Ravens Update

Ravens Update

Huddled around general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh with cameras capturing the moment, the Baltimore Ravens' top three draft picks donned purple team baseball caps and broke into big smiles.

As outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele and running back Bernard Pierce were introduced at team headquarters Saturday, the defending AFC North champions stuck to their strategy of reinforcing the depth of the roster.

While Upshaw and Osemele will immediately compete for starting jobs at strongside linebacker and left guard and Pierce is regarded as the frontrunner to back up Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, the Ravens utilized the final day of the NFL draft to keep filling holes.

"If you look back over the three days and what we've been able to do with our football team, you all knew the areas that we wanted to address," Newsome said. "They all come with different skills. I think we've been able to do it with the young men that we've drafted thus far. It's been a successful three days from that standpoint, but we really won't know until we get them on the field."

Harbaugh already sounded convinced that the Ravens had injected the right kind of football temperament into his locker room. "We think they're a great fit for our team, they fit our personality," Harbaugh said. "They're tough, physical, hard-nosed, rough, tough kind of guys." The Ravens' haul of eight draft picks included four players apiece on offense and defense. The Ravens needed to identify potential replacements at guard with Pro Bowl offensive guard Grubbs signing a $36 million contract with the New Orleans Saints, at strongside linebacker after Jarret Johnson signed a $19 million contract with the San Diego Chargers and at running back after Ricky Williams abruptly retired after the season. "You always try to draft the best player out there and try to make your team as strong as you can," Harbaugh said. "There's also the element of need. All three of these guys (Upshaw, Osemele and Pierce) are probably at positions where they can help us right away. We have some opportunity in there for these guys to play." During the final day of the NFL draft, the Ravens drafted University of Delaware All-American center-guard Gino Gradkowski in the fourth round. The younger brother of NFL quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder is expected to compete with Osemele and Jah Reid for the left guard spot vacated by Pro Bowl offensive guard Ben Grubbs signing with the New Orleans Saints. Gradkowski is expected to be groomed behind six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk for the future. Gradkowski had a strong hunch the Ravens might pick him considering he visited the training complex and worked out for the team at Delaware prior to the draft.. "I had a great feel, I feel like I fit that mentality well," Gradkowski said. "I'm elated right now because Baltimore plays football the way it's meant to be played. And that just excites me. It's a perfect spot for me. "Come in and maybe play guard my first year and eventually take over at center. That's what I was looking to do, get in behind a veteran like Matt Birk. I'm really excited to meet him and pick his brain about football. It's a perfect scenario, and I just couldn't be happier.

Gradkowski said he tries to emulate veteran NFL centers like Birk and Green Bay Packers center Jeff Saturday.

"I'm just a hard-nosed guy, a hard worker," Gradkowski said. "I played at Delaware and we did a lot of pulling and stuff like that. So, I feel good in space and I feel like athleticism is one of my strong points. So, definitely versatility is also is my strong point."

By adding Gradkowski and Osemele, a 6-foot-5, 333-pound All-Big 12 Conference blocker from Iowa State, the offensive line has been bolstered. "Obviously we addressed the offensive line," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Kelechi is a phenomenal kid, loves to play physical. That's what we want."

The Ravens also selected speedy South Carolina State free safety Christian Thompson in the fourth round. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds at the NFL scouting combine. A transfer from Auburn, the 6-foot, 211-pounder is regarded as being interchangeable at free safety and strong safety. He was mentored by Ravens Pro Bowl free safety Ed Reed heading into the draft.

"Big, physical, he fits the mold of these three guys right up there," Harbaugh said."There is a theme to our draft right now."

A transfer from Auburn, Thompson earned all-conference honors last season as he recorded 66 tackles and two interceptions. As a junior, he had 46 tackles with one interception and seven pass deflections.

Thompson visited the Ravens prior to the draft. And Baltimore needed depth at the position with Reed often dealing with lingering injuries, including a nerve impingement in his neck, and reserve safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski signing with the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts after last season. "We look at him as a real physical guy, the kind of safety that we like," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "He will come up and really hit you. He can also play in the back end. We love him as a special teams guy, no doubt. We lost a couple of good players this year at safety who were good special teams players for us.

"Christian was a player that we identified early. I think he was probably one of our favorite defensive players, certainly one of the favorite defensive players on the coaches' board this year, and we're excited to get him." Thompson was dismissed from the Auburn program as a freshman due to disciplinary reasons and enrolled at South Carolina State where he However, the Ravens felt comfortable with his character after looking into the situation. Plus, director of college scouting Joe Hortiz is a well-connected Auburn graduate.

"I think one of the advantages we had in Christian's case is Joe Hortiz, who went to Auburn," DeCosta said. "We have great connections there and also with [area scout] Andy Weidl. There is no better information guy than Andy Weidl. We were able to get a lot of information. "Also, Christian is a guy that came to Baltimore. We spent some time with him here. He spent time with our coaching staff and also with our scouts and Ozzie and coach Harbaugh. We feel really good about him. We know he's a good kid, and we know he's a good football player." In the fifth round, the Ravens selected Cal Poly cornerback Asa Jackson.

The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder is expected to immediately contribute as a punt returner after averaging 14.15 yards per return in college. Jackson finished his career with 199 tackles and eight interceptions with three returned for touchdowns.

"You can never have too many corners," Newsome said. "He does have some punt return skills in his background, and he will get the opportunity to do that."

Recruited by Notre Dame and Georgetown in track and field as a sprinter out of high school, Jackson has 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash. "He is a quick-footed guy," DeCosta said. "He has some suddenness. You can see some burst and some twitch. He catches the ball pretty well. We're not going to anoint him as the punt and kick returner, but we think he has a chance to be a guy that can compete with some other guys."

The Ravens drafted a sizable wide receiver in the sixth round, landing 6-foot-5, 219-pound University of Miami wide receiver Tommy Streeter. Streeter ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 to 4.40 seconds at the combine, also registering a 10-5 broad jump, a 33-inch vertical leap and bench pressing 225 pounds 17 times.

"Tommy was the best player on our board," said DeCosta, noting that Newsome compared Streeter to former Ravens wide receiver Michael Jackson "It's unusual to get a receiver with that kind of size who can run like that. These kinds of guys are rare.

"If you have a chance to get a guy like that and you are in the right position in the draft, it's probably a good thing and he was the guy. There were some other guys that we liked at the receiver position that got taken and he was clearly the best guy at the time for us to take." Streeter is expected to emerge as a dangerous red-zone threat. He caught 46 passes for 811 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Streeter needs to add to his repertoire of route-running, which primarily consisted of fly patterns and jump balls for the Hurricanes. It's impossible to teach his unique size-speed ratio, though.

"A size/speed receiver, 6-foot-5, over 200 pounds and ran a 4.3 at the combine," Newsome said. "You get someone like that, our coaches are really, really happy to work with a guy like him." In the seventh round, the Ravens added to their depth along the defensive line by selecting University of Georgia defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson.

Tyson is an athletic 6-foot-2, 315 pounder with 5.0 speed who bench pressed 225 pounds 30 times. A two-year starter who played in the East-West Shrine all-star game, Tyson had 16 tackles in one game against Georgia Tech two years ago. He finished his career with 79 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble.

"I'm excited that we were able to fortify the offense and the defense," DeCosta said. "It was a balanced draft."

Still, it wasn't always a smooth process despite the Ravens' conscientious preparations. "Our board was very similar to the other 31 clubs," Newsome said.

Many coveted players went off the board before the Ravens could get in position to pick them, including Alabama middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower and Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones going to the New England Patriots and Wisconsin offensive guard Kevin Zeitler joining the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round. "I think we probably had to manufacture some runs this year," DeCosta said. "We had some players that we liked, and they got picked, and we had to get creative quickly on the fly. I thought that the trade opportunity in the first round was fantastic. We were prepared.

"We were very organized this year , probably the most organized we've ever been in terms of the different scenarios. Things don't always happen the way you want them to. Some drafts, every player that you want kind of comes to you. Sometimes, you just get wiped out. You have four players, and all the sudden, boom they are gone. You have to get creative."



Ravens forming undrafted rookie class

OWINGS MILLS -- Every year, the Baltimore Ravens are looking for the next Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, Mike Flynn or B.J. Sams. The quest to find good football players doesn't stop when the seventh round of the NFL draft ends. "Even though we're done collecting players with draft picks, this starts the process of the undrafted college free agents as soon as the draft is over," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said Saturday night. "We're putting that process in place right now, working with the coaches. The coaches and the scouts are working together so we can attack that once the draft finishes.

The defending AFC North champions have already hammered out deals with undrafted rookies with coach John Harbaugh, director of college scouting Joe Hortiz, scouts, coaches and other team officials recruiting the players.

Although the deals won't become official until the player passes a physical and signs his contract, the Ravens have agreed to terms with the following 20 players: Kent State center Chris Anzevino, Florida quarterback John Brantley, North Carolina cornerback Charles Brown, Morgan State tight end-H back Lamont Bryant, Mississippi State offensive lineman James Carmon, Illinois offensive lineman Jack Cornell, Clemson fullback Chad Diehl, Georgia fullback Bruce Figgins, Slippery Rock wide receiver Devin Goda, Syracuse wide receiver Dorian Graham, Alabama-Birmingham defensive tackle Elliott Henigan, Baylor defensive tackle Nick Jean-Baptiste, Tennessee fullback-linebacker Austin Johnson, Kent State defensive tackle Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, Clemson offensive lineman Antoine McClain, Alabama offensive lineman Alfred McCullough, Syracuse tight end Nick Provo, Wake Forest safety Chyl Quarles, Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey and Florida wide receiver Deonte Thompson. Bryant is an intriguing prospect, an extremely athletic 6-foot-5, 229-pounder who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 to 4.45 seconds at his campus Pro Day workout where he also registered a 43-inch vertical leap, a 10-3 broad jump and bench pressed 225 pounds 19 times. He visited the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks and played in the HCBU all-star game.

"As Ozzie alluded to, we're in the middle of undrafted free agency," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "Joe [Hortiz] is up there with the scouts, right along with coach Harbaugh, organizing that. So, we'll have a chance to bring in some really good players on the back end.

"And there are still a lot of good players out there. The hunt goes on. We'll continue to look at players who are available on the street, free agents, undrafted free agents, street free agents, unrestricted free agents. We'll get a chance to look at those guys and build the best team for September."

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