Likely target: straightening out `O' line

Ravens' likely draft target: straightening out `O' line

Ravens

April 26, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

Ravens officials said yesterday that they remain optimistic that Jonathan Ogden will play this season instead of deciding to retire, but they said they have not received a definitive answer from the Pro Bowl offensive tackle.

The offensive line is expected to be an ongoing story line for the Ravens this weekend because the consensus among NFL draft experts is that the team will address this position in the first round.

There is a debate, however, over who that lineman will be.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. predicts the Ravens will draft Southern California center Ryan Kalil. Todd McShay, of Scouts Inc., expects them to select Central Michigan tackle Joe Staley.

And Jamie Dukes, a former NFL lineman who works as an analyst for the NFL Network, sees the Ravens taking Texas guard-tackle Justin Blalock.

"He's strong and tough - a Ravens type of football player," Dukes said. "He's versatile, and that's what you need when you're trying to figure out this new offensive line configuration. To me, he just makes the most sense."

Blalock, a unanimous first-team All-America selection, has impressed scouts with his size, intelligence and flexibility. He set a school record with 51 consecutive starts, alternating between guard and tackle.

But some draft observers question whether he has Dukes' nasty streak.

"You'd like to see him be a little more dominant force, play more explosively," said Mike Mayock, the NFL Network's draft expert.

Others see the Ravens looking for a pure tackle prospect because that's one of the thinnest areas on the team.

Besides the starting tackles - Ogden and Adam Terry - the Ravens don't have anyone else with experience.

Staley, the draft's consensus third-rated tackle behind Wisconsin's Joe Thomas and Penn State's Levi Brown, could compete with Terry for the starting right tackle job and would be earmarked as Ogden's eventual replacement on the left side.

"Staley's strength is he'll be a pro-style pass protector," Kiper said. "His best football is two, three years away."

Staley is considered the best athlete in this offensive line class.

He played tight end as a freshman before moving to tackle a year later, adding 80 pounds to his 220-pound frame. Despite the added weight, he still has quick feet and great mobility.

Staley, however, likely won't be available when the Ravens draft at the end of the first round. He could be selected as early as No. 20 by the New York Giants.

"The Ravens will be extremely fortunate if Staley falls to them at No. 29," McShay said. "He's a fast-rising prospect with excellent feet and the frame to get bigger and stronger."

Not everyone is sold on Staley fitting in with the Ravens.

Dukes said the styles of Staley and Arkansas' Tony Ugoh don't mesh with the Ravens' smash-mouth philosophy. Ugoh, who made one of the Ravens' pre-draft visits, is considered a good athlete, but there are questions about his work ethic and passion.

"Both of those guys [Staley and Ugoh] are soft and if you're playing for the Ravens, you've got to be tough and you've got to be physical," Dukes said. "The guy who is rough and tough right now is Blalock."

Other linemen who have been linked to the Ravens are: Kalil, Tennessee guard-tackle Arron Sears and Auburn guard Ben Grubbs.

Sears is a massive prospect who seems to be a better fit at guard than tackle. Grubbs, a former defensive tackle and tight end, has a strong upside as an offensive lineman.

Of these three prospects, Kalil is the most likely to go in the first round. Slightly undersized, he is a polished center who has a natural feel for the game.

Mayock called him the best technician among all offensive linemen in the draft.

Said Mayock: "He has a chance to be really special."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Ravens Spring Football Festival

When / / Saturday, M&T Bank Stadium, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Tickets / / Adults, $15; children under 12, $10; children age 2 and under, free.

Who / / Ravens players scheduled to attend are Derrick Mason, Chris McAlister, Daniel Wilcox, B.J. Sams, Matt Stover, Brian Rimpf, Derrick Martin, Dwan Edwards, Evan Oglesby and Mark Clayton, in addition to new teammate Willis McGahee and former Raven Orlando Brown.

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