A few good men on lines are what Ravens need most

April 29, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

If University of Oregon's Haloti Ngata or Florida State's Brodrick Bunkley is available for the Ravens with the No. 13 overall pick, they should take either one of the defensive tackles, and not trade down. And if the Ravens can come out of today's draft with a couple of good interior linemen, then they have at least set the cornerstone for the future.

It's no secret that football games are won at the line of scrimmage despite all the hype about quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and cornerbacks. If you study the Ravens hard, that's where they need to rebuild.

The defensive line is small, and despite rigorous offseason training by several veteran offensive linemen, they are no longer developing but trying to stall the aging process. It's time to build from inside out, not outside in.

Don't get me wrong. If the Ravens can trade up a few spots today to get Texas quarterback Vince Young, then make the deal because he's worth the risk. Playmakers like Young don't come along often. But that's unlikely.

Bunkley and Ngata should be priorities for the Ravens. Most of us didn't like venturing into "Ray's World," the little third-person tirade thrown by middle linebacker Ray Lewis last week. He was self-centered and whiny, and most of his complaints were geared more toward getting a new contract than improving the team, but he was correct on one issue.

After the 2002 season, the Ravens walked away from the defensive blueprint that helped them win the Super Bowl in January 2001. Tony Siragusa, one of the giant defensive tackles, retired and the Ravens apparently didn't feel the other big tackle, Sam Adams, was worth the money to re-sign as a free agent. Other teams tried to imitate the Ravens while they strayed from their plan because they wanted to get cheaper, smaller and faster.

Now, they can get back to the script with Ngata or Bunkley. Ngata is 6 feet 4 and weighs 338 pounds. Some of the scouts say he has a weight problem as if Adams didn't. As for Siragusa, well, let's not go there ...

The bottom line is that Ngata is hard to move. He won't be much of a pass rusher on third down, but he's a good run stopper on first and second down because he can take on two blockers. The Ravens don't have that type of player because Maake Kemoeatu signed with the Carolina Panthers during the offseason.

Bunkley, 6-2, 304 pounds, has a burst at the snap like Adams and can be disruptive. He is stronger than he looks, and he can squeeze through double teams. He has athleticism and can be a pass-rushing threat because he has power and can use his hands.

The Ravens don't have a tackle as versatile. Starting defensive tackle Kelly Gregg is a good guy. He uses leverage, has good hands and a strong motor, but he weighs only 315 pounds and can't rush the passer. Fellow starting tackle Justin Bannan, signed to replace Kemoeatu, weighs only 305 pounds, and has been a backup in Buffalo for four years. He can't rush the passer, either. He is basically a starter by default because the Ravens' two young backups, Aubrayo Franklin and Dwan Edwards, haven't been consistent.

This isn't the first year that Lewis has complained about not having big bodies in front of him. He has met with general manager Ozzie Newsome after every season since 2003 to express his disappointment about the play of the defensive tackles.

It appears that if Ngata or Bunkley isn't available, the Ravens will try to trade down, which is a wise move. USC offensive tackle Winston Justice might be available. He's a good player - decent at pass protection and run blocking - but a lot of NFL teams are concerned about his explosiveness. Forget about his character issues. If the NFL judged players on character, they wouldn't have a league.

If the Ravens trade down to get more picks in what has been described as a deep draft, then maybe they can secure a defensive tackle like North Carolina State's John McCargo or Michigan's Gabe Watson. Or maybe they can pick up an offensive tackle like Boston College's Jeremy Trueblood or Boise State's Daryn Colledge, or a guard like Ohio State's Rob Sims or Pittsburgh's Charles Spencer.

The Ravens invested in offensive linemen last season by trading three picks to get Syracuse offensive tackle Adam Terry in the second round, and then selecting North Carolina center/guard Jason Brown in the fourth. It takes two to three years to develop an offensive lineman, but the Ravens had to be disappointed that Terry couldn't beat out Tony Pashos at right tackle, and Pashos was a fifth-round pick and rated as a project three years ago. Brown has potential, but he might be another year away from starting and he might be a better guard than center. The Ravens also have third-year guard Brian Rimpf, who is a work in progress.

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