Could we draft today? Yes, that's what Ozzie Newsome told me yesterday morning.
"We're ready. We'll do some tweaking next week, but we're ready to pull the trigger at the 26th spot, and we'll get a good player there," Newsome said.
In talking with our scouts, it looks like there is a collection of about 35 players that every team will rank high, but teams will vary on where various players fit in the list of 35. "We might have a player listed as the 15th-best in that list. Another team might have the same guy at 31, while someone else has graded the player the 8th-best in the draft," director of player personnel Eric DeCosta explained.
I love the draft. It is the most exciting thing we do outside of play games. I have been privileged to watch every selection we've ever made, and I have been continually fascinated by what happens in the so-called "war rooms" during these drafts.
I remember in 2001 when the Giants made a mid-1st-round selection, and Ozzie calmly said to anyone listening: "We're going to get one of those two tight ends we like." At the 31st pick, we took future Pro Bowler Todd Heap. (Alge Crumpler, another tight end who became a Pro Bowler, was the other TE.)
In 2002, Newsome was scrambling to get into the top 18 picks, when we owned the 24th selection. There was obvious disappointment in the room when Ozzie couldn't pull off the trade, and the coveted player we sought was taken by another team. We had to "settle" for Ed Reed, who looks like a future Hall of Famer, when our turn came.
Phil Savage, then our director of player personnel in 2003, offered this after the 1st 3 picks were taken: "We've got a chance to get (Terrell) Suggs at No. 10." Suggs had been projected as a top 4 pick in that draft. We all know what happened.
What will take place next Saturday and Sunday? My confidence is high that we will add quality players. The last time we had the 26th spot in the 1st round was in 1996, our 1st season. Ray Lewis was the player we grabbed. Don't mean to put too much pressure on you, Oz, but can you pull off something like that again?
ARE WE BETTER?
Before free agency started on Feb. 27, Newsome's first priority was to re-sign our veterans. Secondly, he wanted to upgrade our cornerback position, and he wanted to find a big, downfield target for our offense.
With the departure of Bart Scott and Jason Brown, we did lose two players we wanted to keep. But, overall, we've done well.
Leaping out of the gate at free agency's start, Newsome signed cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who is expected to start. When we lost Brown, we quickly signed 6-time Pro Bowler Matt Birk to be our center. Oz signed another corner, who happens to be one of the NFL's top kick returners, when he landed Chris Carr. L.J. Smith, the big and fast former Eagle, was added to our receiving corps.
(And how good is it to have Samari Rolle back in the fold?)
We will miss Bart Scott, but before Bart became Pro Bowl Bart, he was a rookie free agent trying to find a way to stay on the Ravens. Tavares Gooden, our 2008 3rd-round pick from the U (Miami), is in the running to replace Scott, as is Jameel McClain, who made some significant plays for us last season – including 2 safeties – when he was a rookie free agent from Syracuse.
Birk and Foxworth, who grew up in Baltimore, have already moved here. In fact, Matt, who was raised in Minneapolis/St. Paul – as was his wife Adrianna – are in their new home near our Owings Mills facility. (I was in the weight room earlier this week when I saw this beautiful little redhead standing on one our giant treadmills. It was Ava, Matt's 3-year-old daughter, helping Dad get through an extra workout with one of our strength coaches.)
Domonique and Matt have been praised for their efforts in the communities at their former teams. They are quality players, good guys and leaders. In other words, very good additions to the Ravens.
One of the men smiling the most with the arrival of the tight end Smith is offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "We've told Ozzie we could use another big target that can run, and he got us one with L.J.," Cameron said. "With two athletic tight ends like Todd and L.J., we give our quarterbacks two players who are easy to find and guys who can run after the catch. We're looking forward to seeing what we can do with these two inside the 20, where it's tougher to throw for touchdowns. We're clearly better by having an extra weapon like L.J."
WHAT'S ALL THE NOISE?
It's the weight room every morning. Last week, we had 56 players participating in the offseason program. As John Harbaugh says: "The weights are clanging, the chalk is flying, the music is playing, and the players are having fun and getting better."
We are ahead of where we were a year ago at this time when Coach Harbs and company had fewer players here and were meeting some for the first time. Now, you go into the indoor field at around 11 any morning, and you see Joe Flacco throwing passes to Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and L.J. Smith. All of the offensive linemen are here. And, how great is it to see Kelly Gregg back healthy and throwing big weights around like they're nothing?
Love the vibe here right now. A little noisy, but fun and productive.
Talk to you next week from the draft room.
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.