Each spring, as a courtesy to local media and the team’s curious fan base, the Ravens hold a pre-draft press conference in which they publicly claim to like pretty much every single NFL prospect they are asked about.
(A fictional example: “Rudy, the kid from Notre Dame? He’s a little undersized but he plays with a ton of heart.”)
But there are always interesting tidbits to take away from this Q-and-A session with general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh and draft gurus Eric DeCosta and Joe Hortiz. I could not attend Tuesday’s event because I was too busy sneezing and blowing my nose all day. But while reading the transcript of the news conference, I was curious about what they had to say about three players who might change positions.
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We have known for a couple of weeks that young defensive lineman Bryan Hall would be slimming down in an attempt to get more snaps as an inside linebacker. But Tuesday was the first time, at least to my knowledge, that the team acknowledged publicly that Kelechi Osemele, who shined during the playoffs at guard, may play left tackle and that third-year defensive end Pernell McPhee would become a rush linebacker.
The most significant of those acknowledgements is that Osemele would start at left tackle if the season started today. No mention was made of Michael Oher, which is also particularly noteworthy.
“He's done it,” DeCosta said of Osemele after the event. “He's played guard for us and played that well. He's played right tackle and played that well. We've seen him play left tackle well. He's a smart guy. He's motivated. He's got long arms. He's a good athlete. He can bend. All those things factor into the equation."
Osemele, a second-round draft pick last April, started every game in 2012. During the regular season, he was at right tackle. The rookie showed great potential at times and struggled at others, allowing seven sacks in the first 12 games, according to Pro Football Focus. Outside of a rough game in the regular-season loss to the Denver Broncos, Osemele played well down the stretch.
He was moved inside to left guard for the playoffs and played so well there during the team's run to the Super Bowl, some national analysts predicted he would become a Pro Bowl player at guard.
Osemele is athletic, strong and pretty flexible, and his long arms and big mitts could potentially help him keep blind-side rushers at bay. He was a quality left tackle at Iowa State. But my colleague Mike Preston doesn’t believe Osemele has the “sweet feet” needed to play in the pros, at least not at this point in his career.
Interestingly, one analyst compared Osemele to Oher before the draft. Considering that the Ravens are prepared to play Osemele over Oher, that might not be the most favorable comparison.
There is still a chance that Bryant McKinnie could return and the team’s comments about Osemele don’t mean they won’t draft a tackle prospect next week. Regardless, it was an interesting pronouncement by the Ravens and we will be sure to keep a close eye on Osemele if he lines up at left tackle this spring.
As it turns out, Osemele could line up against McPhee, whom the Ravens say will be given a chance to get into the mix at rush linebacker. Terrell Suggs should be at full strength next season and the team signed Elvis Dumervil, but they want to add depth at rush linebacker now that Paul Kruger has taken his talents -- and his back flap -- to Cleveland to play for the AFC North rival Browns.
"We’re kind of a hybrid, 4-3, 3-4 team, so we’re going to emphasize Pernell a little bit more at outside linebacker in Terrell Suggs’ spot and see how he does out there," Harbaugh said. "But he’ll still bounce. He’s an outside linebacker that can play defensive end, and he’ll be a defensive end pass rusher in our even fronts, in our pass-rush scheme."
I'm not sure how I feel about this move. McPhee battled injuries last season and had just 1.5 sacks, but he had six as a rookie. When healthy, he was an effective and valuable interior pass rusher, quickly squeezing between big guys, so I was surprised that the Ravens would be trying him on the outside in certain situations. That being said, they know a lot more about football than I do, so I’ll keep an open mind about that switch.
Hall’s transition may be the toughest of the three. He played five games at defensive tackle for the Ravens last season. Listed at six feet and 291 pounds, he had that refrigerator build reminiscent of Kelly Gregg. But Harbaugh says Hall has dropped 20 pounds to play inside linebacker, the position he played in high school before bulking up to play defensive line at Arkansas State. The NFL is a long way from high school, though.
The additions of Chris Canty and Marcus Spears made Hall's chances of keeping his spot in the defensive line rotation much tougher. But he will probably face even longer odds to make the team as an inside linebacker unless he becomes an absolute terror on special teams. I’m not saying such a transition is impossible, though.