Ravens should fill defensive need in first round of draft

Colorado cornerback Smith, Ohio State defensive end Heyward are most likely picks

April 25, 2011|Mike Preston

According to most NFL draft experts, the Ravens should be able to address one of two major needs Thursday by selecting Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith or Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward in the first round.

With Smith, there are some serious issues surrounding him like there were with outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, the Ravens' second-round pick out of Texas in 2010. But with defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and his background as a defensive backs coach, the tension isn't as great.

Cameron Heyward?

There are fewer questions surrounding him, but more with the Ravens in developing a top pass rusher. The Ravens keep striking out. So if the Ravens take Heyward, they ought to make it a package deal and bring in a pass-rushing specialist as well.

Every year, it's the same song and dance with the Ravens. They bring in some outstanding pass rusher to complement Suggs. The town gets hyped and then the prospect fizzles. The team has developed only two top pass rushers in its history in Peter Boulware and Suggs.

That's it. Just about everybody else has bombed.

The verdict is out on Kindle because of the injury he sustained last offseason. But remember Dan Cody? How about Paul Kruger? And what about Antwan Barnes?

The Ravens supposedly brought in coach Ted Monachino last season to bolster their pass rush, but they still finished with just 27 sacks — the worst in team history. You can't just point a finger at Monachino or defensive line coach Clarence Brooks.

You have to look deeper. You have to look at the individual periods in practice and the scheme as well. A lot of teams don't have a coach — full-time or part-time — who specializes in pass rushing, just like some teams don't have a quarterback coach. But with the Ravens, this might be the difference between getting to the Super Bowl and sitting on their couches again watching it.

New and effective techniques can always be taught, and modifications can be made. For instance, the Ravens don't run a lot of twists and loops with their defensive linemen. Back in 2000, Sam Adams would occupy both the guard and tackle spots at times, and Rob Burnett would loop inside or outside for easy sacks.

The same can be done with current tackle Haloti Ngata and Suggs — a duo just as talented as Adams and Burnett. Instead, the Ravens like to blitz a lot. That's great and successful against weak teams, but doesn't work often in the postseason against well-coached teams like the New England Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the postseason, it all comes down to one-on-one matchups, and the Ravens have just one legitimate pass rusher in Suggs. And even he hasn't developed to his fullest potential yet.

Suggs has a strong motor, but doesn't have an assortment of moves. He can dominate most tackles in the NFL based strictly on effort, but struggles against the top ones because his first move is slow, and he needs to do a better job of setting moves up.

The Ravens need an expert in that area.

The move to Pagano as the coordinator during the offseason was great. He has energy and an aggressive style. During the past two seasons he had little to work with at the beginning of the year, but by season's end, the secondary was always playing well.

Smith would be a great fit in Baltimore. He has good size (6-2, 211), runs the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds, and thrives in press coverage — a must for a team like the Ravens that blitzes often.

Heyward is intriguing as well because he fits the hybrid mold the Ravens like at end and outside linebacker. He is fast, has good balance and does a good job of controlling his body.

But at least two scouting reports on Heyward say he doesn't have a quick first step, and when he doesn't get off the ball well, he can only bull rush because he doesn't have a strong arsenal of moves. That's a concern because he might just be another strong pass rusher in college that gets lost in Baltimore.

The Ravens can't afford to lose another. Maybe if they bring in Heyward they can also bring in a specialty coach who can help him and others on the team.

It might be the difference in winning a Super Bowl.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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