. And, I think our coaches feel the same way. To see our coaches integrate and see the openness of the process and the way guys have worked together is something that gives me a little more sleep at night, Eric, going into this next week. It's been fun because it's been football. It's been looking at players and talking about guys and seeing where we agree and disagree, and it's a great process."

Do you feel any extra pressure going into this draft being the only one left from the previous draft team of Newsome, Art Modell and Brian Billick?

(NEWSOME) "From my competitive days as a player, I never thought anybody could put more pressure on me than I could put on myself. I think it's a challenge every year. I think every draft is different.

So, I don't feel any added pressure than I did in my first draft. If I was ever going to get nervous and did not think I could deliver, [it] was the first one. Since then, it's been getting easier. But, it's not about me. It's about the scouts, it's about the coaches, it's about all of the work – [vice president of medical services/head athletic trainer] Bill T. [Tessendorf] and what he does, [director of football video] Jon Dube and what they do with all of the video – that's what it's all about. It's not about me. That being said, there's no additional pressure on me. The pressure that I have on myself is that I still have a bitter taste in my mouth about last year. I lost a very dear friend in Brian, and I think it's upon me to do everything I can to get this organization and this town back to where it belongs – and that's on top of the AFC North."

What is your opinion of the quality of the quarterback class in this draft year?

(DECOSTA) "We like them all. I think the top four or five guys all have different strengths, they all have different weakness, but they're all good football players. They've all won in college, which is probably the most important thing. They all throw the ball well, and they are all smart guys. What we have to do is try to fit them with all the other players in the draft, and that's kind of where the magic is – s where you have to take a guy and where you should take a guy. In terms of Matt Ryan, [Joe] Flacco, [Chad] Henne, Brian Brohm, you've got a guy, Josh Johnson, at San Diego that's an intriguing prospect, Kevin O'Connor from San Diego State, those guys are all good college football players. John David Booty, Eric Ainge from Tennessee [are good]. We think there are seven or eight quarterbacks in this draft that are very good prospects."

Why do you feel this draft is the most critical of your career?

(DECOSTA) "Well, I probably say that every year, first of all. I feel that way. Obviously, as Ozzie touched on, the wounds from last season are still fresh. That was a very trying season for me, personally. We have nine picks and they're very valuable picks. This draft is very strong in comparison to last year's draft. Honestly, it didn't feel like we would be able to address a lot of needs last year through the draft, based on the amount of players in the draft. Having looked at it, there was a big hole in the middle of the draft board. This year that hole is a little small hole, but there are a lot more players. We've got nine picks, we hope to have some more at some point possibly, and I think we can really legitimize the roster for the next four, five, six years with an excellent draft this year."

What is your philosophy on what makes a quarterback a No. 1 prospect?

(NEWSOME) "I think each year I've learned more and more about that position. Number one, I try to put myself in the position that I was in the huddle with some pretty good quarterbacks – Richard Todd in college, Brian Sipe, Bernie Kosar, in the Pro Bowl with [Dan] Marino, [Terry] Bradshaw, [John] Elway. I've been in the huddle with some good quarterbacks, so I can recall how those guys reacted, how those guys responded to things and I try to base my evaluation off of that. That's a little bit of instinct. The other thing I think we've learned over the years [is] that in our mind we've basically decided that in order for a quarterback…

All the quarterbacks we've studied over the years that have been a success have probably four traits. I'm not going to elaborate on the four traits, but they have four traits. So when we're watching tape or we're interviewing guys at the Combine or we have two guys like we have today, those are the things that I think we all are looking for. But, at the end of the day, it's how a guy plays. It's a lot of different things that you can try to look for to manufacture whether a guy is going to be good or not, but you've got to put the tape on, watch the guy, watch the guy in critical situations and see how he handles himself."

Would the Ravens trade up to get Matt Ryan in the first round of the draft?

(NEWSOME) "Right now, trading up and trading back is not something we've talked about, because right now we're just still trying to set the board. We've learned I can't control what other people do in front of me. I do know one thing and that is we're going to have eight guys, so there will be somebody there for us to pick. If you look at the pictures around this room, it's probably going to be a very good player. We haven't discussed that yet. I don't know if Chris Long is still sitting there at 4 or 5 that I wouldn't trade up to get him – or Glenn Dorsey or Darren McFadden. I don't know at this point because we're still gathering information."

Is the NFL past the point where teams are willing to trade top 10 picks or is that more likely to happen in this year's draft?

(NEWSOME) "I was talking to an owner down at the NFL Owners' Meetings about when there was a trade in the last four or five years in the top 10, and I think the year that we got [Terrell] Suggs there was a trade. Matter of fact, it was part of the reason we got Suggs because Arizona traded out to New Orleans who took Jonathan Sullivan and they took the two picks, Calvin Pace and Bryant Johnson, which allowed us, once that flurry of activity happened, to get Suggs. So, there have been some. But I think each year, each draft takes on it's own identify, so you have to be prepared to either trade [or] not trade, but you've got to be prepared to pick."

Is there less flexibility to trade a draft pick in the top 10 versus the end of the first round, and how does the investment a team would have to make to trade factor in?

(NEWSOME) "I think the biggest obstacle for people trading up is what they have to give up to move up into that top five. It's not easy to move up into the top five [or] to the top six without basically giving up the majority of your draft.

If you have a board that you've spent basically 11 months getting yourself prepared for a draft and all of a sudden you want to give it up to get one player, or do you want to stay there and take the opportunity to take three or four players? So, I think the price of moving up is what keeps people from [being] willing to move up into that top five or the top six, because who wants to give up [so much]? In our situation, we don't have a third. We don't have a tradable third; we've got a compensatory third. So, that limits our ability to trade up anyway."

What value does winning in college hold in the Ravens' evaluation process?

(DECOSTA) "That's what we're all trying to do. If a guy can win a game, whether he's a quarterback or whatever position, [and he] comes from a winning program, I think that rubs off on the players. When you go to a school that has traditionally won – a Miami, a Michigan, a USC – the players have been there on a big stage. They're use to playing in front of 85,000 fans, a hostile environment, under pressure. They're used to running the program a certain way and there's an expectation level there. What we're trying to do here is to create that expectation level of winning every game. So, bringing those types of players in, they've already done that and I think it rubs off on our players when they come in."

Could winning versus not winning in college be a determining factor in selecting a player in the draft?

(DECOSTA) "That's just one [thing]. There are a million different things that we look at. All things being equal, you'd love to have all of your players come in with 35 Wonderlic scores, they'd all run a 4:4 and they'd all come in from winning programs. But, that's not going [to happen]. But, that is something that I consider in trying to prepare, which is what we're trying to do at this time of year."

What is the importance of ranking a player of need versus talent?

(DECOSTA) "We rate all the players. I rank all the players from first to worst basically with the help of the scouts. Then, obviously, if there are two players close together, if they have the same type grades, if one player is a need and the other player is not a need, we will take the need player. But, in almost every case, if there's a significant difference in ability between the two players, we're always going to pick the better player – regardless of need."

What is the quality of the cornerback class in this year's draft?

(DECOSTA) "They're all good players. I wouldn't say there's a clear-cut No. 1 corner this year in the draft. I think if you polled every single team you'd have a different order, but all four guys are worthy of being first-round picks. I think they all do things very well. They're all very good athletes. I think they will all be starting corners in the NFL."

Will the top cornerbacks be chosen in the top 10 of this year's draft?

(DECOSTA) "That's a good question. I would say that the leading corners in this year's draft are probably tough to evaluate. We spent more time talking about the corners in the meetings than probably any other position, because it is a tough group to kind of get a feel for. So, we have more evaluation to do. We're still bringing players in this week and, hopefully, by next weekend we'll be able to figure that question out."

(NEWSOME) "If the Jets take one at 5, then there's one that's worthy of it."

Will the change in selection time in the first round from 15 minutes to 10 minutes affect much?

(NEWSOME) "Being on the competition committee and actually being one of the guys that talked with the Commissioner about the change… I think it was based on what happened a year ago, number one with what happened with Brady Quinn with him being in the room and trying to make sure that doesn't happen again. And, I said this, when we got to our pick with [Ben] Grubbs, we knew we were going to pick Grubbs as soon as our time came on the clock. I waited until there was five minutes to go before I turned in the card. We sat there and [thought] maybe someone wanted [to trade]. We got some trade calls, but we knew we wanted Grubbs. So, when you take that information into account, that's why we wanted to speed it up a little bit.

Now, what's happening is a lot of us are already making pre-trade calls. The teams behind me are already talking. We've already set parameters as to what it would be. But, as it is in most cases, you know what, if the player is there that I'm picking, if not then you can come up. We're used to picking with five minutes because we've been doing that from the third round on anyway. So, having 10 minutes, I think it's going to be better for the fans. For the people that are watching it on TV it will be more exciting, but I don't think it is putting any added pressure on us because all of the pre-work is already being done as far as getting ready when we go on the clock."

What is the amount of input you are having in this year's draft preparation?

(HARBAUGH) "The great thing about it is that it has been a dialog. I think Ozzie and Eric have been real receptive to the coaches and we appreciate that. It's a confidence builder. I think we've had some input, I think we've had some influence, but on draft day we're going to do what's best for the Ravens, and that will ultimately be Ozzie's call."

Are the Ravens' draft preparations much different than the Eagles?

(HARBAUGH) "It's a very similar process. I'd say, very similar."

Did Brian Billick's influence in draft selections grow with his experience and success as a head coach?

(NEWSOME) "I think what happens is the relationship between the coach and the GM grows. I think that the understanding of each one's role gets better understood. And, then I think there's a trust level that goes between the coaches, the scouts, the GM and the head coach that [is], ‘I trust you that you know what you're doing and you trust me that I know what I'm doing.' Those things grow [over time], but I don't know whether that changed from Year One or Year Nine, I really don't. I do know that there was a major trust that was between the two of us because he saw the process. He saw how the process worked. He saw the interaction; he saw all of the input that everybody had in it. So, if anything, he became more proud and happy about the process and the way things worked out, just as John is starting to figure out and learning our process and how good he feels about it now."

Are the Ravens approaching the draft with the assumption that Jonathan Ogden will retire?

(NEWSOME) "I have not spoken with J.O. since he was here two weeks ago, and I had a good conversation at that point. We have an interesting situation with [Jared] Gaither being here. If he had not come out in the supplemental draft and had a chance to play against three or four of the better players in the league… He could have played against Chris Long, he could have played against [other ACC schools], so it would have been interesting. But, we have him on campus right now and we got [Marshal] Yanda, so we've got some guys that already have been into the wars and are prepared to go ahead and play. That makes it easy for us to just set the board based on who the best players are and don't have to go out to draft. Jonathan may or may not retire. That doesn't have to factor into the equation."

Because of Kyle Boller and his experiences in the NFL, for better or worse, have the Ravens learned how to better draft a QB in the first round?

(NEWSOME) "No. I think you grade the player, you set the board. I think what it has done is it has allowed us to look back and see what's the best way to groom a starting quarterback in this league. Kyle started from Day One. Was that the right thing to do? I don't know. Right now, I'd probably say no. The other thing that is probably more important is that there was not a veteran in that [player meeting] room. Kyle today will tell you that he has learned more from being around Steve McNair – being in the room with Steve McNair, an accomplished quarterback. I think we have learned more about the process of developing a quarterback, more so than how to draft one. Remember, we have drafted some quarterbacks. And, to be quite honest, we drafted one [Cleveland's Derek Anderson] who played in the Pro Bowl."

If you could rank the team's needs right now, what order would you put them in?

(DECOSTA) "I think, honestly, your needs change every day, particularly during the season. I have seen us go from having great backups to in one game four guys getting hurt and all of a sudden we're trying to sign guys off the street. It's hard for me to really asses that. I think people would say cornerback would be a need. I think we tried to do that a couple years ago, and the jury is still out on some of those guys we brought in. There is work to be done there. But, off the top, cornerback would be the thing most people would consider."

Would it be hard to pass up players like Vernon Gholston or Sedrick Ellis, who may not fill a need for this team?

(DECOSTA) "Defensive linemen are so unique. There are not many of them out there. If you have the chance to take a great one, I think you owe it to yourself to do that. In Gholston's case, he is tremendously gifted. He is very explosive and strong. He has outstanding pass-rush ability. I believe he had 14 or 15 sacks this year. He had some big games against Wisconsin and Michigan where he looked like a top-level guy. I think teams will look at him as a possible defensive end or linebacker, depending on the scheme. He's a player that's probably going to go in the top 10. I think Ellis is a phenomenal football player. He is a little bit undersized, but we've had a lot of success with undersized defensive lineman when you think of Kelly Gregg. He has a great motor. He is a strong guy who can play in a one-gap or two-gap scheme, in my opinion. In another draft, I think this would be a guy who would be a top 3 pick. But because of this unique draft, where you have Chris Long and Glenn Dorsey and Gholston – those types of players with him – the picks in the latter half of the top 10 are going to have a good chance of getting Sedrick Ellis. I think he is one of the best players at his position to come out of the draft in a long time. Both guys are outstanding players. But we think we have eight outstanding players we're going to choose from. So, we're happy with any one of those eight players at this point."

How sensitive are you to what other teams think you might do, especially in protecting your intentions?

(NEWSOME) "I think one of the best parts of the draft is the intrigue that goes with it with what other teams are going to do. Right now, probably half of you think Jake Long is going to be the No. 1 pick. I'd probably smile and say that's not going to happen. And, [Miami is] negotiating with the kid right now, for whatever reason. But, we can't control what seven other people do in front of us. Everybody can speculate, but nobody else has had the opportunity to sit with Eric, John, Rex [Ryan], Cam [Cameron] and myself and assess this football team. I think it's the combination of us five that come together to decide what we really need. Other teams do the same thing. So, I don't get into speculating what the Rams are going to do or what Kansas City is going to do. I just have to be prepared for what Baltimore can do at 8. I can't control those other things. The key is John Harbaugh, Cam Cameron, Rex Ryan, Eric DeCosta and Ozzie Newsome."

How does what other teams do affect you? For example, what do you think Miami's Bill Parcells is going to do?

(NEWSOME) "I give Bill a lot of credit. You probably can take eight to 10 teams in this draft that are byproducts of what Bill started with the New York Giants. You take New England, then you have Atlanta, the Jets, you have us, Jacksonville and Cleveland. A lot of what we do started in New York with Bill Parcells. Now, he has the first pick. But, I go to sleep every night – and this is what I learned from the first draft when we were picking fourth: If you've got four players, the other teams can't get four. They can get three. So, I can go to sleep every night knowing that if we have eight players, we are going to get one of those eight. That's the comfort level I have. I have spent a lot of time with Bill. But he is not going to tell me, and he's definitely not going to tell you all. But it's a lot of fun, because you can be on radio and you can write about it. Hey, and the NFL loves that. We've got the Super Bowl, we've got the Combine and we have the Draft. If we can figure this preseason thing out, we're going to have this thing covered!"

How far will other teams go to deceive you and hide what they're going to do?

(DECOSTA) "Well, the Cleveland Browns wrote [Haloti] Ngata on the card [in 2006]. They had Ngata written down and they made sure that our guys saw it."

(NEWSOME) "Arizona did that, too, the year they thought we were going to draft Lawrence Phillip. They wrote Lawrence Phillips down and we said, ‘No, we're going to take Jonathan [Ogden]."

(DECOSTA) "Teams try things. We've always thought it was overblown. We don't really care too much about what other teams are doing."

Who do you rely on to sort out the smokescreens when you make decisions in the draft?

(DECOSTA) "I just watch the tape. We've heard some strange things, but I always believe my eyes. When I watch a player, I know how good I think he is. For instance, Donte Whitner, who got picked by the Bills. We really liked Donte Whitner. You heard, ‘Well, the Bills might take him at 8.' I believed it, because I watched him on tape. I knew he was a good player, so I felt like that was valid. Sometimes you hear crazy things, but you tend not to believe it because the guy is not very good."

Is there a difficulty of judging wide receivers this year?

(NEWSOME) "I think it's, maybe other than QBs, the hardest position because they're asked to do so many things before the snap and then when they start running. And, that's before they catch it. I think it's a tough position for guys to come in right away and play, especially with what they have to go through in college. I think this year, the reason why there's a clump on our board is because they're juniors and we just don't have as much information as you would like to have. Eric has done a study, and the study he did on junior receivers coming out didn't show very well. So I think that's the reason, I think that's the reason, but then again, every year there are probably more receivers on our board than any other position because production counts so much for a receiver, where it doesn't in a lot of other positions."

How much luck plays into the draft process?

(NEWSOME) "I'm trying to think what Sam Rutigliano said in 1978 when I first went to Cleveland: ‘When preparation meets opportunity, that equals luck.' Does that sound about right? Ok, so all of the work we do allows for us to have the luck. I mean we're sitting there about ready to make a trade with Oakland in the Ed Reed draft. We couldn't make the trade, they took the player that we wanted, and we get Ed Reed. I mean, but we had Ed Reed graded that way. So, we do our own work, we don't panic. We have a plan in place and we stick with the plan. We stick with our plan and we just go with our eyes. The majority of the guys that are on our staff all started out like Eric did. So I think they understand the Ravens' way of doing things and I think that's very helpful for me."

What give and take is there on character issues with the players throughout the draft process?

(DECOSTA) "Well, we've had guys lie to us in the past. It's not a good thing, just like if your child lied to you that wouldn't be a good thing. You get upset about it and it may hurt your opinion of that player. These players have a lot of pressure. Sometimes they make bad decisions like we all have made bad decisions. So it's not going to be the death sentence for this guy if he lies to us and then comes clean at some point. We've had guys in the past write us letters expressing remorse about how they answered a particular question, and we've also had guys answer the questions truthfully, and sometimes that information that they're giving us is not favorable.

Ultimately, what you're trying to do is just incorporate everything, how the guy plays, how he performs in all the testing, the Wonderlic, all the background information that you get, and how the guy interviews. The interview is a very significant part of that guy's profile. So, if a guy doesn't interview well for whatever reason, if there are some things that concern you about that player, then that's going to hurt the guy probably in some way. Now with the Commissioner, he's put a huge premium on character. I think you're going to see, even more so than ever before, teams really playing hardball with some of these guys that have made mistakes in the past."

How has input of John Harbaugh and his new coaches affected this year's draft process?

(NEWSOME) "That's a very good point. I made that point when we announced John [as new head coach] that we would get a new set of eyes. Mr. Modell used to always talk about how you need a fresh set of eyes to make sure you're doing the right thing. I think it has been awesome to sit with Cam, [Jim] Hostler, [Greg] Matsko – guys that I've known that have been in this league for a long time. They have a lot of respect from me, a lot of respect from other people around them. I think it's been awesome having those guys in the room. To be able to say, ‘Hey, Cam you were in Miami, and what did you think of these players?' And for him to be able to voice how they saw things, it's been unbelievable for that to happen. So, I think that they've brought some energy.

They've brought some additional energy to our room. Chuck Pagano and Jerry Rosburg, I mean, those guys we competed against when they were at Cleveland, and to have those guys in the building now and have known how other people respected them and their ability to go out and evaluate talent [is great]. And the other good thing is that we'll start to see, come Thursday, they're ability to teach and motivate. It's been very good. It's been very good and very refreshing for me. I just look forward to moving on through this draft, on through the mini-camps, through summer camp, and then we can talk about the schedule."

What are your impressions of the Ravens' 2008 schedule?

(HARBAUGH) "Basically, we're going to play 16 NFL football games against 16 NFL football teams, and we're going to show up. We're going to be there on time and be ready to play.

"It's exciting to start at home. I think that's big. We've got the Bengals at home, and then we finish at home, which is big. Having three out of the last four at home is going to be exciting. It gives our fans a chance to make a difference for our football teams this year – to start the season and to finish the season. That's something to get excited about more than anything else.

"We play the NFC East. We already knew that, and we're playing them at the end of the season. It's going to be the NFC East in cold, miserable conditions, and we wouldn't want that any other way. We're playing the AFC South and all the speed and talent in that division. And then, we're going to play our division. We get some of those guys early, right out of the gate, which is going to be exciting. Those are some of the things that jump out at you right off the bat. It's going to be a tough, demanding schedule, and we're looking forward to it."

Have you practiced for throwing out the first pitch for the Orioles-Yankees Sunday?

(HARBAUGH) "No, but we have a house now with a slope in the backyard, so there's a built-in mound. I have a 6-year-old girl, and she's going to be catching for me tonight. We have to decide, am I going for the stretch or the windup? I'm definitely toeing the rubber.

I'm not walking up halfway or anything. I'm definitely going the full 60 feet, 6 inches. There are going to be some Yankees fans in the house, so I'm appealing to the Baltimore fans: We have to have you. Bring those cheers! "I think it's going to be a fastball."


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