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Offseason moves show Ravens are poised to contend again

Mike Preston

5:11 PM EDT, April 1, 2013

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Two months after winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens are in position to have a good draft and make another serious run at a championship.

Even though there was a mass exodus of players in free agency, which began last month, the Ravens have made solid acquisitions by adding outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears.

With 12 picks in the NFL draft later this month, the Ravens have plenty of ammunition to sign several quality players in a draft that most experts consider very deep.

"Canty is a solid, hard-working guy who looks like the starter, but if he isn't, he is a great backup," said Russ Lande, director of scouting for National Football Post and a former scout with Cleveland and St. Louis. "Spears is longer, thicker built and also a solid workman. With Dumervil, the Ravens have two elite pass rushers outside who usually make a 3-4 defense above average.

"Overall, this is a good, deep draft and I think the Ravens want to come away with youth on defense. Because of their history, I always trust the Ravens to do well."

Because of the high number of picks, the Ravens can trade up to draft a left offensive tackle, or they can move out of the first round and still find a quality linebacker or safety in the third round.

Lande thought the Ravens got a solid player when they signed former Oakland safety Michael Huff last week, but he looks for the Ravens to draft a safety they believe could be an instant starter.

"I've never been sold on [Huff]," Lande said. "He has been inconsistent throughout his NFL career, a guy who is in the middle of being a safety and corner, but not really good at either one. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Ravens draft a safety, one that that they think could start or at least challenge for the starting job."

"This is a good draft for offensive line, defensive line, secondary and linebackers, particularly 3-4 linebackers," Lande said. "There will be a lot of players taken in the third or fourth rounds who will have first-round grades. There are tons of [linebackers] who can play inside or outside. I think with [general manager Ozzie Newsome] and [assistant general manager] Eric DeCosta and the scouts they have, they will have a good draft and get young on defense."

McKinnie still out there

There hasn't been a lot of demand for left tackle Bryant McKinnie, even from the Ravens.

It appears that McKinnie will be one of those unrestricted bargain basement free agents. McKinnie can still play at a high level, but teams are concerned about the baggage — the constant weight problem and questionable work ethic — that comes along with him.

At least the Ravens know what they are getting in McKinnie, having had him on the roster the past two seasons.

If the Ravens are desperate leading up to training camp, McKinnie could be a last-minute option. But it appears his chances of returning to Baltimore are slim.

Interest in Reed overblown?

It was interesting to see how the national media made it seem like the Ravens were in a bidding war with Houston for former safety Ed Reed.

The Ravens made it appear that way out of respect for Reed, and it certainly put more money in Reed's pocket. But Ravens coach John Harbaugh wanted Reed back as much as he wants a root canal.

It was the perfect time for both parties to go their separate ways.

Risky contracts

Miami got a good, young player when it signed linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to a five-year, $35 million contract earlier this offseason, but there has to be some concern within the organization.

Ellerbe improved his work ethic and practice habits while in Baltimore, but he did like to party and there is going to be a lot of temptation in South Beach.

As for new contracts, no Ravens fan should complain about the recent deal quarterback Joe Flacco got after Dallas' Tony Romo signed a 6-year, $108 million extension with $55 million guaranteed.

At least Flacco has won a Super Bowl and been to the playoffs every season since coming to Baltimore as a rookie five years ago. Romo is 1-3 in the postseason.

Romo's picture is right next to the word "choke" in the dictionary.

J. Smith should stay put

One of the most asked questions is about the Ravens possibly moving third-year cornerback Jimmy Smith to safety.

I don't see that happening and it makes absolutely no sense at this time.

Smith hasn't been impressive since the Ravens drafted him in the first round in 2011, but he needs more time to develop because of several injuries that have forced him to miss extensive time.

The Ravens still believe he can become a quality cornerback in the league and they are also financially committed to him because of his draft status.

If all goes to plan, Smith will start at one corner opposite Lardarius Webb. The Ravens then move Corey Graham, a starter a year ago, inside to the nickel position.

Pees has pieces

Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees did a good job last season working with average talent, so I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do with this influx of players.

A year ago, the Ravens had really only one consistent pass rusher in Paul Kruger, and he didn't remind anyone of Minnesota's Jared Allen.

But this season Pees will have outside linebackers Dumervil, Terrell Suggs and tackle Canty, who can collapse a pocket and provide pressure inside.

It all depends on if both Suggs and Canty come into training camp healthy.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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