Time To Shine For Ravens' Star Executive Decosta

April 24, 2009|By RICK MAESE

Miss USA was soooo earlier this week. Our collective attention turns to Mr. NFL, and the American work force slows considerably as we fill out our mock drafts and channel our inner Mel Kiper Jr.

We toss around terms like "upside" and "potential," and we're all focused on the future. Everyone is trying to identify the one guy who can change a franchise. So it makes sense that Eric DeCosta would play such a prominent role this weekend. There aren't many with a brighter future.

It's kind of funny, because if you visit most NFL cities, the guy who holds DeCosta's job for the local football team would be just a guy. A name reporters bandy about, a page to be flipped past in the media guide.

But in Baltimore, DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel, is a rock star. He's the missing Jonas Brother. You can't flip on talk radio without hearing him. His face is on TV. His opinions grace the pages of national publications. That was DeCosta who explained the Ravens' evaluation process to The New York Times like this: "We even grade our lunches. If I say it's a 6.2 lunch - all the guys know what that means: pretty good, but not great. A 7.5 is like the Pro Bowl; if I say the soup is a 7.5 today, everybody runs to get the soup."

Around Baltimore, in the days and weeks leading up to the NFL draft, there's no duo with more juice in town than Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and DeCosta.

Newsome has groomed three proteges for GM-level jobs around the league: James Harris was vice president of player personnel in Jacksonville, Phil Savage was the general manager in Cleveland for four seasons and George Kokinis left the Ravens in January to take Savage's job in Cleveland.

But DeCosta is different. He was always closer to Newsome. The process was ingrained in him, and he ingrained himself in the Ravens' process. DeCosta studied Newsome more closely, listened to every word, soaked up everything. He's barely 38 years old, and he'll have a GM job of his own before long. This weekend, DeCosta will again try to show the NFL world why. Just as he did at last year's draft. And the one before that. And ...

He calls the draft a nine-month project, but it's really his yearlong obsession.

"I'm not sleeping as well as I'd like, waking up in the middle of the night thinking about all possibilities," he says.

DeCosta grew up in New England, rooting for the Dallas Cowboys. Though he played football, he was more interested in the moves of Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' longtime vice president of player personnel.

"My dad and I would spend a lot of time studying everything we could," DeCosta says. "It was something that always appealed to me as a kid, the process of building a team."

DeCosta was just 25 when he joined the Ravens, earning nothing and doing anything. He rose through the scout ranks, quickly earning Newsome's respect. Thirteen years later, he plays a crucial role in just about every decision. And with phones ringing and the clock ticking, DeCosta will again be seated at Newsome's right hand in the war room.

The draft timeline each year is interesting. There is a flurry of information and activity for weeks. And then there's a mind-numbing calm about 24 hours before the first round begins.

The Ravens' draft board was set last week with about 150 names ranked in order of preference. On Wednesday, the Ravens met to discuss the offensive prospects. Newsome, DeCosta, team president Dick Cass and coach John Harbaugh batted around dozens of names a final time with the offensive coaches. That night, DeCosta and the scouts gathered for an Italian dinner.

On Thursday, Newsome, DeCosta, Cass and Harbaugh met with defensive coaches and did the same thing.

And Friday, owner Steve Bisciotti will stop by for a recap of everything that has been talked about, a preview of what to expect Saturday and a discussion of any problem areas or potential character issues that might arise. Friday night, a good chunk of the organization will meet again. Another meal. More team-building. Less than 24 hours to go. DeCosta and his wife, Lacie, will duck out early and get sushi, a pre-draft tradition.

Then they'll all wake up Saturday, eager to improve their team. DeCosta will go for a jog with Pat Moriarty, the vice president of administration. It still won't be time, so DeCosta will play racquetball with Kevin Byrne, the team's vice president of community and public relations.

Newsome will get to the office especially early, and he'll hit the treadmill. The clock will move slowly, and by early afternoon, he's counting on another treadmill run to calm the nerves.

And Saturday evening, three to four hours after the Detroit Lions figure out a new and creative way to botch the draft, the Ravens will be on the clock with the 26th pick.

They're not worried. The Ravens feel they've got one of the NFL's hottest prospects right there in the war room.

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