Ravens: "We got tougher as a team"

OWINGS MILLS -- One day after being drafted in the first round, Ole Miss offensive tackle Michael Oher was immediately indoctrinated into the Baltimore Ravens' tradition and ambition. The Ravens' goal for next season is primarily focused on overtaking the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, which dispatched Baltimore from the playoffs in the AFC championship game in January.

"I'm going to give it my all and just do everything I possibly can to beat Pittsburgh," Oher said Sunday at his introductory press conference.

As the Ravens worked to upgrade their football team this weekend, they did so with the intention of winning the arms race against the Steelers.

"The reason that they are the team we have to shoot at is they have the Lombardi trophy," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Right now, that's our goal: to get another one of those trophies in this building."

Oher's acquisition had a lot to do with trying to contain the Steelers' formidable pass rush tandem of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and do a better job of protecting quarterback Joe Flacco.

"Going into the offseason, after I had a chance to get over the Pittsburgh game, when I looked at our football team, I felt securin g a tackle for the future was the No. 1 goal," Newsome said. "I told everyone we had to get this tackle thing straightened out because of our quarterback. Joe is the franchise and we have to take care of that. I came into this draft not thinking we could resolve that issue, and we did it with Michael."

One day after unexpectedly landing Oher with the 23rd overall pick and adding gritty Utah pass rusher Paul Kruger, the Ravens drafted swift Nicholls State cornerback Lardarius Webb in the third round prior to executing trades with the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos.

"This is a draft about toughness," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "Mental toughness, most of these guys have had some sort of adversity that they've overcome in some way, shape or form, but also physical toughness. We got tougher across the board at every position."

During the second day of the draft, Baltimore selected hard-nosed Texas Christian inside linebacker Jason Phillips in the fifth round, mobile East Carolina tight end Davon Drew and stocky, high-character Virginia running back Cedric Peerman in the sixth round.

"I think we'll look back two years from now and say, 'You know what? That draft really helped our football team,'" Newsome said. "And we were a strong football team coming into this draft."

Webb has 4.35 speed in the 40-yard dash and the ability to play cornerback or safety. He can also return kicks.

Selected 88th overall, Webb is a Division I-AA All-American selection who intercepted seven passes and had three kickoffs returned for touchdowns while also starting one game at quarterback and rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.

"He's our kind of guy," DeCosta said. "We love fast, explosive football players."

Added director of college scouting Joe Hortiz: "He's competitive, tough. He jumps off the film at you."

However, the Ravens struck out on David Pittma, a Division I-AA cornerback they took in the third round three years ago.

"I think I have something to prove," Webb said. "I love the game. To get a chance to continue playing football on another level is perfect."

Webb idolizes Ravens safety Ed Reed and met him at the Ravens' playoff victory over the Miami Dolphins. He always wears a Ravens cap autographed by Reed.

"I'm extremely happy," Webb said. "I get to play with my idol, my role model, Ed Reed. Baltimore has a great, great defense and to be a part of that is really breathtaking."

Webb's small-school background isn't as much of a concern considering he started at Southern Miss. However, he ran afoul of team rules there, including curfew and a more serious violation.

"When I'm around crowds, I've learned to make better choices," Webb said. "I was a young guy making stupid decisions for all the wrong reasons. Now, I'm older. My thought process has grown up with my age. Since I'm in the NFL, I do n't want to make the wrong decisions because it can really cost me a lot."

Webb's parents struggled with substance-abuse issues for a long time, but he said they're doing better now.

"On the problem of parents on drugs, my mom faced adversity with that and it makes me really think a lot of her," Webb said. "She's a strong woman and everybody's not able to come out of that.

"For her to come out of that and be strong, it really gave me the strength to say, 'OK, I can come out of anything I want to.' Just her being my biggest role model, I really looked up to her and my father."

The Ravens, who brought Webb in for an official visit, are convinced that he has learned his lesson and will contribute a lot to the team.

"He's a young man that realized that he made some mistakes, and he has started to overcome them," Newsome said. "His track record over the past two years shows us that he's headed in the right direction."

Meanwhile, Phillips may be sidelined for at least the majority of spring minicamps due to a knee injury, a torn meniscus suffered at the scouting combine that required surgery. He's expected to recover, though.

"We have a comfort level with him, but I'm not sure what his involvement is going to be," DeCosta said.

Phillips, who visited the Ravens before the draft, is an ultra-productive, tough linebacker who always seems to be bleeding from the crown of his nose. He recorded 84 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks last season, registering 315 career tackles, 7 1/2 sacks and two interceptions in 50 career starts.

The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder has 4.6 speed.

"I think he'll come in and get the opportunity to compete with Jameel McClain and Tavares Gooden," Newsome said.

Drew caught 43 passes for 695 yards and three touchdowns last season. A 6-4, 260-pounder, Drew caught 78 career passes for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns.

"Davon Drew is the kind of player that has a good feel in the passing game," DeCosta said. "Nifty runner, has good hands. I think he can really develop as a blocker."

An ordained minister, Peerman was named honorable-mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference last season as he gained 774 rushing yards and seven touchdowns while catching 43 passes for 695 yards and three touchdowns last season.

Peerman is a sturdy 5-10, 220-pounder whom the Ravens assigned a red star when grading him because of his character and work ethic.

Peerman aced the scouting combine with the top 40-yard dash time of 4.45 seconds, also registering a 40-inch vertical leap and bench pressing 225 pounds for 27 repetitions.

"Cedric is a downhill guy with very, very good speed," DeCosta said. "He's as tough as they come with good hands. His family has a tobacco farm in Virginia where he's worked his whole life. He's a lunch-pail guy."

Added Newsome: "Anytime you can get size and speed toward the end of the draft, you're talking about someone who could come in and make his mark on special teams. That's what attracted us to him."

The Ravens didn't land a wide receiver in the draft and Newsome pointed toward the return of Demetrius Williams from Achilles' tendon surgery as a potential boost to the passing game.

Newsome said that adding a free agent wide receiver before the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs is still a possibility. Nothing has materialized from trade speculation surrounding Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

"Our job is never done as far as I'm concerned," Newsome said. "I'm sure between now and the time we play Kansas City that someone could become available that we would be attracted to and someone that can come in and help our football team."

NOTES: The Ravens are in discussions with several undrafted rookie free agent kickers after not drafting one to compete with Steve Hauschka. "This is a unique opportunity where those guys can come in and compete with Steven right away," Newsome said, adding that the Ravens area also looking at veteran kickers besides Matt Stover right now. ... Newsome didn't specify if veteran Lorenzo Neal remains an option, but the Ravens are expected to bring in an undrafted rookie fullback and were close to a deal with one Sunday night as well as a rookie quarterback, a linebacker, a wide receiver and a few defensive linemen.

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

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