Tackle Pass Protection First

April 21, 2009|By MIKE PRESTON

Logic dictates that the Ravens need to select a wide receiver in the first round of Saturday's NFL draft, but if the team took an offensive tackle with that pick, it might be a better choice.

One of the team's priorities, if not the top one, is to improve a passing offense that lacked big plays and was ranked No. 28 in the NFL. It's no secret that Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, the Ravens' two top receivers a year ago, are possession types and unable to stretch defenses.

Most Ravens fans believe a receiver like Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey, Florida's Percy Harvin or North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks would significantly improve the team. There would be at least a moderate impact, of course, but the addition of an offensive tackle such as Mississippi's Michael Oher or Alabama's Andre Smith might have more.

Here's why: Possibly the biggest problem with the Ravens' passing game wasn't the receivers, but the offensive tackles. Left tackle Jared Gaither was young, right tackle Willie Anderson was old, and backup Adam Terry was ineffective. A lot of times receivers couldn't get open because there were only two of them in routes. The Ravens often kept tight end Todd Heap or a running back in to pass-block or chip with the tackles. If the Ravens select an offensive tackle, and he develops quickly, the Ravens can get more receivers into the routes. If they take a receiver or a tight end, the Ravens will still be limited because they haven't improved their offensive tackle play.

It's no longer a cliche that offensive-line play dictates the pace of a game. For the most part, the Ravens controlled the tempo of most of their games with a young, aggressive offensive line that has a potential star at three of the five positions except center and right tackle. The Ravens upgraded center from a year ago with the addition of Matt Birk.

They wanted to upgrade right tackle as well during the offseason, which is why they tried to sign former St. Louis Rams left tackle Orlando Pace, even though Pace is past his prime. After Pace signed with the Chicago Bears, the Ravens might have turned their attention to the tackle position in the draft.

Oher impressed Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel, at the Senior Bowl. Smith can be a dominating force, and Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome should have gotten the skinny on Smith from his inside sources at Alabama, even though we're hoping he used the ones that helped the Ravens select linebacker Jarret Johnson and not safety Ralph Staten.

There are a couple of other tackles, such as Arizona's Eben Britton, Connecticut's William Beatty and Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt, but it might be a stretch to take one of the three with the No. 26 pick.

It should be an interesting draft for the Ravens. When you're selecting as late as the Ravens are in the first round, there are countless scenarios that could take place. Going in, it's safe to say the Ravens have a major need at receiver, offensive tackle and tight end. The Ravens might also want to look at filling a need at cornerback or pass rusher with that first-round pick.

In this draft, wide receiver is considered the deepest position, so the Ravens still should be able to draft a good one in the second round. If the football gods are smiling down on the Ravens, Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew could fall to them at No. 26. Since that probably won't happen, a good one like Southern Mississippi's Shawn Nelson or South Carolina's Jared Cook could be available in the second round.

As usual, Newsome will stay true to his draft board. He'll take a "stretch" pick every now and then, but nothing outrageous. If the Ravens don't trade down, it will be interesting to see whether they take a receiver or an offensive tackle. Either way, it would be an upgrade in their passing game.

But an offensive tackle would upgrade it more.

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