Fans normally notice an NFL team's personnel department during the draft or when a significant free agent is signed. Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting, are front and center leading up to and including that April football holiday – the draft. Oz and his pro personnel specialists, director George Kokinis and assistant pro director Vincent Newsome, are paraded in front of the public when veteran free agents, like a Derrick Mason or a Willis McGahee, are signed.
As you would expect, there is much work behind the scenes before any player is acquired. Since more attention is paid to the draft and the scouting that goes into that selection process, college scouts like DeCosta become better known to the fans. But, personnel executives like Kokinis and V. Newsome do work that is constant and equally important.
When we had our starting offensive tackles, Adam Terry and Jared Gaither, taken out of practice because of injuries earlier this week, the Ravens' pro personnel experts immediately had names of players ready for Ozzie to consider. "First, we had to decide if we needed to bring players in," Newsome said. "When our medical staff indicated that Adam and Jared could be out a couple of weeks, we knew we had to do something to keep our training camp competitive, and we need quality depth in the offensive line to play in the preseason games. We're trying to give each of our three quarterbacks a fair chance to start and we can't have just one set of tackles for every game in August."
Newsome also added that "There are capable veteran players at every position, including the offensive line, that are out there. Now, they are out there for a reason. Maybe they can't play at the same level they played when they were younger. Some have some injuries that make them more of a risk. Others don't want to do training camp anymore. Some are confident that a team will need them at the start of the season because of an injury to one of their players, and they think they'll collect more money at that time, believing a team will be more desperate."
Ozzie noted that sometimes the available veteran could be better than a player at the same position on your roster. "You have to evaluate your young players constantly. You're measuring them against what you could go get in free agency, or maybe from another team. Sometimes you have to make the decision that your young player is not going to project to a higher level and you need to fix the position with a veteran," Newsome explained.
One of Newsome and his staff's strengths is the continued churning they do to keep fresh emergency player lists for each position. "The conversations regarding these lists and the comparison to the players we have in camp are constant," Oz said.
During training camp, Ozzie has each of his 11 personnel specialists evaluate Ravens players during the practices. Different scouts are given certain positions to study every practice. "Part of the reason we do this is to compare our players to what's available on the market," Newsome said. "It's very thorough, we believe. We talk during the practices and then we meet each night to review the film together."
While the Ravens' personnel group is doing this every day, free agent players and their representatives are calling people in the organization to remind them that they are out there and ready to go to work – some for the NFL minimums, others for more money.
And, when you have players hurt, the calls increase from the players and agents – and sometimes from other teams who have too many good players at a position they think you may need. All of this happened as word got out that we had lost our two starting tackles to injuries. (Purposely, we do not give much injury information out in the preseason. It's like playing poker. You don't want the agents and the other teams to know your needs. Protecting that injury information gives you a little leverage. Of course, you can't do this in the regular season when the NFL, rightfully, requires every team to give full injury disclosures before every game.)
So, what did Ozzie do after Terry went down on Tuesday? "We talked to Coach Harbaugh and Coach (Cam) Cameron to see if they wanted tackles right away. They did. We went to our list of available tackles, brought a couple of them in for physicals and workouts. We signed one (Chad Slaughter) and we're thinking about signing another.
"The problem is," Newsome continued, "you have to release other players to make room on the 80-player roster. Ideally, we're bringing in players that not only can compete in our training camp and preseason games, but players who can help you win and make our final roster. That's the best situation."
As Ozzie pointed out to me, the makeup of the roster is "fluid," and the work behind assembling it is constant.
Kokinis reminded me that there is another vital part of the evaluations going on right now. "Every team is at 80 players today. We're going to have to get to 53 players by Aug. 30. We all have needs at certain positions and most teams have an abundance of good players at other positions," Kokinis said.
That means that George and Vincent have thoroughly studied every team in the league. They have projected which good players are likely to be released at the end of August. They then measure those players against what we have – and they have meetings about this that go late into the evening. It's fascinating – at least I think it is.
"Teams know where you need help. There are a lot of smart guys in this league," Kokinis added. "Team A will call Team B and say 'I see you need a running back. We have too many, what would you give us for so and so?' Then Team B says 'You're going to have to cut him anyway. Why would we give you anything.'"
Kokinis explained that "You are continually weighing the players you have against the available field, or the players who could become available."
What's clear to me after talking with Ozzie and George is that we have too much talent at some positions and we'll have to release or trade players who can play for another team right now. It's also obvious that they have targeted players at certain positions on other teams who could become Ravens by the opening of the regular season. Stay tuned.
One more thought on this: Through the years I have seen some sadness and shock because of this thorough evaluation process. I've seen rookies, and sometimes veterans, absolutely jubilant that they have made the final 53-player roster only to be released a few days later when Ozzie and Co. were able to get one of their "targeted" players from another team.
Speaking of the roster, we're going to have a roster contest on baltimoreravens.com. Watch for the details. You pick the most players on our 53-player roster, and you can win tickets to the Super Bowl. Plus, our preseason radio/TV team of Gerry Sandusky, Stan White and Rob Burnett will help you select the players throughout the preseason. Should be fun to enter that competition.
We had representatives from the 13-station Ravens Radio network here on Tuesday. Following the practice, a number of players and Coach Harbaugh recorded "liners" for the stations. The recordings are something like: "Hi, this is Haloti Ngata. You can get all of your Ravens' information and listen to our games on WZBH in Ocean City."
We did these on the field, where you could clearly smell hamburgers being grilled for the fans at our practice that morning. As "Harbs" was recording a liner, Chris McAlister was not too far from the mike when he yelled to a fan, "Hey, I signed those autographs for you. How about getting a cheeseburger for me? They're free." The guy recording with Coach Harbaugh politely asked John if he could record the liner again. "I'm afraid we have a lot of cheeseburger in that one." Coach turned to C-Mac and said: "Hey, keep your cheeseburgers out of my radio."
TEAM IS TEAM
Punter Sam Koch can literally see his house from our training camp hotel. His home is no more than four football fields away from our training camp front door. That's where his wife Nikki and their three children are staying while Dad sleeps in the hotel. "This is part of football. Those of us who are married with children are all doing this as we build our team. I do get the benefit of running home easily, and the kids and Nikki stop by practice, too."
Talk to you soon.
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.