After successful draft, Ravens need to focus on finding a left tackle

Osemele could be a stopgap solution, but Baltimore should keep looking at other options

April 28, 2013|Mike Preston

The Ravens still have holes. They need to find a starting left tackle, and they could use a No. 2 receiver and add depth at the linebacker and offensive line positions as well.

But as the NFL draft ended Saturday night and the Ravens walked out of the auditorium at the team's training complex in Owings Mills, the defending Super Bowl champions appeared to be potentially as good as last year.

Because of retirement and free agency, which led to the exodus of several important veterans, the Ravens are lighter on experience but bigger, stronger and faster than a year ago on defense.

They hit big bonanzas on the first two days of the draft, getting Florida safety Matt Elam in the first round and Kansas State inside linebacker Arthur Brown in the second. They got a solid nose guard in Missouri Southern's Brandon Williams in the third, tightening up the middle of the defense, which was a problem area a year ago.

So with several months before the 2013 season starts, the Ravens will begin focusing on finding a left tackle. There was already some panic around town when the Ravens didn't get one on Day 1 of the draft, but there is still ample time to sign a quality player.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has said if the Ravens were to start playing today, second-year lineman Kelechi Osemele would start at the position. That would be a gamble. Even though he is athletic and has the long torso and arms needed, Osemele struggled with speed rushers when he played right tackle a year ago.

Unless he has significantly improved his foot speed in the offseason, Osemele might be more of a stop gap like Michael Oher rather than a permanent solution.

The Ravens can wait to see how Osemele adjusts in training camp. If he struggles, they could re-sign Bryant McKinnie, even though there might be some reservations because of the veteran's weight problems. Regardless, the Ravens have time.

"I don't know," said Newsome when asked about adding a tackle in free agency. "We'll get the chance to roll the ball out there this week. You just can't go against each other. We'll have somebody lined up at left tackle. Questions like that probably should go to [Ravens coach] John [Harbaugh], because John determines who plays and who doesn't play. I just try to get the players to him.

"If you look at our history, we picked up Willie Anderson a week before our first game. We picked up Bryant McKinnie the last preseason game. It's so fluid."

Newsome is just as patient in looking for a No. 2 receiver. It would appear that Jacoby Jones would handle that spot, but it would be hard with him also doubling as the team's kickoff and punt returner. It just makes sense for the Ravens to look at younger receivers like Tandon Doss, David Reed, Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams before possibly overspending in free agency.

"Guys, it's very fluid. Up until we get this 53-man squad together before we have to get ready to play Denver, this is going to be a very fluid situation," Newsome said. "But I don't turn down any good players. I just don't. We find a way to get them."

They found a couple of good ones in the draft. Elam is instinctive, a hard hitter and has game-changing abilities. He fills a void on the backend of a defense that lost both starting safeties — Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard — from a year ago.

They also traded up six spots in the second round from No. 62 to No. 56 to select Brown, another playmaker with outstanding speed. Both are expected to start, but there is a major learning curve in the NFL.

Just ask former Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis.

In the third game of his rookie season against Houston, Lewis came across the line of scrimmage without being touched. Instead of keeping his shoulders paralleled with the line of scrimmage, Lewis turned completely to his left only to get trucked by Oilers H-back Frank Wycheck.

After the game, Lewis could barely walk or talk.

Williams won't have to play as soon. He could work into a four- or five-player rotation at the tackle positions.

After those three, the rest of the draft class seems destined for certain backup or special team roles if they make the club. John Simon, the fourth-round pick out of Ohio State, could get some playing time relieving Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil.

The Ravens made a great move and possibly a statement by drafting Harvard's Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round as well. Most of the so-called draft experts had rated Juszczyk the best fullback in college last season. If the Ravens do have to hit the free agency market to find a starting left tackle or inside linebacker, then they can cut veteran fullback Vonta Leach to free up salary cap space.

Overall, it was a good draft for the Ravens, who drafted just as much on need as selecting the "best player available." When the defending Super Bowl champion can get three of the top players at their positions drafting late in each round, that's impressive.

Now they've just got to tighten up a few things.

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