Hold-that-line strategy does Ravens well

April 19, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

For once, the Ravens' inertia served them well. Their refusal to trade down before today's NFL draft leaves them with three first-round scenarios, each more appealing than the next. They're going to get a good player, probably a great one.

The only way they will trade down now is if Darrell Russell and Peter Boulware are among the first three choices, leaving cornerback Shawn Springs at No. 4. If that happens, the Ravens will send their pick to the New York Giants for the No. 7 selection, and take James Farrior or Dwayne Rudd.

Russell. Boulware. Farrior. Rudd.

L One of those players will be a Raven before the day is over.

If it's Russell or Boulware, the defense will be significantly better -- and that's before the Ravens make their other three selections in the top 64 or sign free-agent defensive tackle Tony Siragusa.

Heck, even if it's Farrior or Rudd, they'll be getting a pure outside linebacker with a nonstop motor for their 4-3 defense -- plus an extra third-round pick. That amounts to the worst-case scenario. And it's the least likely to occur.

The best guess is that St. Louis will take Orlando Pace, Detroit will trade up for Russell and Seattle will take Springs. But anything is possible in a draft in which the top three teams already have vacated their positions. Russell or Boulware in Ravens purple. Can you imagine?

Russell is strong enough to create mismatches inside and fast enough to make plays outside -- scouts and coaches compare him to Sean Gilbert. Boulware is another athletic freak who could be a Ken Harvey-type outside linebacker.

It's still difficult to imagine Russell dropping to No. 4, but this is a day for fantasy, so why not dream? The Ravens would have one of the best front fours in the NFL if they drafted Russell and signed Siragusa to go with ends Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary.

They then would need to find two starting linebackers -- one through free agency, one through the draft. And, given their needs at tight end and running back, they might have to live with Donny Brady and Stevon Moore at safety and Antonio Langham and DeRon Jenkins at the corners.

The pass rush would be so good, it might not matter. Still, it's probably best to forget about Russell, even if most Ravens coaches prefer him to Boulware. A week ago, Russell seemed headed to the New York Jets at No. 1. If the Ravens get him at No. 4, the question will be, why did everyone back off?

Well, there are concerns over Russell's attitude, maturity and approach -- and the last thing Jets coach Bill Parcells apparently wanted was another head case out of USC, a la Keyshawn Johnson.

"He's a little inconsistent, a little laid-back, but [Ravens defensive line coach] Jacob Burney and strength coach [Jerry] Simmons would change that in a hurry," Ravens owner Art Modell said.

Modell said the 6-foot-4 1/2 , 322-pound Russell might be the best player in the draft, but until yesterday, he seemed less enthusiastic about Boulware. Heck, as recently as two days ago, he said, "That may be an undesirable project."

What changed?

"The coaches have convinced me beyond a measure of a doubt that he could make a major, major impact on this team the way they intend to use him," Modell said. "It's been explained to me over and over again -- in great detail."

What defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis apparently demonstrated to Modell is that Boulware could play every down -- overwhelming tight ends and running backs on first and second, and lining up as a defensive end on second-and-long and third.

Burnett could move inside in those passing situations, with James Jones sitting in favor of an extra defensive back. Either way, Siragusa is a critical part of the equation -- if the Ravens sign him, they won't need to rely on Larry Webster, who is returning from a substance-abuse suspension.

"[Lewis] already has given us the system," Modell said. "I like it, what he intends to do. Nobody can be taken in the fourth spot and be a third-down rusher. We're not drafting a part-time player in the first round."

Thus, the selection of Boulware would be make-it-or-break-it for Lewis, who is likely to be fired if the defense does not make significant progress this season. It's Lewis who has been lobbying hardest for Boulware. And it's Lewis who would be held accountable if the kid is a bust.

It's the draft. Anything can happen. No one questions Boulware's character, but he has a questionable right knee, and some believe he lacks upper-body strength. The fear is that opponents would attack him, double-team him, wear him down.

Boulware is 6-4 and 255 pounds -- roughly the same size as Philadelphia's Mike Mamula, the seventh pick in the 1995 draft. The Eagles' line is mediocre, and Mamula, an every-down defensive end, frequently gets double-teamed.

His ability is hotly debated in Philadelphia, but who's to say Boulware would be the same type of controversial figure? He could bulk up to 265 or 270 pounds once he gets into an NFL weight room. And he's much faster than Mamula. Which is why he appears a perfect fit.

The Ravens need a defender speedy enough to chase down all those mobile quarterbacks in the AFC Central (Mark Brunell, Jeff Blake, Kordell Stewart and Steve McNair). With Boulware, maybe they won't keep getting beat in the fourth quarter.

Boulware. Russell. Farrior. Rudd.

One of them will be a Raven before the day is over.

Pub Date: 4/19/97

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