Offensive line not an end-all

Ravens put priority on help, may seek it in middle rounds

2001 NFL Draft

Pro Football

April 16, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

While the offensive line represents a draft priority, the Ravens insist that it's far from an early-round lock.

With a line anchored on the ends by tackles Jonathan Ogden and Leon Searcy, the Ravens will tap into the draft for help at the interior, the team's predominant question mark. But it's not a sure bet that they will automatically jump at taking Michigan tackle Maurice Williams or Nebraska center Dominic Raiola with the first round's 31st and last pick.

The Ravens could end up addressing the offensive line in the middle rounds.

"I think the problem, at least in my mind, is you look at the last two Super Bowls, the guard-center-guard combination for the Rams and the Ravens don't have anybody rated above a fourth-rounder," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "You can win the Super Bowl without having that high pick there."

Last year, the Ravens started left guard Edwin Mulitalo (fourth round), center Jeff Mitchell (fifth round) and right guard Mike Flynn (undrafted). After letting Mitchell go to the Carolina Panthers, the Ravens are set to move Flynn from right guard to center and insert veteran backup Kipp Vickers at right guard.

Vickers, who has eight starts in six seasons, started at right tackle twice last season and played three quarters at left guard when Mulitalo suffered a concussion in the AFC championship game.

"He proved to us that he could play guard at a good level," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel.

But with that juggling, the team is left with no depth for the inside of its line.

"From that standpoint, we do need that in the draft," Newsome said.

The premier guard in the draft is Michigan's Steve Hutchinson, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound space eater.

Although guards have a tendency to slip in the draft, Hutchinson is expected to be long gone before the Ravens pick because he has the potential to play right tackle as well. Most mock drafts have him projected to go to either the Buffalo Bills with the 14th pick or the Detroit Lions with the 18th pick.

If the Ravens want to use their first first-round pick on an offensive lineman since Ogden five years ago, they have a variety of options.

Williams, who was overshadowed while playing on the same line as Hutchinson, has seen his stock rise after his Senior Bowl performance. A converted defensive end, he has become a workmanlike blocker.

At 6-5, 308 pounds, Williams is viewed as having an intriguing upside.

"He's a player who has been at tackle and could probably fill in at guard. So for us, he's somewhat interesting because he's a developmental type player," Savage said. "Most likely, he wouldn't just get thrown into a lineup his first year. But a year from now, he could definitely be a capable right tackle and possibly a left tackle and for sure a guard. So he gives versatility down the road."

The Ravens also should have a shot at taking Raiola, the top of an overall weak center class. Only a junior, Raiola is really the only player of this crop of centers who could start immediately.

Known for being smart, he is a good enough athlete to reach the second level on run blocks. By taking Raiola, the Ravens could allow Flynn to shift back over to right guard.

"The problem with any Nebraska lineman is what they do at Nebraska doesn't really translate well in the NFL," Savage said. "He'd have to learn a new system and learn a little bit more how to pass protect. But he definitely has the physical abilities to do that. He's going to be a solid player."

After Hutchinson, the next best pure guard is Notre Dame's Mike Gandy.

Since there is a significant dropoff after Hutchinson, Gandy could be had in the second or third round. A late developer, Gandy is a basic, strong run blocker.

"He is a big-bodied guard only," Savage said. "He wouldn't provide much versatility along the front."

At a glance

When: Saturday (rounds 1-3) and Sunday (rounds 4-7)

TV: ESPN (Saturday, noon-7 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.), ESPN2 (Saturday, 7 p.m. to conclusion; Sunday, 1 p.m. to conclusion)

Ravens picks: First round, 31st overall; second round, 62nd; third round, 92nd; fourth round, 126th; fifth round, 161st; sixth round, 194th; seventh round, 231st

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