The new guard

With Grubbs, Ravens keep rebuilding offensive line

NFL draft

April 29, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

The Ravens continued the reconstruction of their offensive line yesterday, although it's uncertain whether they drafted the lineman they coveted the most.

They selected Auburn guard Ben Grubbs with the 29th overall pick, taking the draft's top-rated guard only after Central Michigan offensive tackle Joe Staley was swiped away by the San Francisco 49ers.

It appeared as though the Ravens would have a shot at Staley after he had been passed over by three interested teams, but they were outdone by a former colleague. The 49ers, who are coached by former Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, swooped in one pick ahead of the Ravens to choose Staley.

The Ravens declined to say whether they would have selected Staley over Grubbs if both were available.

"They were close [on the draft board]," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "I will say this: I think Grubbs at this point is a better player than Staley."

The Ravens weren't devastated because Grubbs, who is 6 feet 3, 314 pounds, was rated among the Ravens' top 20 prospects.

Moving from defensive tackle to tight end to guard in college, Grubbs has proved to be a solid athlete, which fits the team's shift from a smash-mouth front. The only knock is that he doesn't play with a nasty demeanor.

Grubbs is expected to compete with Keydrick Vincent as the starting right guard after playing most of his college career on the left side.

"No doubt he was our highest-rated player at this point," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Sometimes you get your highest-rated player to also fulfill a need. I guess we matched it this time."

The selection of Grubbs came as a surprise to many draft experts as well as Grubbs himself.

He got his first indication that he might be in the Ravens' plans on the night before the draft, when he saw a mock draft on ESPN linking him to the Ravens.

"That really never crossed my mind; I hadn't talked to Baltimore or had any visits," Grubbs said. "But I'm glad to be part of the Baltimore Ravens. I couldn't be in a better organization."

Grubbs becomes the first interior offensive lineman to be selected in the first round in the Ravens' 12-year draft history. But this continues a noticeable trend by the Ravens.

Over the past three drafts, the Ravens have selected an offensive lineman three times on the first day. They previously selected offensive tackle Adam Terry (2005) and center-guard Chris Chester (2006) both in the second round.

The future of the Ravens' line appears to be Grubbs at right guard, Chester at center and Jason Brown at left guard.

"We've addressed the offensive line here the last couple of years in a very aggressive way," coach Brian Billick said. "I think he can add to that total group and give us as solid of a group going forward since I've been here."

The Ravens had long been expected to take an offensive lineman, but they discussed the possibility of trading up for Brady Quinn. The Notre Dame quarterback plummeted from a top-five prospect to the bottom third of the first round, where he was eventually drafted by the Cleveland Browns.

Ravens offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel called Quinn during the draft, but it's unknown how much interest they truly had because there were still players available that they had rated above him.

"When [Quinn] started to come down in the draft we talked about it," Newsome said. "We did make some inquiries about him, and I applaud Phil [Savage, Browns general manager] for coming back in and getting him."

Once Staley was gone - more so than Quinn - the Ravens' decision was essentially a no-brainer.

The Ravens had Grubbs rated much higher than the other offensive linemen available, such as Southern California center Ryan Kalil and Texas guard-tackle Justin Blalock.

"People are going to say it's not a sexy pick, and it's not a sexy pick," DeCosta said. "But I think you win up front. We got the best player at his position by far and one of the best players at any position in the draft. We're very excited about it."

After the first round, the Ravens made two trades in drafting Kansas State receiver-returner Yamon Figurs and Iowa guard-tackle Marshall Yanda in the third round.

The Ravens first traded their second-round pick (61st overall) to the Detroit Lions in exchange for picks in the third round (74th) and fourth round (101st). They used that third-round choice on Figurs, who recorded the fastest 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine (4.3 seconds). He could press B.J. Sams as the team's return specialist.

Then, the Ravens traded picks in the fourth (101st), fifth (166th) and sixth (203rd) rounds to move up into the third round, where they selected Yanda. He adds versatility because he can play both tackle and guard.

The Ravens declared one of the most successful first days of any draft.

"We got three red stars, and those are the players that we think really epitomize what a Ravens-type player is. That's having toughness, intelligence, durability, excellent character and a passion for the game," DeCosta said. "That's the most we've ever gotten in an entire draft, and we still have a second day. So, we're real excited."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Fortifying the line

Auburn guard Ben Grubbs is the third offensive lineman picked by the Ravens on the first day of the draft since 2005:

Year Lineman, position Round, overall

2005 Adam Terry, OT Second, 64th

2006 Chris Chester, C-G Second, 56th

2007 Ben Grubbs, G First, 29th

Today's Ravens picks

Round Overall Round Overall

Fourth 134 Fifth 174 Fourth 137 Sixth 207

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