Win offers lift, but how about pick?

December 03, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

One victory over Pittsburgh.

It electrified Memorial Stadium. It captivated a city of skeptics. It maybe even signaled the turnaround of this staggering franchise.

But enough of this touchy-feely celebration.

What are the Ravens trying to do, blow a top five draft pick?

The sky is falling! Their position is falling!

The answer is yes.

"Winning right now is more important to me than whether we're picking fourth or 10th," said Ozzie Newsome, Ravens director of player personnel.

Newsome has to say that -- he's in the business of winning football games. But he also believes it, and coach Ted Marchibroda does, too.

They're trying to create a winning aura, so it's only natural for them to view Sunday's 31-17 victory over Pittsburgh as a major step forward.

"The important thing is to continue winning," Marchibroda said. "That's first and foremost -- our football team going into next year knowing they can win."

Newsome was even more direct.

"Any team I was ever on, you started winning the year before," the former tight end said. "We can get some good players [in the draft]. We can upgrade our talent level.

"But if you get that core group of guys winning, believing in the system, that's more important than one player. No one player can turn around the mentality of a football team."

Especially a football team that is so accustomed to losing it occasionally becomes "self-satisfied" after its rare victories, according to Marchibroda.

Still, what happens if the Ravens win two of their final three games to finish 6-10?

It's possible.

And it could cost them the big-time pass rusher they desperately need in the draft.

A triumph this week in Cincinnati and the Ravens would secure not only their first road win, but also their first two-game winning streak.

After that, they play at Carolina -- a likely defeat, seeing as how the Panthers are 6-0 at home, and contending for the NFC West title.

But the season finale at home against Houston is winnable, even if the Oilers did beat the Ravens by 16 points in Week 3.

It's an unsatisfying scenario.

Mediocre season.

Modest pick.

Right now, the Ravens are 4-9, tied with St. Louis and Tampa Bay for the fourth-worst record in the NFL. Five teams are 5-8. Four are 6-7.

A 6-10 record could drop the Ravens out of the top five. A 7-9 record -- heaven forbid -- could drop them out of the top 10.

What would be the difference in talent between, say, No. 5 and No. 10? It's impossible to say without knowing which underclassmen will enter the draft.

Plus, it's impossible to predict.

This year, the Ravens identified five players they would be comfortable taking at No. 4, and selected offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden. After that, there was a drop-off, Newsome said.

Still, Houston selected Eddie George at No. 14, and he has made a bigger impact than two running backs taken before him -- Lawrence Phillips (No. 6) and the injured Tim Biakabutuka (No. 8).

Meanwhile, four impact players -- Denver linebacker John Mobley, St. Louis punt returner Eddie Kennison, Indianapolis receiver Marvin Harrison and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis -- all went between Nos. 15 and 26.

Next year?

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. yesterday named two defensive ends who could help the Ravens -- Florida State's Peter Boulware and Nebraska's Grant Wistrom.

But both are juniors.

They could stay in school.

Or they could be the wrong fit.

Kiper called Boulware "the best defensive player I've seen in a long time," but said he might be better as a defensive end in a 4-3 than as an outside linebacker in a 3-4.

Which scheme will the Ravens employ next season? Newsome and Marchibroda say it's too early to decide, but it seems likely they'll stay in the 3-4.

Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis grew familiar with the 3-4 as the linebackers coach in Pittsburgh.

Carolina, coached by another former Pittsburgh assistant, Dom Capers, is the only other NFL team using that alignment.

What makes the 3-4 work?

Dominant outside linebackers.

Players who usually go high in the draft.

"Look at Pittsburgh, look at Carolina, look what dictates their success," Kiper said. "Name me a defensive lineman on Carolina. Most people can't. They've got all these retreads.

"But Lamar Lathon and Kevin Greene, you can name -- and Sam Mills. The linebackers allow Dom Capers to dominate. And the corners.

"Look at the Pittsburgh Steelers. Nobody knows Brentson Buckner, Joel Steed and Ray Seals. But they know Chad Brown, Greg Lloyd and Rod Woodson.

"That, to me, is where you go. The defensive linemen in a Dom Capers-Marvin Lewis system are not that important. They're important to occupy people. You're looking at linebackers, corners and big defensive linemen."

The thing is, the draft isn't the only way for the Ravens to retool. Indeed, they might be better off with a lower pick, for then they would pay a lower signing bonus to their first-round selection.

That could enable them to keep their players and add free agents. Pittsburgh linebacker Chad Brown, for one, would look good in a Ravens uniform.

Whatever, Marchibroda's first priority is to win.

"I don't think you give any thought to the draft as long as you're playing football," he said. "I don't think you can ever send a football team on the field without giving them a chance to win the football game.

"It's a tough game. You never entertain the thought of going out on the field and not winning a football game. The draft is not a consideration."

Maybe not, but a chance to draft this year's Lawrence Taylor sure would seem more important than a victory over Houston on Dec. 22.

Eye on the prize, Ted!

Pub Date: 12/03/96

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