Expectations high for Ravens' rookie class

Draft choices could fill important roles for team that expects to go far

July 25, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

This year's Ravens draft class reports to training camp today without as much fanfare as the team's recent ones.

There is no first-round pick. There is no projected starter for this year in the group. There is no franchise quarterback (like Joe Flacco in 2008) and no connection to a Hollywood movie (like Michael Oher last year).

But this year's rookies could make a big impact on a team with big expectations for the season. There is a chance that five players from this class could play in more than half the Ravens' games this season.

That might come as a surprise to some fans, but not to the players who watched these first-year players all spring.

"This may be the best draft class I've ever been around," said wide receiver Donte' Stallworth, who is entering his eighth NFL season.

Both of the Ravens' second-round picks, linebacker Sergio Kindle and nose tackle Terrence Cody, are considered first-round talents and are expected to have roles on a defense that returns 10 starters. Kindle, who is hospitalized in stable condition after suffering a head injury Thursday night in Austin, Texas, is projected as an edge rusher in passing situations and an important player on special teams.

Cody will back up Kelly Gregg, who is entering his seventh season as a starter.

Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, the Ravens' picks in the third and fourth rounds, will compete to be Todd Heap's backup at tight end. There might be a chance that both will be active for most of the season, although Pitta has to prove himself on special teams and as a blocker.

David Reed, a fifth-round pick, seemed to catch anything thrown his way as a wide receiver this offseason and appeared to move past Demetrius Williams on the depth chart. Perhaps the key to Reed's being active on game days is his ability to return punts and kickoffs.

Arthur Jones, another fifth-round pick, showed athleticism during spring workouts, but it's going to be a challenge for him to crack a defensive line group that includes backups Cody, Trevor Pryce, Paul Kruger, Lamar Divens, Brandon McKinney and Kelly Talavou.

The one drafted rookie who is probably another year from making the active roster is offensive tackle Ramon Harewood, a sixth-round pick. While his size (6 feet 6 inches, 340 pounds) and long arms are impressive, he is considered a promising project.

Of the Ravens' recent draft classes, 2006 had the most players making an immediate impact. Six of that year's rookies (defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, offensive lineman Chris Chester, wide receiver Demetrius Williams, safety Dawan Landry, tight end Quinn Sypniewski and punter Sam Koch) played in more than half the games.

Last year's class had only three players (Oher, Kruger and cornerback Lardarius Webb) who survived the final cutdown before the start of the regular season.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the team has no expectations about this year's rookies.

"We don't want to put a label on it," he said. "But we're hoping that they exceed whatever hopes we have, if that makes any sense. We want the most for them."

The Ravens also want all of them to report on time. With the rookies set to arrive at training camp today, there are two who remain unsigned: Kindle and Cody.

Both are expected to be signed before the veterans arrive Thursday, and Cody could get locked up today.

The Ravens aren't the only team with this pending problem. Only three of the NFL's 32 second-round picks have agreed to terms so far.

Kindle and Cody both said before the end of offseason camps that they wanted to avoid holdouts.

"Personally, I don't want to start off on a bad note," Kindle told the team's website. "I don't want to miss any practice after working so hard already. I just want to be on the field so I can earn my playing time."

Cody said he wanted to avoid holding out "100 percent."

"I just want to play ball," Cody said. "I feel like I'm in a good position and a great team drafted me. Holding out will put a flaw on my character."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

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