Oh, Behave

Before Making Picks, Ravens Are Measuring Actions Off Field As Much As Performance On It

Nfl Draft -- Four Days To Go

April 21, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

When it comes to breaking down the tight ends in this year's NFL draft, Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew is clearly the best.

But instead of the "can't miss" label beside his name, some teams have attached a red flag. Early last year, Pettigrew was charged with assaulting a police officer, and he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and public intoxication.

As the Ravens prepare to make their first-round pick Saturday, they will be evaluating character as much as speed, agility and toughness. It's their job to determine whether a player's past will derail his future.

A handful of players with issues - Pettigrew, Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis, Southern California linebacker Rey Maualuga and Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin - have been linked to the Ravens' 26th overall pick.

"We've all made mistakes when we were younger and done things that we're not proud of," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel. "The question is: Did the guy make a mistake or is the guy a problem? You look for evidence of repeated offenses and maturity. If a guy has one particular issue, you can overlook some of that. If you see a pattern of bad behavior, then that becomes a much greater cause for concern."

Ravens coaches and scouts talk to players at all-star games in January, the NFL scouting combine in February and personal visits in March.

Team officials interview coaches to find out how the player practices. They chat with teammates to find out how he is in the locker room.

They speak to strength coaches to find out how he works in the weight room and to the academic support staff to find out how he works in the classroom.

The Ravens will even speak to high school coaches, family members and, in some cases, the local police.

"When there is smoke, you got to try to find the fire," said Joe Hortiz, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "So if you hear something, you got to dig further. That's what I think we really do a good job of as scouts."

Here are some of the first-round prospects who have come under the Ravens' microscope:

* Pettigrew: In January 2008, he refused to leave an early-morning fight and allegedly cursed at police officers and elbowed one in the chest, according to the police report. He received 20 hours of community service and one year of probation.

* Davis: There are questions about his discipline and coachability. Known for an inflated ego, Davis was temporarily demoted during spring practice and benched later that season against Iowa.

* Maualuga: In 2005, he was charged with punching a man at a Halloween party. In 2006, he was disciplined by coach Pete Carroll, reportedly for unruly behavior at a fraternity party.

* Harvin: He was the unanimous winner as the riskiest pick in the coming draft in Pro Football Weekly's recent poll of NFL executives because of "coachability, a posse of hangers-on, his lack of respect for authority and drug usage." The Dallas Cowboys have taken him off their board, according to ESPN.

"Over time, if you do enough research and background, you get a sense of who the player is," DeCosta said. "We're comfortable with taking certain players off the board if they don't pass the profile-makeup test."

The Ravens have taken players off their board more than ever before, DeCosta said.

"As you begin to really figure out what makes players successful and the kinds of players you want, you can become more vigilant in your ability to just take players off the board," he said. "In the past, maybe we would take more gambles and take more risks on guys. But I think as you start to build your time, you can afford to be very strong in your opinions and take guys off the board."

The Ravens traditionally don't take risks when it comes to first-round picks.

Since taking over for Phil Savage in 2005, DeCosta has stressed integrity even more. His four first-round picks - wide receiver Mark Clayton, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, guard Ben Grubbs and quarterback Joe Flacco - were among the "cleanest" players in their draft in terms of character.

"You're taking a guy to come in and make an important impact for your organization and be a reliable player," Hortiz said. "If you're not accountable here, you can't help us win football games."

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said the key is not looking at character.

"It's about behavior," Newsome said. "If the player has an opportunity to come into the [Ravens' support] structure and can change and become a better person each day they are here, we will take a chance on that person."

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