Ravens say take your pick

mine is USC offensive tackle

The Kickoff

April 21, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

The Ravens held their pre-draft luncheon and media conference yesterday and, as always, there were all sorts of revelations.

For instance, the Ravens pick 13th, and I had the rockfish.

General manager Ozzie Newsome, coach Brian Billick and college scouting director Eric DeCosta were nice enough to field a few dozen questions at the Ravens' complex in anticipation of next weekend's NFL draft, but everyone knows going in that Newsome isn't exactly going to post the team's draft list on the JumboTron.

"If the draft were held today," Newsome said, "we have 13 players we feel very comfortable can come in and make a contribution."

That's already more than the Ravens had last November, but this is no time for sarcasm. Draft day is a big deal in Baltimore, and Newsome has built a terrific reputation upon his ability to make his top choices count ... and his penchant for keeping everyone outside the war room guessing until the last possible moment.

He did say that a good backup safety might be nice, but every NFL team treats the draft as if it's a CIA operation, complete with misinformation, disinformation and, as I said earlier, a nice meal. The afternoon was still useful, however, because it afforded the media an opportunity to get a generic rundown on some of the prominent players, which comes in handy when everyone spends the next seven days trying to guess who will be the next Jamal Lewis or Mark Clayton.

My guess: Offensive tackle Winston Justice. He's a USC guy, which means that he already has played professional football, and he'll provide extra cover for quarterback Kyle Boller, who looks like he'll be back as the starter this fall.

The most interesting exchange of the afternoon came when DeCosta was asked how high character ranked on the Ravens' list of draft-day priorities.

"Character has become a bigger issue," DeCosta said. "Most of the guys we take off the board [because of behavioral issues], they end up screwing up again."

Suddenly, the door swung wide-open on a team that has had more than its share of questionable character situations. WJFK talk-show host Mike Paskoff fired back with a question about the number of Ravens players - from Ray Lewis on down - who have shown up on various police blotters over the past few years.

Newsome handled the uncomfortable question deftly, showing why he remains "The Man" in the Ravens' organization.

"We get the opportunity to talk with 60 guys at the combine," he said. "There were some who made mistakes at 18 to 22 years old. I know what I did when I was 18 to 22 and I bet a few of you remember that you made some mistakes when you were that age. I'm a believer that people can make a mistake and still become good citizens."

The character thing prompted Billick to tell the story of one of those combine interviews a few years ago. The player had a lot of talent, but he had a rap sheet that was filled with youthful indiscretions.

"I'm sitting across from this kid and it's late and we're both tired," Billick said, "and I just decide to get right to the point. So I said, `Let's cut to the chase ... are you a thug or are you just stupid?' The kid says, `Are those the only choices?' That was all I needed to hear."

So what happened? "He was drafted high by someone else and he's doing quite well."

Billick has a cautionary expression for anyone prone to put too much stock in pre-camp player showcases.

"We constantly remind ourselves," Billick said, "don't fall in love with a guy in shorts."

That's good advice. Just ask Mary Kay Letourneau.

Newsome was asked to compare Maryland tight end Vernon Davis - a consensus top-10 pick - with All-Pros Jeremy Shockey and Todd Heap.

"I can tell you one thing," Newsome said. "He's faster than both of them."

Davis is projected to be taken by the San Francisco 49ers with the sixth pick.

This week's funny headline from SportsPickle.com, the Maryland-based sports humor site on the Web: Brett Favre tells waitress he needs another 45 minutes to look over the menu

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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