Undrafted players on Ravens' radar

Team will see results of scouts' challenging work when rookie minicamp begins today

Football

May 04, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

From Priest Holmes to Bart Scott to Maake Kemoeatu, the Ravens have always prided themselves on finding the best undrafted college players.

But this year, the challenge seemed even steeper than before.

Signing the top undrafted players became more difficult because other teams were spending more money because of the increased salary cap and the Ravens had fewer opportunities to sell.

"It seemed like everyone [on the Ravens] was fighting the fight this year," said Joe Hortiz, a national scout for the team.

When the Ravens begin their rookie minicamp today, the scouting department can still envision some from this year's undrafted college class making the final cut.

The Ravens are intrigued with Southern California offensive tackle Kyle Williams, Central Michigan wide receiver Damien Linson, Penn State safety Donnie Johnson, Mississippi State defensive lineman Andrew Powell and Notre Dame tight end Marcus Freeman.

This is a solid crop of players considering the Ravens have only a few spots available on the roster.

How many receivers would want to sign with the Ravens when they have Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams? How many cornerbacks would want to come here when the Ravens bring back eight of them from last year? And how many offensive and defensive linemen would think about the Ravens when other teams were spending more than they have in the past?

Coordinated by area scouts Joe Douglas and Jeremiah Washburn, the process of signing - and recruiting - these undrafted college players really starts on the second day of the draft. In between picks, the Ravens' scouts are calling players and agents about their interest in signing them after the draft.

Once the draft is over, the scouts continue to make calls and will even get the coaches involved to talk to the players about what their roles would be. It'll take three or four hours after the draft has wrapped up before the Ravens know which undrafted players they have signed.

Eventually, the Ravens hope they can find a player like they did last year with Ronnie Prude, an undrafted cornerback who went on to make two interceptions and score a touchdown.

"It's so rapid-fire," Hortiz said. "You're selling them on the Ravens and the opportunities. You just got to pound it out. The agents are out there shopping to get the most for their clients. Some will look at opportunity over money."

One of those players was Williams, who drew interest from multiple teams because he was USC's starting right tackle.

He has potential to make the Ravens because they have only three tackles (Jonathan Ogden, Adam Terry and rookie Marshall Yanda) who are locks to make the team.

Williams is tough and has a good work ethic and solid technique. But he wasn't drafted because he was only a one-year starter and needs to get bigger (he's 6 feet 6, 300 pounds).

Other candidates to make the regular-season roster include:

Linson was among the top two receivers for Central Michigan for the past three seasons. At 5-10, 178 pounds, he lacks great size but he is consistently productive and can return punts.

Johnson was the fifth-leading tackler for Penn State. At 6 feet, 209 pounds, he can play free safety and nickel back.

Powell was once projected to go on the second day of the draft. But the 6-foot, 298-pound nose tackle ran a disappointing 40-yard dash (5.35 seconds) on his pro day.

Freeman went overlooked as Notre Dame's No. 2 tight end. But Freeman, who had nine receptions and two touchdowns last season, caught the eyes of the scouts on tape.

These players will join first-round pick Ben Grubbs and the rest of the team's draft class, which will take the field as Ravens for the first time today.

"It's just fun to see them out here," Hortiz said. "It's the culmination of all the work we've done starting last spring through the fall and summer. To see them all out there on the field, you can say they are finally our guys."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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