Ravens may wait to tackle offensive line

Position likely a later-round target because of injuries, other risks

Pro Football

April 26, 2006|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN REPORTER

It's not entirely accurate to say the Ravens have ignored their offensive line on draft weekend.

They have, after all, drafted five linemen the past three years. And they traded three picks for the chance to take tackle Adam Terry last April.

Still, general manager Ozzie Newsome has invested only three first-day picks - including the one to get Terry - on pass protectors and run blockers in 10 years here.

So even if the Ravens' offensive line is due for a shake-up, don't expect Newsome to draft a lineman with either of his two current picks Saturday.

Should he finagle an extra pick by trading out of the 13th overall spot, Newsome is more likely to use a third- or fourth-round choice on the offensive line. Perhaps fittingly, that's where some of the best line values are in the 2006 lottery, anyway.

This is not the year to be looking for a franchise left tackle.

"At the beginning of the year, I thought it would be a premium class [of tackles] at the top end," said Mike Mayock, draft analyst for NFL Network. "But for a variety of reasons, injuries primary among them, I think it's a class that's not as good at the top end. But there is good depth."

D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the Virginia tackle with the stop-right-there first name, might be the surest pick in this year's draft. At 6 feet 6 and 313 pounds, he has the frame to grow into a perennial Pro Bowl player. He should go in the first five picks.

After that, it gets tricky. Winston Justice of Southern California will be the next tackle taken and could go early. But it's buyer beware. Justice had a great pro day workout at USC after missing his sophomore year for pulling a pellet gun on another student.

Eric Winston (Miami) and Marcus McNeill (Auburn) should be next off the board and both carry first-round grades. But Winston lost the 2004 season to a torn knee ligament and McNeill has spinal stenosis, a condition that could knock him into the second round.

For all his talent, Justice carries a risk factor, too. He was suspended the entire 2004 season after the gun incident, which he characterized as a prank. He returned last year to play right tackle, protecting quarterback Matt Leinart's blind side, and then decided to forfeit his senior eligibility.

"If he gets to the right situation, you've got somebody who could be pretty special," Mayock said. "He has all the potential, all the physical attributes in the world, but more questions than answers."

Justice fired agent Leigh Steinberg earlier this month and replaced him with Gary Uberstein of Premier Sports Management in Henderson, Nevada. Starting with the combine in February, Uberstein thinks Justice has answered the character question.

"Absolutely. He's shown he is an extremely hard-working, diligent guy who's matured quite a bit," Uberstein said. "He learned from his mistake to the point he won't make another one like that. Because of those events, he is at lesser risk than other players."

Uberstein anticipates Justice will be taken between the seventh and 14th picks. The Buffalo Bills (eighth pick), Arizona Cardinals (10th) and Philadelphia Eagles (14th) are teams that need tackles badly. The San Diego Chargers, at 19, may attempt to trade up for Justice.

The Ravens aren't likely to bite at 13, even though they cut Orlando Brown this offseason. Tony Pashos started the last seven games at right tackle and Terry played in the last seven. The team would like to see Terry, 6-8 and 330 pounds, make his push this summer.

The Ravens' offensive line is beginning to show its age, though. Left tackle Jonathan Ogden will be 32 in July, left guard Edwin Mulitalo will be 32 in September, and center Mike Flynn already is 32.

Of the 11 picks Newsome spent on offensive linemen in Baltimore, only four went for tackles, suggesting he may be trolling for guards this weekend. He took center-guard Jason Brown in the fourth round a year ago, and Brown started one game at left guard last year.

The Ravens could wind up with one of the maulers projected for the middle rounds, among them 333-pound Taitusi Lutui of USC, 351-pound Charles Spencer of Pittsburgh or 320-pound Rob Sims of Ohio State.

Tackles who might be available in the fourth round include Daryn Colledge of Boise State, Andrew Whitworth of LSU, Jeremy Trueblood of Boston College and Ryan O'Callaghan of California.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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