Ravens' newest draft class is up to the test

Players scored above average on Wonderlic

team may count on several for key roles

Pro football

May 14, 2006|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

Soon after this weekend's introductory minicamp ends, the learning curve will be accelerated for the Ravens' rookies.

The Ravens project that more than half the draft class will become key contributors this year, which would mark the biggest impact of young players for the Ravens since 2002.

If any group can ace this challenge, it should be this crop of new Ravens.

Team officials have already described this class as one of the sharpest in their successful draft history. The Ravens' drafted players produced an average score of 24 on the NFL's 50-question intelligence test, which was six points higher than the average of all college prospects this year.

The 12-minute Wonderlic test is a tool for scouts to see how well individuals make clear decisions under pressure.

"The test score may not indicate a guy is smart, but it indicates an ability to think quickly," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "The players who do well on the test tend to be very coachable and understand the concepts pretty easily. They take what the coach says in the meeting and adjust on the field."

The Ravens are banking on a majority of their drafted players being quick learners. As many as six rookies could fill vital roles vacated by veterans.

First-round pick Haloti Ngata is scheduled to start on the defensive line. Second-round pick Chris Chester is expected to compete for a job on the interior of the offensive line. Third-rounder David Pittman is penciled in as the nickel back, and fourth-rounder Demetrius Williams is a contender for the No. 3 receiver.

Even later-round selections, such as safety Dawan Landry (fifth round) and punter Sam Koch (sixth round), have shots to be starters immediately.

"You can have a good draft and not necessarily address some of the things you need to on your team," coach Brian Billick said. "I think this draft will be one that not only yielded some good players, but addressed some specific needs that we'll see filled this year."

The first practice for Ngata was light but far from forgettable.

Because there's no contact in offseason camps, the 340-pound defensive tackle had to impress more with his skill than his strength. From weaving around the cones in agility workouts to showing a good burst in team drills, Ngata was equally fluid and fast.

"Until you see it in the flesh, it's hard to truly appreciate that combination of size and athleticism," Billick said.

Ngata would be the first rookie to be a full-time starter on defense in four years.

"They expect a lot of you, especially being a draft pick and knowing you have to produce for the team," Ngata said. "You can feel the eyes are on you."

The other standout rookie in minicamp also went to Oregon.

Williams, who had 50 catches and nine touchdowns last season for the Ducks, showed sure hands in making the toughest catches of the day. Then, in a blocking drill, he nearly knocked receivers coach Mike Johnson off his feet.

Williams will battle Clarence Moore and Devard Darling for the team's third receiver spot.

"It's a little bit of pressure, but if you play with pressure, you're not going to perform," Williams said of the first camp. "It's a great feeling to come in and get a chance to contribute. You feel like you're a part of the team and actually doing something."

Among the dozen undrafted rookies, the spotlight fell on Drew Olson, who carried a heavy workload as the only quarterback in the rookie minicamp. He turned down three other teams to join the Ravens because of the better opportunity to play. The Ravens had only two quarterbacks on the roster before the draft.

Olson showed some jitters early with frequent wild throws, but he seemed to settle down in the second practice.

"All you can ask as a rookie is to get a lot of reps and experience," Olson said. "I'd like to think I'm capable of playing this game at a high level."

Notes -- Chester was the only absent rookie from minicamp. He attended his graduation from the University of Oklahoma yesterday and is expected to participate in practices today. ... The Ravens signed 12 undrafted college players: Olson (UCLA); wide receiver Rufus Skillern (San Jose State); wide receiver Tres Moses (Rutgers); cornerback Ronnie Prude (LSU); fullback B.J. Dean (Florida State); running back Cory Ross (Nebraska); safety Shannon James (Massachusetts); linebacker-defensive end Jim Cottrell (New Mexico State); safety Steve Paris (Iowa State); defensive tackle Nick Leaders (Iowa State); guard Kyle Roper (Arkansas); and offensive tackle Robin Meadow (Washington). ... The Ravens' clinic for high school and youth football coaches will be held Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The fee is $20.jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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