Lay it on the line

Legacy of '08 draft could hinge on finding a left tackle

On the Ravens

April 28, 2008|By DAVID STEELE

No matter who else the Ravens picked, this will be forever known, for better or worse, as the Joe Flacco Draft. Which is too bad, because if the Ravens' draft follows the usual pattern, it should produce a wealth of productive players from the final five rounds yesterday.

However, it would greatly enhance Flacco's chances to make the legacy of this draft a positive one if the Ravens also came out of it with their next left tackle.

And it's no more clear that the Ravens did that than it is that they came out of it with their quarterback of the future.

That would be unfortunate, because in the overheated reaction to a first-round pick spent on a quarterback, it can be forgotten how many other needs the Ravens had to address. One could say that quarterback is a far more urgent need, until you wonder who's going to protect his blind side.

The Ravens did address a lot of needs, such as cornerback, when they sent off one of their three fourth-round picks -- one they picked up from the Jacksonville Jaguars in the original trade-down Saturday -- to get Fabian Washington from the Oakland Raiders. Ozzie Newsome quickly pointed out afterward that he "didn't feel like there was any other player comparable" remaining in the draft at the position.

It's hard to argue with that move. Among other reasons, because of that trade, it made more sense to see the Ravens draft another safety (Tom Zbikowski) instead of one of the available corners.

And it's hard to argue with going after two offensive tackles, one in the third round and one in the fourth.

If there is a problem, though, it's that both tackles drafted -- Oniel Cousins and David Hale -- are targeted for the right side. Possibly as starters, at least as serious competitors to do so, if the high praise from scouting director Eric DeCosta is justified. And you never know. Legitimate NFL left tackles sometimes emerge when, and from where, you least expect it.

For the Ravens' sake, one had better. Because they came out of yesterday with a shuffled and largely inexperienced line -- and, very likely, a question mark guarding their rookie franchise signal-caller's back. That's presuming we can count out Jonathan Ogden, who has done everything but call the official news conference and filed his papers with the league office.

If so, the candidates for left tackle are: Adam Terry, who has yet to snatch the job in his three seasons here; Jared Gaither, who might be capable of doing it eventually but who is just 22 and entering his second pro season; and the two draft picks, who the Ravens acknowledge are more suited for the right side.

It's enough to make Flacco petition for an extra year of college eligibility. It might be enough to make Troy Smith ask for one, too. It's far from the ideal way to usher in a first-time, full-time starter.

The line has gotten very young very fast, largely from the influx of draft picks and the release of Mike Flynn this offseason. As much as it stands as a testament to the Ravens' drafting, especially on Day 2, it has a lot of growing to do.

In the three drafts before this year, the Ravens got, in chronological order, Terry in the second round and Jason Brown in the fourth in 2005, Chris Chester in the second in '06, Ben Grubbs in the first round and Marshal Yanda in the third last year, and Gaither in the supplemental draft last year. (Considering they gave up a fifth-round pick this year to take Gaither in '07, you can say they did chase their left tackle of the future a year early.)

Now they've added Cousins and Hale -- the latter of whom, DeCosta said, has potential at right guard as well.

But who knows how the line shakes out among those players, and who might join that competition by the time training camp starts? None of the starting jobs seems set in stone, including Brown's, since there is still reason to believe he's a better fit at center than at guard. Is this Chester's year to emerge? Or Terry's? Which position is best for Yanda? How big a leap could Gaither make this soon?

We saw, in gruesome fashion, what an unsettled line did for veterans Steve McNair and Kyle Boller. Imagine what it will mean for Flacco and Smith -- never mind, don't imagine that.

The bottom line is, there's a better chance that this will be remembered favorably as the Joe Flacco Draft if it also ends up being the (Next Left Tackle's Name Here) Draft, too.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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