Ducks on the Water
The Ravens are not in the news very much these days, but that does not reflect the reality of what is going on at our training and office complex in Owings Mills. We are like the duck you see on calm water, effortlessly gliding along. What you don't see is the furious kicking the duck is doing underneath.
We're kicking furiously right now. The scouts and coaches are spending long hours putting the final touches on our draft evaluations. All of the information being collected, all of the video being studied and all of the interviews being done will result in a list of draftable players. On this year's draft days, April 26 and 27, Ozzie Newsome will have the final list of players, from 1 to probably around 150, that will serve as the guide for our selections.
While all of that draft evaluating is going on upstairs, weights are clanging and chalk dust is flying as over 40 Ravens players daily take part in the team's offseason strength and conditioning program. Music is blasting in the weight room, coaches and players are challenging each other, and stronger, better Ravens are the result.
Let's take a closer look at both of these activities – the pre-draft work and the offseason strength and conditioning program.
Working to the Draft
Twenty eight of the 32 NFL teams belong to a scouting combine that provides the names and evaluations of college players considered to be draft worthy. The Ravens are one of four teams that develop our own list of draftable players. (Chicago, New England and Indianapolis are the other three.) We have 18 full-time members of our personnel department, which is headed by Ozzie Newsome. Working under Ozzie is Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. These are the two most responsible for whom we draft, but all 18 employees are involved in some way.
In the end, the amount of information we have on a given player we draft is amazingly comprehensive. As an example, let's examine the number of "exposures" we would have for a player from a Division I college.
The first "exposure" will come from our area scout responsible for evaluating the players at the schools in his area. That scout will spend one or two days per season researching the prospects at the college. That study will include watching game film, possibly watching a practice, interviewing staff members, and, often times, students. That area scout will also attend at least one game.
At most of these schools, DeCosta will follow up with a separate visit, doing the same things the area scout has done. A third visit will be made by one of our two national scouts, Joe Hortiz or Lionel Vital.
Once the college season is complete, our scouts attend the practices and games for the various post-season all-star spectacles – games like the Senior Bowl, the East-West Shrine game, etc. Our scouts are assigned to evaluate players at a particular position during the week of these games. For example, Hortiz would evaluate the quarterbacks in practices and then the games. He would follow up that study with tape evaluations of these same players in the weeks following the games.
By this time, our coaches are finished with the NFL season, and Ozzie then gets them involved in the college draft evaluation process. The coaches will be assigned to look at the players who play the positions they coach. In other words, our defensive line coach, Clarence Brooks, would study draft-eligible defensive linemen, paying close attention to players earmarked by our personnel staff.
All of our scouts and coaches then attend the NFL Combine, which is held in Indianapolis each February. The NFL invites what it considers to be the top 300 draft-eligible players to the Combine. In Indy, the players are tested for speed, strength, explosion and intelligence. Each player is given a thorough medical evaluation, and each team is allowed to interview up to 60 players for 15 minutes each.
By this time, Ozzie and Eric's group has a graded list of players displayed in our draft room. It's also at this time that Ozzie sends out a blunt, but polite note to the entire Ravens organization that the draft room is now off limits to everyone but the scouts and coaches, unless invited by Ozzie or Eric.
But that draft list is not the final accounting. Most Division I schools then host their "pro days." We send coaches and scouts to all of these pro days. For example, Ohio State may have 10-12 players working out for NFL teams at its pro day. This gives another "exposure" to these players and the people around the football program at the school who may have more information on a prospective player.
Following the Combine, the NFL also allows each team to bring up to 30 prospective draftees to their facilities. We use all 30 visits. While visiting Baltimore, the player will be given a physical by our doctors, plus spend time with various staff members, including John Harbaugh and Ozzie.
(Part of our evaluation of each player who visits Baltimore is the "van" test. We have a younger member of the staff pick up the player from the airport, and, sometimes, a different Ravens official returns the player to the airport. Those who do those pickups and returns give evaluations of how the players "handled" the time in the car or van…thus, the "van" test.)
In the midst of all of this are constant studies of video from the players' college games. There is cross-checking – where one area scout looks at the top players from other areas. Assistant coaches are given video to study players who play the positions they coach. We also have scouts that Ozzie and Eric believe are better at assessing certain positions over others do studies of those players they seem to have a knack of knowing better.
And there's more.
DeCosta will see video of all the players the Ravens decide are "draftable." This year, that could mean up to 200 players. Ozzie will watch, at least, the top 100 or so. He'll also look at other video of other players one of our scouts or coaches has a "special feeling" about. Ozzie and Eric have Coach Harbaugh looking at tape of 60 players "likely" to be targeted by the Ravens. That's a lot of time sitting in front of large TV screens. Even more when you consider all of our seven picks in 2007 came from our list of the top 100 draftable players.
It's at this time of year, I start asking Ozzie and Eric if they are in love yet. It's a reference to our top pick and the player we hope will be there. Both currently are saying "not yet." Although, Eric does say "I'm very close to asking for a date."
While those video tapes are quietly being watched upstairs, there is a lot of noise downstairs in the weight room, the indoor field and the locker room. There are 40 to 50 players here every day. And, they are working. New strength coaches Bob Rogucki and John Dunn are directing the offseason strength and conditioning program. Players lift weights, do agility drills to improve conditioning and speed, and challenge each other on a regular basis.
You can only smile when you enter our weight room these days. The music is blaring. Players are barking at each other to finish lifts, and it looks like they are having fun while getting better. It has not been all fun for players who are not in the best of shape, or maybe ate too big of a breakfast or stayed up late the night before. The guys are keeping a count of the players who have to sprint out of the room to the closest bathroom.
The weight room has been rearranged and there is more of an emphasis on use of free weights by this staff. There are giant signs in the room that are reminders of what hard work can achieve, plus Coach Harbaugh's continued emphasis on "TEAM." Smack in the middle of the room on one wall are these giant red Ravens eyes. They are illuminated, and they're spooky. It's like one of the horror films where the eyes in the picture follow you around. I was in there the other night by myself, lifting my "baby" weights and those eyes, I swear, were following me. Made me lift faster and harder, so maybe they're working.
We used to let the media come to one of the first days of the offseason workouts. It was a way to be in the news at a time of year when we aren't there as often. It was good for business, because this is the time of year we are renewing season tickets, selling suites and sponsorships. It's good to have our fans and partners see players working hard in March and April.
Well, we haven't invited the media to these sessions this year. There are two reasons: 1st: to let our players and new coaches get to know each other better and work together some before being scrutinized by the media; and 2nd: the media would report less about the 40 to 50 players working out daily, and focus more on the players not there. Not complaining, that's just the reality. The headline would not be: "Almost 50 Ravens Working," it would be "So and So Missing From Workouts." That's the way it works. So, we avoid the "bad" story.
But, I'm telling you, the ducks are paddling over here. We're making progress that you can't see on the surface, but it's there. We're becoming a better team every day.
Talk to you next month.
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Kevin Byrne is the Ravens' Senior Vice President – Public and Community Relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.