With `brain' of draft gone, Ravens would be smart to trust their system

On the Ravens

With `brain' gone, Ravens should trust system

April 15, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

PORTRAITS OF most of the Ravens' former No. 1 picks surrounded the stage as the Ravens draft team made its way to the podium. There were Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Duane Starks, Todd Heap, Jamal Lewis, Chris McAlister, Peter Boulware, Ed Reed and Travis Taylor.

OK, we'll forgive the Ravens for Taylor.

But as the news conference wore on, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was peppered with questions about the absence of Phil Savage, the team's former director of player personnel, who became Cleveland's general manager in January.

What's it going to be like without Savage in the room? Will Eric DeCosta, the director of college scouting, have as much impact?

Oh, please, no more questions.

There has always been speculation floating around that Savage was the brains behind the Newsome/Savage duo. Savage deserves a lot of credit. He was extremely knowledgeable, witty and worked endless hours to make the Ravens one of the best drafting teams in the NFL during the past decade.

But the Ravens' success comes from a system implemented by Newsome, one he partially learned from New England coach Bill Belichick when they were both in Cleveland during the early to mid-1990s. The final say on former, current and immediate future draft picks has come and will continue to come from Newsome.

The team's philosophy of taking the best player available and having top draft officials learn from the bottom up is not about to change. So, in essence, the Ravens have a plug-in-and-move-on system. Former pro personnel director James Harris left Baltimore to become the president of the Jacksonville Jaguars two seasons ago, and the Ravens came away with outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and quarterback Kyle Boller in the next draft.

Savage is now gone, but no one is crying at the Ravens' complex. Out with Savage, in with DeCosta.

"It was a great relationship I had with Phil," Newsome said. "I could read him, he could read me. But along the way, Eric has been right there, in between both of us, learning from Phil and getting to know me."

Nothing will change. With the No. 22 overall selection, the Ravens might be able to fill an immediate need at right offensive tackle with Washington's Khalif Barnes or Oklahoma's Jammal Brown or at wide receiver with Oklahoma's Mark Clayton, or add depth at linebacker with Virginia's Darryl Blackstock or in the secondary with cornerbacks Fabian Washington (Nebraska) or Justin Miller (Clemson).

Which player would the Ravens take?

Newsome wasn't telling.

It's the same strategy that aided the Ravens in drafting Ray Lewis at No. 26 overall, Reed at No. 24 and Heap at No. 31. During the Ravens' first draft in 1996, then-majority owner Art Modell wanted disgruntled Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips, but Newsome stayed true to his draft board and selected Ogden.

He took Ogden although the Ravens already had a future Pro Bowl left tackle named Tony Jones on the roster. He selected Jamal Lewis with Priest Holmes already in the starting lineup, and also drafted Heap though tight end Shannon Sharpe had two to three good years remaining. None of the front office personnel was ecstatic about drafting Reed, but he was indeed the No. 24-rated player on the Ravens' board.

Newsome has always believed you can't foul up with a No. 1 pick because it's going to cost you money and production for several years. Look at the Dallas Cowboys. Owner Jerry Jones has missed on several first-round picks over the years, and the Cowboys still can't get out from under his mistakes despite having Bill Parcells, one of the best coaches in history.

Newsome got most of his drafting knowledge from Belichick, who hired both Newsome and Savage when they were in Cleveland.

Savage started in Cleveland as an assistant to then-defensive coordinator Nick Saban. He worked with the defensive backs, but also analyzed opponents' tapes, compiled scouting reports and conducted campus workouts for the college draft.

After a Hall of Fame career in Cleveland, Newsome started working under Belichick as a coaching intern. DeCosta has similar roots to Savage's and Newsome's. He joined the Ravens in 1996 as a player personnel assistant, working with both the college and pro scouting staffs on the draft and free agency. Like Harris and Savage before him, he has worked his way into one of the top personnel positions with the club.

"Everybody comes through the system, and they learn the way we go about our business," Newsome said. "Then at some point, they go out and become responsible for an area. Then they get exposed to a bigger part of the country and become a director like Eric has become. To get a foundation first is huge."

You have to be impressed with DeCosta. He has been like a machine spitting out names of players, their strengths and weaknesses. You can tell he has the system down. He believes the Ravens can improve either by trading up or trading down because there is so much depth overall in the draft. As soon as the draft ends, he'll be on the phone like Savage used to be, trying to sign undrafted free agents like Holmes, center Mike Flynn and defensive end Marques Douglas.

It's just not one person, it's the system, one where the scouts scout the scouts. Harris took it with him to Jacksonville. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis employs part of it in Cincinnati.

You think Savage isn't using it in Cleveland?

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