Draftees Not Projected as Starters

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For the past four years, the Ravens' first overall draft choice has started from essentially Day 1.

Michael Oher anchored the right side of the line from the get-go. Preseason injuries to Kyle Boller and Troy Smith gave Joe Flacco the keys to the car in 2008. Ben Grubbs slid into the Ravens' offensive line early in 2007 and Haloti Ngata started all 16 games on the defensive line in 2006.

This year will likely break that trend.

As a testament to the quality and depth of the Ravens' returning roster, none of Baltimore's rookies currently project to be starters in 2010.

Instead, coaches see them stepping into valuable roles while developing behind steady veterans.

"That's going to just take pressure off guys," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "A lot of guys will rotate in and just make us a better defense."

Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison said outside linebacker Sergio Kindle will start behind Jarret Johnson and Terrence Cody will open the year behind nose tackle Kelly Gregg.

Mattison envisions Kindle occasionally subbing in and putting his hand in the dirt during pass-rushing situations to take advantage of his current pass-rushing talent. Kindle averaged eight sacks per season during his final two years at Texas.

But for now, Kindle and Cody will be used to supplement the veterans and spell them occasionally during the game.

"We're hoping, in the long haul, Jarret's body won't get worn out like it did last year," Mattison said.

For example, Mattison said Johnson played injured in five or six games towards the end of the season, "just because he's the best we had." Now with Kindle and Cody, there's more top-notch depth.

The other bonus is that Kindle and Cody will get a chance to learn from two players that are held in high regard for playing the game the right way – a luxury that many high draft picks don't have.

"That's really a good thing starting out," Mattison said. "We feel very strongly about Jarret Johnson and Kelly Gregg. Now you've got younger guys to be able to learn from really experienced guys."

As far as the Ravens' other draftees, none have an inside track on a starting gig. Tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta will be in competition with Davon Drew to determine who will be the No. 2 and No. 3 tight ends. Todd Heap – another veteran who played through pain and a ton of snaps – will remain the starter.

David Reed will look to carve out a niche in a now-loaded wide receiver corps, Arthur Jones has to compete with Cody and a rash of other young defensive tackles (Lamar Divens, Kelly Talavou, Brandon McKinney) and sixth-rounder Ramon Harewood is more of a developmental tackle.

This year's draft didn't serve notice to veterans or stick a rookie into a glaring hole. It simply provided youth, depth and some unique talents that can be used immediately, such as with pass-rush and on special teams.

"There are always new guys coming into the league, and they can play," Harbaugh said. "It's competition, but I think it benefits our guys who are here." 

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