The Ravens' draft board is just about finished.
There will be some tweaking before the NFL Draft takes place on April 30, May 1 and May 2, but with intense meetings taking place this week, the Ravens have deemed about 150 players as "draftable."
(I always find it surprising that the Ravens select so few players as draftable, but I've never seen them draft a player who was not listed on our board. This year's draft will include the selection of 256 players. It's obvious that we have a different standard for our board.)
This week's meetings started at 8:30 on Monday morning. All of our scouts are in town for these sessions, which include John Harbaugh, who has grinded through video tape of all of our "draftables" – plus others who did not make our board. No doubt, Harbs is a workhorse.
Our assistant coaches are also involved. Coordinators look at all players for their side of the ball, while position coaches intensely study the players who possibly could join their groups. Each of the 150 players is discussed thoroughly with more time spent on candidates when the "room" has disagreements. (Meetings will end sometime tomorrow – Saturday.)
And, there are disagreements. Intense at times and not for the thin-skinned. Do you think a scout, who has spent the past 11 months studying these college standouts, wants to hear from assistant coaches who just joined the process in the past two months? And do you think the assistants, who actually have to coach these guys to "play like Ravens," want the scouts to question what they know what they see – and what they need – when studying these collegians?
It makes things interesting.
"We love it when a coach or a scout stands on the table and claims a player," General Manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Passion from study is not bad."
"When we have a real disagreement, Ozzie will make the call in the end. He'll listen to the arguments, say little and then place the player on the board. We think it's healthy. And, there's no doubt that 'Harbs' has done all of the study, and his assistants are serious about their work and want to and should be heard," Assistant GM Eric DeCosta added.
The scouts are most serious about these meetings and making their points. "It's like we're having an 11-month pregnancy, and we're ready for delivery. Nerves can be a little frayed, but we all have great respect for one another, and we know the process works," DeCosta said.
"I believe that our strength is that John challenges me. Eric challenges me. Joe [Hortiz, the Ravens' director of college scouting] challenges the scouts. We go in open minded, willing to listen, willing to get criticized. I get criticized, and that's good. I don't believe I have scriptures on my tongue." Newsome said.
You've heard of "Play like a Raven." How about "Scout like a Raven?" These professionals are tough and go to great lengths to be heard.
Even With IVs, Ravens Scouts Respond
About 15 years ago, one of our senior scouts, Ron Marciniak, suffered a serious case of the flu. Fever, dehydration – he was spending a lot of time in the men's room. Team trainer Bill Tessendorf suggested that Ron be hospitalized. Marciniak refused. "They're not hearing all my reports if I'm not in the room."
"Ron would get IVs in the training room on our breaks and come back in the room in a T-shirt with bandages all over his arms," DeCosta remembered.
(Reminds me of another Marciniak story: In 2000, the Browns had the No. 1 pick in the draft, and they selected Penn State defensive lineman Courtney Brown. When our scouts reviewed Brown, he earned an almost consensus perfect score. Marciniak gave the lone objection. "When Ron told the room that he didn't think Brown would be a very good pro, we thought he must have watched the wrong player. We'd say, 'Ron, you're looking at No. 86 from Penn State, white uniform, white helmets?' DeCosta said. "Ron would say, 'I know what I see.' Turns out he was right, and we were all wrong."
*When the Browns announced Brown as the first player in the draft, Art Modell leaned over to Ozzie and said: "Is he good?" Newsome replied, "He's that good, but that's why you pay Jonathan Ogden all that money to keep guys like him off our quarterbacks.") *
Torn Achilles Do Not Stop Ravens Scouts
During these combined scouts/coaches meetings, there is an hour break for lunch. A few years ago, on a Wednesday, DeCosta played racquetball at the break – against me. During the late stages of the first game, Eric crumbled to the ground, looked back at me and said calmly: "I think I just tore my Achilles." I raced to get trainer Mark Smith, who examined the injury and confirmed that it was a torn Achilles. We took Eric to the training room, and he asked Mark "to freeze this thing, I've got to get to a meeting." Eric then asked me to find Ozzie and ask him if he could push back the start of the afternoon session by "15 minutes."
DeCosta didn't miss a meeting the rest of that week, having the surgery over a week later on Friday afternoon. Ouch! But, certainly he's tough. "I just kept it frozen when I was in the meetings," DeCosta said.
Lonnie Young, our West-Regional Scout who played safety in the NFL for 12 seasons, also tore his Achilles in a pickup basketball game in the lunch break the following year. The trainers forced Young to go to the hospital immediately. "He was down at Harbor Hospital, and he had just had his surgery. We had an important question about two players in his region and whom we should rate higher. We got a hospital tech to find Lonnie in post-op. He gave him a phone, and we got our answer," DeCosta said with a smile.
Southeast Area Scout Ian Cunningham arrived from Dallas for these meetings a few years ago. He was immediately summoned back to Dallas after his daughter became ill with a high fever. After making sure all was well at home, Ian came back to Baltimore to continue the meetings. Almost as soon as he landed, his wife called to say their daughter had a relapse, and Cunningham headed back to Dallas.
"All the while he was doing this, Ian stayed in contact with our meetings and gave us his opinions through his cell," DeCosta praised.
"Here's one," DeCosta continued. "[Mid-Regional Scout] Milt [Hendrickson] had to be in La Crosse, Wisconsin because his wife was in labor. Milt ended up making the broom closet across from his wife's room his office, and we had him on speaker giving us key insights.
"These meetings are a culmination of so much work. For the scouts, it's like our AFC championship game, and the draft would be our Super Bowl, so to speak," DeCosta continued. "Our guys take a lot of pride in it. It's very important to them, and they fight through adversity just like our coaches and players do."
Praise From Afar
Adam Schein hosts a national daily sports talk radio show and writes a column for NFL.com. He believes in the Ravens. Last December he wrote, "The Ravens will not only make the playoffs, they'll win when they get there. They are New England's biggest fear." Schein was proved correct. We stomped the Steelers, 30-17, in Pittsburgh in the wild-card round before dropping the 35-31 decision at New England after leading by 14 twice in that defeat to the eventual Super Bowl champions.
Here's what Schein wrote about the Ravens earlier this week: "Some see the calendar flipping to April as a real sign of Spring. The sun shines. Life is good. In the NFL world, the advent of April means it's Ozzie time. While 'offseason winners' annually dominate the headlines in March, when free agency owns the day, the Ravens operate on a different timetable. GM Ozzie Newsome, Assistant GM Eric DeCosta, John Harbaugh and the rest of this brilliant staff establish a consistent culture of winning by owning the NFL Draft. Their collective scouting savvy – and clear-eyed decision making – shapes good teams into great ones. It's truly a work of art."
Talk to you soon, Kevin