Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
MOBILE, Ala. — One year ago, the Ravens' coaching staff was busy preparing for Super Bowl XLVII instead of evaluating draft prospects at the Senior Bowl.
It's an entirely different situation this week.
Following an 8-8 season where they failed to make the playoffs for the first time in six years, the Ravens' offseason has launched much earlier than they had hoped. And the majority of the Ravens' coaches are at the Senior Bowl -- except for coach John Harbaugh as he continues to interview offensive coordinator candidates back in Baltimore -- along with general manager Ozzie Newsome and the scouting department.
As the Ravens head into a challenging time where they're faced with several personnel decisions, including unresolved contract situations for outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, tight end Dennis Pitta and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, their focus this week is on the upcoming draft class. Between practices Wednesday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, The Baltimore Sun conducted the following interview with Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta.
What's the mindset like now for the organization about what to do after a year where there were so many problems?
"It is disappointing, but we're going to move on. We're going to use these feelings of disappointment really as momentum for us to attack this offseason with tremendous enthusiasm and diligence. Fortunately, we've been in this position before. We have tremendous confidence in our coaches and scouts and we'll try to make the best decisions for our team based on the culture that John and Ozzie have tried to build long-term here in Baltimore. We'll get this thing turned around for our fans and the Baltimore community.
"I think sometimes you have to get sand kicked in your face a little bit to respond appropriately. We're disappointed by the end of the season. We certainly think we're capable of turning this thing around and getting back in the playoffs this year. We have a lot of confidence in our players that they'll respond to the challenge and get us back to where we belong."
There's been a lot of talk about this team needing to upgrade at wide receiver, tight end, offensive line and free safety. What do you see as the primary needs?
"What we saw after this season is we have a lot of needs at a lot of positions. It's bad to be in that position, I think, as an organization, but I think in terms of building your team it's good because we have the flexibility to draft players at a wide variety of positions. We think we need some running back depth. That definitely would be a position of need. Tight end, we have some uncertainty at that position with different players' contracts being up (Pitta, Ed Dickson, Dallas Clark). So, that's a strong position we think for us to look at in this year's draft.
"Offensive line did not perform up to our standards this year. We'd like to add some additional young players to help us to bolster the strength of that unit, linebacker as well. If we have a chance to select a good, young linebacker, that would be good. Safety, we'd like to address that position in this year's draft. With a lot of good players in the draft, we have a chance to get better at a lot of different positions. And that will be our focus."
Depending on how the coin flip goes with the Dallas Cowboys in February at the NFL scouting combine, you'll either have the 16th or 17th overall pick of the first round. Do you feel good about your chances of obtaining a player who can make an immediate impact?
"That's how we see it. As great as it is to be picking at the end of each round, which is an indicator that you had a good season the year before, it's hard to find good players year after year at the back of each of these rounds and the league has created a system that's really based on creating a sense of parity and an even level of playing field. It's exciting for us when we see the quality of this year's draft. With the top of the draft, we think we have the chance to get an impact player pretty quickly.
"It's a deep draft. If you consider the fact that quarterbacks typically will get drafted pretty high and add those guys into the mix, there's a really good chance that a good player is going to fall down to us. We've had some success in years past thinking about years where we got Suggs , [defensive tackle] Haloti [Ngata in 2006], [cornerback] Chris McAlister . We've been able to find a very high level player from pick No. 10 on. We're excited about that possibility this year."
After drafting five players last year who played in the Senior Bowl, how important is this all-star game to the Ravens?