More than one story line to draft

At linebacker, end, Ravens might choose in between

April 24, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

If the Ravens take an outside linebacker in the first round of the NFL draft - the likes of Florida State's Lawrence Timmons, Florida's Jarvis Moss or Purdue's Anthony Spencer - they'll be confident in the pick because they've had a closer look than any other team at this position.

Ravens assistant coach Jeff FitzGerald ran the drills for the linebackers at the NFL scouting combine in February, giving him an insider's perspective on the draft prospects.

"Being down on the floor with those guys, there is so much to gain from it other than running a drill," said FitzGerald, who has helped run the linebacker drills for eight straight years. "It's big to be around those guys when they're competing because you're able to listen and see how they interact with one another and see how they follow direction. It's a neat little trial run."

His insight could be critical in whether the Ravens take a linebacker with the 29th overall pick because this position has as much talent as it does questions.

The top two prospects at the position - Timmons and Moss - are expected to be taken in the top 20 but could fall to the bottom of the first round because of such questions.

Moss, a college defensive end, showed he could be an elite pass rusher when he had two sacks and a forced fumble in the Bowl Championship Series national title game. But he was suspended for a game late in the season for violating team rules and didn't have a great combine performance.

Timmons is a versatile athlete who played four positions at Florida State, moving around from defensive end to outside linebacker to inside linebacker to nickel back. But he is still learning the game after starting just one season in college.

"Timmons is a jack of all trades," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "He's a very talented athlete who has a bright future."

There is a solid chance Moss and Timmons will be gone before the Ravens draft, but Spencer should be available at the end of the first round.

He is a gifted athlete who has drawn comparisons to former Raven Adalius Thomas because of his outstanding combination of speed, athleticism and upper-body power. He also comes from Purdue, which has produced some quality pass rushers in recent years (Shaun Phillips, Chike Okeafor and Rosevelt Colvin).

But some point to his statistics and question whether Spencer is a one-year wonder. He had 26 1/2 tackles for loss and 10 1/2 sacks as a senior after recording only 17 1/2 tackles for loss and 10 1/2 sacks the previous three years combined.

The biggest vote of confidence for Spencer came from two of his Big Ten opponents. Wisconsin's Joe Thomas and Penn State's Levi Brown, two left tackles projected to be picked high in the first round, said Spencer was one of the best defensive ends they faced last season.

Spencer, though, would have to make the transition from defensive end to linebacker if drafted by the Ravens.

"He's one of the guys that's a projection," FitzGerald said. "But you feel good about the projection because he does show some things on tape that gives you positive thoughts about him being able to do the job."

Whether it's the first round or later in the draft, the Ravens likely will address the outside linebacker position.

They are set with their starters after re-signing top backup Jarret Johnson to replace Thomas, who went to the New England Patriots as a free agent. But other than special teams ace Gary Stills, the team has no experienced backup at outside linebacker.

Depth might not be a concern if Dan Cody is able to finish a season. The Ravens' second-round pick in 2005, Cody suffered a season-ending knee injury last year but has participated in two workouts this offseason.

The Ravens hope Cody will be ready to play this season.

"We have more evidence than just a feeling," FitzGerald said. "We haven't been taking it easy on the knee."

The Ravens also have to consider the future at outside linebacker because Terrell Suggs will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. Although the Ravens are attempting to sign him to an extension, it's possible this could be his last season with the team.

Notes -- The Ravens' Spring Football Festival will be held Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children under 12. Parking is free at the stadium lots. ... Washington State receiver Jason Hill, projected to go in the late second round or early third, visited the team yesterday.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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