Ravens cross fingers, hope for gold in draft It's butterfly time for Newsome, staff

April 14, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

One of the Cleveland Browns' best drafts was in 1978, when the team selected Southern California linebacker Clay Matthews and a tight end from Alabama named Ozzie Newsome in the first round.

Now it's Newsome doing the drafting for the Baltimore Ravens, formerly the Cleveland Browns. Baltimore has two selections in the first round of the NFL draft, which begins Saturday.

"It's kind of great seeing the way this thing has evolved with Ozzie," said Ravens owner Art Modell. "He turned out to be one of the greatest tight ends ever, and worked his way into the front office. I've been impressed thus far with his skills in handling others around him, and evaluating players."

Newsome, 40, was appointed the team's director of football operations a month ago, and his No. 1 priority is to focus on the draft.

Newsome has worked five previous drafts with the club as an assistant coach, scout and director of pro personnel. This year will be different. Newsome has the final say on all the selections.

"In the past, it was always Mike Lombardi [player personnel director], Bill Belichick [former coach] and I who basically set up the draft board, and we all had input, but Bill had the final say," said Newsome. "[Coach Ted Marchibroda] and I have had several discussions about players, but now Ted defers to me.

"It's really no more pressure than in previous years," said Newsome. "The draft has been the only true event that gets my adrenalin going just as it did as a player preparing for a game. I get the butterflies and my blood pressure goes up a little bit before our pick comes about. It's a special time of the year."

It is also a culmination of a lot of work. Ravens scouts and coaches have attended all-star and bowl games and the scouting combine in Indianapolis and covered most of the country looking for prospects. According to Newsome, the Ravens have worked out and interviewed nearly 450 players in the past nine months, including 20 of the nation's top players last week at the team's complex in Owings Mills.

The tests included everything from weight lifting and 40-yard dashes to IQ and psychological profiles.

The process is so sophisticated that most teams in the league have compiled a 1997 draft list.

"The scouting combines give us an opportunity to give extensive physicals, but also the opportunity to maintain background for the last six or seven years," said Newsome. "So I can see what a Michael Irvin or Michael Jackson did at the combine and make comparisons. That's very important information to have.

"We believe the draft is the best way to build continuity, to groom young players," said Newsome. "But as long as I'm working for Art and with Ted, hopefully we won't have the fourth pick again. It's tough on Monday morning to go through 10, 11 or 12 losses, and then say we have the No. 4 draft pick. We earned it, though."

The Ravens are willing to trade the No. 4 pick up or down if the right deal should come along. They want Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips, but the New York Jets, who have the No. 1 selection, reportedly want the running back, too. About a half-dozen other teams have shown increased interest in Phillips during the past week.

Newsome says he expects to talk with about 15 to 20 teams within the next week about making trades. He also said rumors will be rampant.

"All the posturing and lying will start Monday morning," said Newsome. "It will go right up till draft day. You'll hear just about everything. We'll have our final evaluation on Lawrence by Thursday. Everybody has their own gem and diamond they feel can make the difference in their own team."

With the fourth pick, the Ravens have said they will select one of four blue-chip college players from a group that includes Phillips, Southern California wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, Illinois linebacker Kevin Hardy and UCLA offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.

Newsome said the Ravens need help in a number of areas, including linebacker, cornerback, tight end, running back, wide receiver and No. 3 quarterback. The most pressing needs are at running back and linebacker.

If the Ravens can get Phillips with their first pick, they probably will select a linebacker with their 26th pick in the first round, possibly Reggie Brown of Texas A&M. Or if the Ravens take a defensive player, like Hardy, with their top pick, they likely will take a running back or tight end with their second selection.

A quality linebacker may not be available after the first round, but the draft is loaded with running backs. Besides Phillips, they include Texas A&M's Leeland McElroy, Michigan's Tim Biakabutuka, UCLA's Karim Abdul-Jabbar and Ohio State's Eddie George.

Newsome also has been impressed with tight ends Jason Dunn of Eastern Kentucky, Rickey Dudley of Ohio State and Marco Battaglia of Rutgers.

Before Marchibroda replaced Belichick as coach, the Ravens had a lot of interest in Illinois defensive end Simeon Rice.

"We have some flexibility with our 26th pick," said Newsome. "Once you get around 21 or 22 in the first round, you might be able to pick up a player of the same caliber at 40. At that point, it doesn't take a genius. You just have to use common sense."

Ravens' picks

The Baltimore Ravens will have 10 selections in next weekend's NFL draft.

Rd. ..... Pick in round ............ Pick in draft

1 ....... 4th ...................... 4th

......... 26th ..................... 26th

3 ....... 4th ...................... 65th

4 ....... 5th ...................... 100th

5 ....... 21st ..................... 153rd (from Atl.)

......... 25th ..................... 157th (from Phila.)

6 ....... 5th ...................... 172nd

......... 19th ..................... 186th (from Jack.)

7 ....... 4th ...................... 213th

......... 29th ..................... 238th (from Phila.)

Pub Date: 4/14/96

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