No end to Ravens' winning touch

Nfl Draft

April 22, 2001|By Mike Preston

THE RAVENS HAD the last selection in the first round of the NFL draft yesterday, and they came away with Arizona State's Todd Heap, the consensus pick as the best tight end in college football.

Unbelievable.

You can call it luck. You can call it fate. Call it whatever you want, but the Ravens are on a roll this off-season.

They upgraded their passing game in early March by signing free-agent quarterback Elvis Grbac, and then added perhaps the best right offensive tackle in the game nearly two weeks later in Leon Searcy.

They pulled of the improbable by re-signing outside linebacker Jamie Sharper to a new multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract several weeks ago while at the same time keeping a valuable veteran offensive lineman like Harry Swayne on the roster for at least another year with a reduced, but incentive-laden contract.

And let's not forget about defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis staying here for another season after discussions about the head-coaching job with the Buffalo Bills in late January.

The only blemish on the Ravens' efforts this off-season was the loss of center Jeff Mitchell and safety Kim Herring, but that wasn't a big deal.

Actually, who cares?

The defending Super Bowl champions are already better than they were last season, and they pulled another major coup yesterday with Heap.

Right now, the Ravens can't do any wrong. The football gods continue to smile down on them.

"I'm in shock, actually," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' usually reserved director of scouting, of adding Heap, who led his team in catches with 48 for 644 yards last season.

Ravens coach Brian Billick was still pinching himself nearly an hour after the selection was made. He knows someone in the organization is living right.

"If I'm not, the people around me are," said Billick. "I've said many times that fate plays a hand in winning a Super Bowl, that a lot of things have to go your way to a certain degree.

"If you asked me to come up with a wish list of things that could happen during the off-season, and I put down re-signing Jamie Sharper, getting a Leon Searcy, an Elvis Grbac while keeping a Harry Swayne and getting one of these tight ends, you might have accused me of being a bit greedy."

True, but the wishes have been granted, either through the wallet of owner Art Modell, or this new karma surrounding the organization.

The team has a great scouting and personnel department, but Heap dropped to this team much like cornerback Chris McAlister did in the 10th slot of the first round in 1999.

Before the day started, New Orleans, Detroit and St. Louis were teams believed to be interested in Heap or North Carolina tight end Alge Crumpler.

Once the draft began, the Ravens even talked to Miami about trading up to No. 26, ahead of St. Louis at 29, to make sure they got Heap or Crumpler.

But when New Orleans selected Mississippi running back Deuce McAllister at No. 23, the Ravens knew they wouldn't have to make any deals to get one of the players they coveted most in either of the two tight ends.

If neither was available, the Ravens wanted to trade down and then possibly select Georgia outside linebacker Kendrell Bell or Maryland defensive tackle Kris Jenkins.

"We felt pretty good about getting one of them when New Orleans took McAllister," said Billick. "We would have sat on pins and needles, but we felt good about the other one coming to us. Now we're going to get the top one."

At this point in their careers, Crumpler, chosen four picks behind Heap by Atlanta, is more of the complete package. His is bigger (286 pounds compared to 248), stronger and a better blocker. But Heap has more athletic ability and is good at negotiating his way through zone defenses.

He can add bulk to improve his blocking and is good at getting a good push off the defender to avoid getting jammed. And Heap shields the ball well from defenders.

He'll also have the ideal teacher in veteran starter Shannon Sharpe.

"This team, one of their biggest criteria, is speed," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "We have a tight end [Heap] who can run [40 yards in] under 4.7 [seconds], be a factor in the passing game and come in and learn under Shannon."

Having a tight end who can run short, mid-range and long patterns is a must in a West Coast offense. The additions of Sharpe and Heap will be a major improvement over a team that has featured journeymen at the position such as Eric "Stealing Money" Green, Frank Hartley, Harold Bishop and Brian Kinchen.

It's all part of a major improvement for this franchise that struggled during its first four years in Baltimore. The Ravens suffered from money and cap problems, the inexperience of both Savage and Newsome and an old-fashioned coach who couldn't relate to a new generation of players.

But oh, how things have changed. Since winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens now have perhaps the best tackle tandem in the league in Jonathan Ogden and Searcy.

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