DeCosta puts on game face, plans to keep Ravens smiling

Savage understudy confident he'll be up to draft-day task

Nfl Draft

April 22, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The foundation of the Ravens' draft success can be traced back to the franchise's first pick in 1996, when owner Art Modell pushed for Lawrence Phillips but the scouts' grades pointed to Jonathan Ogden.

In what would become their signature move, Phil Savage still remembers looking at Ozzie Newsome and essentially saying in unison, "It's Ogden."

Such convincing agreements came before each of their 71 picks together, leading to an NFL-best 10 Pro Bowl selections over that nine-year span. Drafting had evolved into a science for the Ravens, a chemistry between Newsome and Savage, the shrewd general manager and astute top scout.

But for the first time since that initial draft, there is some doubt surrounding the most sure-fire draft room in the league.

With Savage now the general manager in Cleveland and Eric DeCosta the Ravens' director of college scouting, will the team still be able to deliver All-Pros with its first picks, solid starters in the middle rounds and unexpected gems on the final day?

"I think that's a fair question to ask," Newsome said. "I think they asked the same question when we lost [pro personnel director] James Harris. I think they asked the same question when we lost [defensive coordinator] Marvin Lewis. We have anticipated that Phil was going to get a GM job, and we've had some things in place to prepare us."

The longstanding understudy has been DeCosta, who began as a player personnel assistant in 1996 and eventually became best friends with Savage.

From their afternoon jogs to working dinners together, DeCosta constantly picked Savage's brain, going over countless players and draft scenarios. Like Savage in years past, DeCosta has to be the leading authority of every player, reaching a thorough grade from his reports, as well as his scouts' opinions.

DeCosta says nothing will significantly change in their draft process, except for the voice of the scouts having his Boston accent instead of Savage's southern drawl.

The key is for DeCosta to not only have Savage's knowledge but also Newsome's trust. One team official did notice Newsome watching film of college players earlier than years past.

"In terms of working together, I think it will be the same [as with Savage]," DeCosta said. "[Newsome] values my opinion. I hope that when I'm asked what I think, I hope that I'm right."

Without Savage, the Ravens might not have pulled off drafting both Terrell Suggs and Kyle Boller in 2003.

The morning of that draft, Savage came up with a scenario in which the Ravens could take Suggs with the 10th pick and then trade for another first-rounder to address their need at quarterback.

"The biggest thing between Phil and I was we could read each other," Newsome said. "I think our relationship is what was key and our respect and trust for each other. I trusted him to do all the things he did, and he knew he could trust me that, under the gun, I could make the right decisions."

The same connection, DeCosta says, exists between himself and Newsome.

In DeCosta's first year as an assistant, he remembers sitting alone in the stands at the rookie combine when he heard Newsome yelling to him. DeCosta was invited back to "the perch," the press box where only the likes of Dick Vermeil, Dennis Green and Mike Holmgren sit.

Every year since, it has become a tradition for Newsome and DeCosta to hang out there together, while the rest of the scouts work in the stands.

"It's like the backup quarterback waiting for the other guy to move on," Newsome said of DeCosta. "I remember the great high-five me and Phil had after we picked Todd Heap. It will just be Eric and I high-fiving this year."

Like they've done so often in the draft room, Savage agreed with Newsome about the Ravens' chances of continued success.

"There's three reasons why the process works: Ozzie sets the tone on what the team is looking for, there's continuity in the [scouting] group, and that group has a passion for scouting," he said. "Once the group got success, it believed in the system and that momentum is still going."

What will remain unchanged is Newsome having the final say on draft day. If not for his big-picture approach, Jamal Lewis could be playing elsewhere.

In 1999, Newsome, Savage and first-year coach Brian Billick all conflicted on what to do in the second round. Savage wanted to keep the pick. Billick urged to trade it to Minnesota to obtain lineman Everett Lindsay.

Newsome sent the pick to the Atlanta Falcons for what became the fifth overall selection in 2000, which they used to land their franchise running back.

"Phil Savage did an outstanding job for this organization ... but at the end of the day, there is one guy on draft day that has to make the call, that has to have the collective prospective of what the board is and what it does for this team," Billick said. "I don't know if there's anybody any better at it than Ozzie. As long as Ozzie stays in that chair, I think our success will continue."

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