Toughness Was Key for Ravens '09 Draft

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Each team in the NFL considers size and speed to be important factors in evaluating prospects in the draft, but with the newest crop of Ravens rookies, toughness was just as critical this year.

Baltimore completed its draft weekend by selecting six players who all share that one common theme.

It began in the first round with offensive tackle Michael Oher, whose rise from homelessness to one of the top talents in the Class of 2009 is well-documented, and continued to a sixth-round gem in running back Cedric Peerman, an ordained minister who grew up working on his family's tobacco farm.

Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta thinks that rugged philosophy - which stems from head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome - will only benefit the team in the difficult AFC North.

"This was a draft about toughness," said DeCosta. "Mental toughness - most of these guys have had some sort of adversity that they've overcome in some way, shape or form - but also physical toughness.

"We have a tough team. We're in a tough division. We've got tough coaches, and we demand a lot from our players. I think these guys are going to come in here, and we got tougher at every position across the board, and that's going to help us this year in the fall."

The Ravens believe that Oher, 22, was a steal with the 23rd-overall selection. Baltimore originally sat at No. 26, but traded a fifth-round pick to the New England Patriots in order to move up and take the All-American.

Oher, a 6-foot-4, 309-pounder out of the University of Mississippi, brings an intense demeanor after locking down left tackle for the past three years.

"There were plenty of people that were going to try to jump up there and get this young man," explained Harbaugh. "He's a tremendous person. He's a competitive, tough, hardnosed football player. Everybody here knows that that's what we look for here and that's how we're building our football team."

In the second round, the Ravens selected Utah defensive end Paul Kruger.

Kruger, who originally entered school as a quarterback but switched to the defense following a two-year LDS Church mission, has his own tales of personal triumph in the face of difficulty.

As a 13-year-old child, he lost a kidney after a Jeep Wrangler in which he was riding flipped and rolled on top of him. Then, in the winter of 2007, he was attacked by a gang outside of a party and stabbed twice in the side.

Still, Kruger made a full recovery and responded by posting 61 tackles and 7.5 sacks last season.

"To me, it's just another scar on my body," Kruger stated in a conference call on Saturday. "I only have one kidney, too. I've experienced some traumatic things, but I've played through them for years."

The third round brought Lardarius Webb, a playmaking defensive back out of Nicholls State. Webb spent two years with Southern Mississippi, but was dismissed from the team for violating teams rules he declined to discuss in detail.

Webb landed at the small school in southern Louisiana and righted his ship, becoming a two-time All-American for the Football Championship Subdivision squad.

"When I'm around crowds, I've learned to make better choices," said Webb, 23. "I was a young guy making stupid decisions for all the wrong reasons. Now I'm older. My thought process has grown up with my age. I'm glad I made that mistake at a young age, so I could learn from it."

Linebacker Jason Phillips from Texas Christian University and East Carolina tight end Davon Drew both came in the fifth round, and both of them are distinct battlers.

Phillips only stands 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, but he relied on heart and determination to overcome those limitations and total 315 career tackles as a four-year starter.

Drew dealt with the challenge of beginning his career at quarterback, where he won two North Carolina State championships at New Bern High School, and transforming into a 6-foot-4, 260-pound playmaking tight end.

Finally, Peerman rounded out DeCosta's "toughness"-themed weekend.

Peerman only started 18 games for the University of Virginia and has some injury concerns, but he ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, which prompted some analysts to give him a fourth- or fifth-round grade.

And, like all those selected before Peerman, who could also contribute to the return game, character was a high priority.

"I see myself as a special teams guy right now, just contributing there until maybe playing my was into the rotation at running back," Peerman said. "I want fans to know that I'm a hard-working guy, and I'm going to bring it to the table every week."

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