Prepared to Pick at 26


For Ravens general manager **Ozzie Newsome** and director of player personnel **Eric DeCosta**, the 2009 NFL Draft feels a lot less nerve-racking than the previous year's.

After all, head coach **John Harbaugh** was hired a mere three months before selection weekend on April 26-27. The Ravens had major uncertainty at quarterback, the most important position on the field.

And, Baltimore was coming off a disappointing 5-11 campaign that left a franchise and a city feeling flat.

Now, the Ravens' personnel staff boasts a full season working with Harbaugh and the other coaches, something that DeCosta cited as a reason for his good mood.

"I'm not as stressed this year as I was last year," DeCosta said Wednesday at the annual pre-draft press conference. "I've said that I thought last year was probably the most critical draft we've had. This year, sanity rules. I don't want to do anything crazy.

"I'd probably rather hit a double, honestly, than aim for the fences. We're way ahead of the game in terms of watching players, whereas last year, we were kind of behind. We had to really crunch because we were hiring coaches in January."

Newsome pointed to quarterback **Joe Flacco’s** development. The former 18th-overall selection out of Delaware became the first rookie in league history to win two playoff games, helping to lead his team to the AFC Championship.

"Am I sleeping a lot better? Yes," Newsome admitted. "It's a good feeling. I won't say that we won't take a quarterback at some point in this draft, because if the board falls that way, we will. But, Joe is just scratching the surface of what he can become as a quarterback with the help of **Cam [Cameron**, offensive coordinator] and **Hue [Jackson**, quarterbacks coach]. He's already made strides this offseason.

"It's a lot easier, from my perspective, to build a team when you don't have to start with the quarterback."

Newsome believes that the Ravens actually have their roster set to where they could hypothetically line up and play this weekend with a good chance to win.

According to the Hall of Fame tight end, that is because Baltimore is solid up the middle. Stalwart linebacker **Ray Lewis** signed a new contract, as did former Minnesota Vikings center **Matt Birk**. Safety **Ed Reed** is a perennial Pro Bowler, and there are three defensive tackles that can all play nose guard in **Kelly Gregg****Haloti Ngata** and **Justin Bannan**.

"I've heard baseball people say that's where you win," Newsome explained. "I think now that we have the quarterback in play, we have the middle of the field taken care of."

So who might the Ravens select with the No. 26th-overall selection? No chance of anyone letting on in this game of secrecy.

Many draft analysts point to receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland and UNC's Hakeem Nicks as top targets for Baltimore.

Offensive tackle and linebacker could also use more depth.

In addition, tight end Brandon Pettigrew from Oklahoma State and Florida's Cornelius Ingram visited the Ravens Wednesday.

"It's an old cliché that we like to take the best player, but if it's a defensive lineman, a lineman, a cornerback, whatever that is - other than maybe quarterback - we will probably take that player and be happy we have him," Newsome said.

Which is a good place to find yourself if you are an NFL scout.

After months of watching countless hours of game and practice film, conducting interviews of prospects and coaches, and finishing their draft reports, Baltimore's personnel department recently assigned specific players for Harbaugh's staff to scrutinize.

The process is repeated year after year for the 15-member personnel group, most of whom worked their way up under Newsome. DeCosta is entering his 14th year in Baltimore, as does director or college scouting **Joe Hortiz**. Southeast area scout **Chad Alexander** and east area scout **Joe Douglas** both have 13 years of service.

"It's easy when you speak the same language, and you know each other's evaluating skills," DeCosta said. "Our coaches are also catching up to us, so I think we'll be in great shape.

"We've got a good feel for how our coaches coach and the players they like."

As the coaches complete their evaluations, all prospects will then be ranked before draft day.

"We've been together for a year, so we know each other better," Harbaugh stated. "It's a constant conversation. You'd probably have to look back to see [a difference], but we're not doing that. We're looking forward. We've still got a lot of work to do between now and then."

Newsome only has six selections with which to work, tying his 2000 draft for the least amount in team annals and the first time since 2002 he was not awarded any compensatory picks based on the previous year's net losses via free agency.

"We will be prepared to draft at 26, I have no doubt about that," Newsome said. "But, if the opportunity presents itself to acquire more picks, then the way our board is stacking up right now, that would be something we could really consider.

"From where our football team is, to be able to add an influx of young talent is a good thing."

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