Needing a right tackle, Ravens should pass on drafting a receiver

On the Ravens

Nfl Draft

SATURDAY-SUNDAY * TV: ESPN, ESPN2 * Ravens' first three picks: 22nd, 53rd, 84th

April 19, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

CHOOSING A WIDE receiver with the No. 22 overall pick in the first round might be a flashy choice for the Ravens, especially if it's Oklahoma's Mark Clayton. He might run better routes than any other receiver in the draft. He has sure hands, good speed and plays with a passion, much like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

He sounds like a Ravens kind of guy.

But here are the problems: How is his pass set? Can he make blocks in the second level? Does he have explosion off the ball? Are his feet quick, or are they heavy?

The Ravens don't need a wide receiver. They need a right offensive tackle. They need a big, ornery, versatile fellow who can develop within a year or two or possibly start if necessary.

Of all the glaring weaknesses the team has filled from the 2004 season, the Ravens still have a need at right tackle. They needed a vertical threat at receiver, so they signed Derrick Mason. They needed an upgrade at right guard, so they said goodbye to Bennie Anderson and hello to Keydrick Vincent.

When free-agent cornerback Gary Baxter signed with the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens brought in Samari Rolle, and then, for good measure, added former St. Louis Rams outside linebacker Tommy Polley (he is soft, though) to the roster.

If the Ravens are smart, they will try to get one of the big three offensive tackles, Florida State's Alex Barron, Oklahoma's Jammal Brown or Washington's Khalif Barnes. Word has it the Ravens love Brown. If that's the case, and if they have to trade up to as far as No. 11 overall, go for it and get Brown.

The Ravens have said this draft is deep with talent. If they move up, it might cost them a second-round pick, but it's worth it. The Ravens are in a fairly desperate situation on the right side of their offensive line.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and coach Brian Billick have named Orlando Brown as the starting right tackle heading into training camp in late July. That's fine, except Brown missed two games last season with a knee injury and played several others in obvious pain.

Throughout his career, Brown has been a liability as a pass blocker. He already had knee surgery earlier this offseason, and after nine seasons in the league, there is a pretty good chance he won't hold for the entire 2005 season.

Who's the backup? Tony Pashos.

Who?

Tony Soprano might be better.

The Ravens can't afford to have a weak tackle. Vincent might be an upgrade over Anderson, but history suggests he's just average. Newsome's philosophy has been never to spend a lot of money on guards because there is no need for a super athlete at that position because guards often play in tight space and are involved in a lot of double teams.

You can supplement them with a great center, but it's better to have a great tackle because they're often blocking one on one. If Brown doesn't play well, or his knee falters, then the Ravens are right back to where they were offensively last season without a Barron, Barnes or Jammal Brown.

Then, it won't make a difference if quarterback Kyle Boller has improved or if Mason is a vertical threat because Boller won't have time to pass and Jamal Lewis won't have room to run.

The Ravens need a rookie tackle who can at least challenge Brown for the starting position. During their first meeting of the offseason, there was a concern among the coaching staff that Brown would pout or not play well if he wasn't the starter.

That wouldn't be the case. Brown has always been a teacher to younger offensive linemen, much like former Ravens offensive tackle Tony Jones was to Brown and former Ravens center Wally Williams when they were rookies in Cleveland.

Brown's tough demeanor gets him in trouble on the field, but off the field he has remained one of the team's hardest workers in the weight room in the offseason.

Taking an offensive lineman at this point would be less of a gamble than taking a receiver. The Ravens have been a graveyard for young receivers failing with players like Patrick Johnson (second round), Brandon Stokley (fourth), Travis Taylor (first) and Ron Johnson (fourth). Only Patrick Johnson, a journeyman on his third tour here, is still on the roster.

Adding a rookie like Clayton or Alabama-Birmingham's Roddy White would just add to a logjam where there is great potential in second-year receivers Devard Darling and Clarence Moore, but no assistant coach to develop them.

The Ravens need to draft a right tackle. They need someone like Barron, Barnes or Brown, who are very athletic and can be overpowering at times. If the Ravens don't find another right tackle in the draft, they might have to go the free-agency route, where prospects are slim. Or worse yet, they might have to bring back Ethan Brooks.

You can have a Randy Moss or a John Elway, but if you can't block, it really doesn't matter. The Ravens already have some flash. It's time to add some more substance.

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