Ravens won't sit on corner

Team officials happy with secondary unit but still open-minded

April 23, 2007|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

The Ravens are a bit conflicted whenever the topic of drafting a cornerback is broached.

On one hand, the team's front office and coaching staff is content with its current corps: starters Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, nickel back Corey Ivy and reserves Evan Oglesby, Ronnie Prude, Derrick Martin and David Pittman.

On the other hand, this year's crop of cornerbacks is considered deep, with as many as seven players labeled as potential first-round picks Saturday. That's why Eric DeCosta found himself arguing both sides after the team's draft luncheon Tuesday.

"We love our stable of corners that we got this past year. We're very high on those guys," said DeCosta, Ravens director of college scouting. "Again, it just comes down to the best player available. How does the best player available compare to a guy like David Pittman or Ronnie Prude or Derrick Martin? We'll just look at that, and if we think there's a guy who can come in and beat those guys out very quickly and possibly beat out Corey Ivy as that nickel, then we would consider it."

On the surface, the Ravens would appear to be set at cornerback. McAlister earned his third Pro Bowl appearance last season.

Rolle started all 16 games at the opposite corner, and Ivy demonstrated his toughness in returning to the field after suffering a kidney tear early in the season.

But Rolle was beaten on a couple of long passes during the season, and Ivy, 5 feet 9, is the smallest cornerback on the roster.

But defensive coordinator Rex Ryan isn't losing any sleep about that.

"We feel good about our young guys," he said last month. "We just try to get the best player you can get."

Though prospects such as Michigan's Leon Hall and Pittsburgh's Darrelle Revis are expected to be gone long before the Ravens use the 29th overall pick Saturday, there are several players who have caught the team's interest.

Arkansas' Chris Houston is considered the best man-to-man cornerback in the draft, holding Southern California's Dwayne Jarrett, LSU's Dwayne Bowe and Tennessee's Robert Meachem to a combined 14 catches for 168 yards and a touchdown last fall.

The only question about Houston, who posted the top marks among cornerbacks in the 40-yard dash (4.32 seconds) and bench press (27 repetitions of 225 pounds) at the NFL scouting combine, is a lack of familiarity with zone coverage.

Texas' Aaron Ross - winner of the Thorpe Award, which recognizes the best defensive back in the country - is widely regarded as a tough tackler with big-play ability. He had 10 take-aways and has been praised for a solid character and work ethic.

Like Ross, Fresno State's Marcus McCauley has the kind of height (6-1) to challenge the league's taller players, and his long arms have helped him jam receivers at the line. But some have speculated his lackluster senior year could drop him to the second round.

If the Ravens wait until the second round to use the 61st overall pick on a cornerback, players such as Nevada-Las Vegas' Eric Wright, Maryland's Josh Wilson, Tennessee's Jonathan Wade and Syracuse's Tanard Jackson could be available.

"There are some good corners this year," DeCosta said. "[Former Green Bay Packers general manager] Ron Wolf, I've heard him say this - anytime you can draft a good corner, you should draft him. We've spent a lot of time on these guys. ... There [are] some talented guys, and if one of those guys is there, we know how they play, and we're on the clock, I think we'd turn the card in."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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