Ravens Dropping Ball At Receiver?

April 27, 2009|By DAVID STEELE

Now that the 2009 NFL draft is history, it appears that one big blight on the Ravens' drafting record remains, as does a major need on their roster.

The drafting problem can't be denied: They once again couldn't nab a big-time wide receiver. The need, however, is something the Ravens aren't ready to acknowledge.

"If we get a healthy Demetrius Williams back, and he's working toward that," Ozzie Newsome said Sunday as he took part in Michael Oher's introductory news conference, "the way we can protect it, the way Joe [Flacco] can throw it, the way we can run it, the way we play defense and special teams - we'll be around at the end of December and January with the team we have. I feel very good about that right now."

Pretty bold. Also pretty necessary, because chances are they're going to take the field with that group whether they want to or not.

Newsome did point out later, after the Ravens made their final pick - and not a wide receiver in the bunch - that a veteran could shake free for them as late as the eve of the season, as Willie Anderson did at tackle last year. "The job's never done," he said.

Only time will tell with any of that, and whether they're right. Not until the games begin to count in September can anyone judge whether, as popular opinion says, all that separates the Ravens from the Super Bowl is that one big-play passing target.

The current group includes Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and the aforementioned Williams, so promising as a rookie and so injured the ensuing two seasons. There also are Marcus Smith, entering his second season, and Yamon Figurs, at a crossroads entering his third.

The Ravens stuck to their best-player-available philosophy, and after Oher, the next offensive player they took was tight end Davon Drew in the fifth round, 126 picks later.

That doesn't mean the offense isn't substantially altered. Oher might be the right tackle they needed, who frees the tight ends - present (Todd Heap), newcomer (L.J. Smith) and rehabilitated (Quinn Sypniewski) - from protection and gets them back into patterns. Best-case scenario, the effect ripples through every aspect of the offense.

There's another effect in play, of course, that Newsome and coach John Harbaugh mentioned prominently: offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "My job," Newsome said, "is to match the players and the talent with the coaches. Whatever talent we can get to the coaches, they get them better. That's the reason we are a better football team today."

Better, he added, than it was two years ago, before Harbaugh, Cameron and Co. arrived.

Meaning, not so subtly, that if there's no monster wide receiver coming - not even Anquan Boldin, who was still an Arizona Cardinal at draft's end - then Cameron can take what is here and make it good enough. And that they can survive not risking a continuation of their unfortunate run of drafting poorly at receiver.

Getting Flacco last year reversed the franchise curse of drafting quarterbacks. Likewise, the past three years have halted the history of trying to build the line without high draft picks, with Oher joining 2007 top pick Ben Grubbs on a line that got very young very fast.

Wide receiver, then, still sticks out like a sore thumb. The Ravens say they might be able to ease that pain and make you not even feel it. Soon enough, we'll all see whether they're right.

Listen to David Steele on Mondays from 4 p.m to 6 p.m and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. on Fox Sports 1370 AM.

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