Maualuga packs a wallop

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta smiled widely when asked if he would be interested in drafting an inside linebacker. "If there's a Ray Lewis out there, we'll take him," DeCosta said at the Ravens' draft luncheon. "If there's a guy out there like that, we'll draft him."

If intimidating USC inside linebacker Rey Maualuga is still available when the Ravens are on the clock with the 26th overall pick of the first round, then his penchant for destructive hits could coincide with an area of need following Bart Scott signing a $48 million free agent contract with the New York Jets.

Baltimore retained All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis, but have unproven candidates to play to him in the Ravens' 3-4 defense in Tavares Gooden, last year's third-round draft pick, free agent discovery Jameel McClain and special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo.

Maualuga is a helmet-busting tackler, but is so aggressive that he occasionally whiffs on tackles in the open field. However, the 6-foot-1, 249-pounder's striking ability and intensity are legendary.

"Maualuga is a guy I like," DeCosta said. "Very physical guy, lot of production. He's a train wreck. Whatever he hits, gets blown up. Not a great space tackler, but he's a good player. We like him a lot."

Originally projected to go high in the first round, Maualuga may wind up falling into the latter portion of the round.

A three-year starter who recorded 18 career tackles for losses, eight sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles during that span, Maualuga has displayed some maturity issues.

Maualuga was arrested in 2005 after getting in a fight at a party and was required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as part of a plea bargain deal with prosecutors to settle the misdemeanor battery charge. He was also suspended for a game three years ago after he overslept and missed a team meeting. He also was punished by USC coach Pete Carroll for alleged misbehavior at a fraternity party.

Is Maualuga a beast on the field, a party animal or both?

USC coaches have been touting Maualuga's improved maturity, praising his character.

After pulling his hamstring at the NFL scouting combine, Maualuga improved his 40-yard dash time from 4.9 to the 4.7 range at his campus workout. However, some teams consider Maualuga to be just a two-down linebacker.

"I think Maualuga's a little tight in the hips," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "You've got to satisfy yourself that he's good enough in coverage to be a three-down linebacker, but he's an explosive, downhill force. I think he probably goes in between 20 and 32."

The Ravens don't seem nearly as high on Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis, the son of former pro wrestler "Animal" of the Road Warriors' championship tag team.

A t hree-time All-American selection, Laurinaitis is a past winner of the Nagurski Award, Dick Butkus Award and the Jack Lambert and Ronnie Lott trophies. The 6-foot-2, 244-pounder has average 4.8 speed and appears a bit stiff and mechanical in his movements.

He's known as a tough, productive linebacker, recording 130 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions as a senior.

"He's a two-time captain at Ohio State with tremendous intelligence, intangibles and leadership," DeCosta said. "He's a savvy player, a good player, but really doesn't have elite type linebacker skills, but you'll be hard pressed to find a guy who produced more in college and was a better player."

Further down their draft board, the Ravens have been impressed by South Carolina inside linebacker Jasper Brinkley.

Brinkley has great size at 6-1, 252 pounds and runs well with a 4.72 clocking in the 40-yard dash. His conditioning, durability and instincts have been questioned, but the potential third-round draft pick registered 193 tackles, 20 1/2 tackles for losses, 7 1/2 sacks and three interceptions in three seasons.

"Brinkley's a big guy," Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "He had some injuries early in his career and missed mo st of last year with a knee injury but came out this year and had a really good season.

"Phenomenal numbers at the combine. He's a very big, physical inside presence and a guy that can handle big bodies on him inside."

Added Mayock: "It's a bad inside linebacker class and Brinkley's tape is not as good this year as his off-the-field numbers would indicate, but I still think he's going to go in the third round."

Hard-nosed Texas Christian linebacker Jason Phillips is an aggressive four-year starter who always seems to be bleeding. He has 4.69 speed and totaled 315 career tackles, 38 tackles for losses, 7 1/2 sacks and two interceptions.

"Phillips is an active guy," Hortiz said. "He plays hard, plays the way you like it, he plays fast, has good instincts and he's a tough kid."

NOTE: Because of a significant divide on draft pick compensation issues and a tight salary-cap situation, the Ravens are considered unlikely to pull off a prospective trade for Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

The Cardinals want a first-round pick and a third-round pick in exchange for Boldin, according to published reports. Such a trade would leave the Ravens with just four draft picks in this year's draft. Plus, the Ravens are roughly $1.5 million under the salary cap and Boldin is seeking an average of $8 million to $9 million annually.

Former Ravens coach Brian Billick, who never had much talent at wide receiver when he was in Baltimore, weighed in on Boldin during a Monday conference call.

"I think he is a game-changing receiver from his toughness, to his ability to stretch the field," Billick said. "Obviously, given my time in Baltimore, we never had a receiver like him. It would be a great get. Now, what's the equitable price?

"Sitting at 26, even with the record of picking Ed Reed, Todd Heap and Ray Lewis late in the first round, if you could pick a player as good as Anquan Boldin, then that would be a successful draft. What you have to give up in conjunction with that, then that is the determination you have to make."

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

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