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With draft complete, Ravens still don't have answer for who will replace Grubbs

FootballBaltimore RavensCourtney UpshawAlabama Crimson TideTerrell SuggsEric DeCosta

If the Ravens have a specific plan for filling the hole left by Ben Grubbs now that the draft has ended, they aren't divulging it.

Not that anybody should be surprised. As is so often the case, coach John Harbaugh spoke fondly of the potential battle for playing time along the offensive line without giving any indication of how he thinks it may shake out.

"I think it goes back to this: All things are possible," he said Saturday at the team's Owings Mills headquarters. "…I'm not ruling anything out. You've got to fight in this league for your spot every single day, and that goes for all the guys on our offensive line as well."

Still, iIt appears that Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda will anchor the line from the center and right guard spots, respectively, and that Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher are heavy favorites to stay at left and right tackle.

That leaves the spot vacated by Grubbs, the Pro Bowl left guard who signed with the Saints.

With their first pick in the fourth round Saturday — the 98th overall — the Ravens selected Delaware lineman Gino Gradkowski. Gradkowski played all three interior positions on the line in college — starting four games at center and seven at left guard last season — and will be asked to learn both positions with the Ravens. He's an option to replace Birk, whom he has long admired.

Kelechi Osemele, the team's second second-round pick (60th overall) out of Iowa State, played mostly tackle in college but caused a split between scouts who thought he'd stick there and those who believe he'd have to play guard at the next level.

The Ravens did not bring Osemele in for a workout, and they had only a limited chance to see him work at guard when he played there during Senior Bowl week.

Jah Reid, the team's third-round pick last year, will also have a chance to win a starting spot at guard even though his long-term future is at tackle.

It would be premature to say that any of the three are ready to be every-down NFL linemen, let alone come close to replicating the success Grubbs had. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said the Ravens would not stop looking for options.

"[General manager] Ozzie [Newsome] always says — and it's played out in the last few years — our roster's not final until the week before the season," Cameron said. "We're always looking to get better. We've been able to pick up some guys even in training camp."

Upshaw confident he can adapt

Ravens fans became accustomed to seeing linebacker Jarret Johnson rove around the field on snaps when he was not asked to hold the edge. There's some question whether second-round pick Courtney Upshaw, who will get a chance to replace him, can handle pass coverage. His assignment in Alabama's defense wasn't complicated, and it didn't involve backpedaling.

"I did a lot of dropping in coverage in practice, more so than I did in the games, because at Alabama coach [Nick] Saban just told me to go pass rush," Upshaw said, "and he preferred me to be a pass rusher because I was one of the better pass rushers on the team."

His ability to get to the quarterback — Upshaw had 16.5 sacks over his final two seasons — has led to the inevitable comparisons to current Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. Upshaw dismissed those.

"Terrell Suggs is Terrell Suggs, no other," he said. "I am just trying to come in and learn from him. I am sure he can help me out. … I want to come in and learn from the best, and Terrell Suggs is one of the best."

While the Ravens made much of Upshaw being a good fit because of his physical nature, he also appears to be ready to join a defense renowned for its camaraderie under the guidance of linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed.

"I love my teammates to death," Upshaw said when asked about seeing four Crimson Tide players get drafted in the first round. "We just developed that bond at Alabama, and that's what made us good, especially my defensive players — we just became close friends."

Search for undrafted free agents underway

There’s a reason the Ravens have had success signing undrafted free agents who go on to become impact players. Generally, director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said, there are 20 to 25 players on the team’s 150-man board who go undrafted. So the Ravens can act quickly to sign players they would have drafted had things shaken out differently.

It won’t be so simple this year. Only about three players on the team’s board went undrafted, and that may have been due to medical concerns, DeCosta said.

Harbaugh didn’t meet with reporters after the draft because he was meeting with scouts to plan their strategy for negotiating with free agents, whose agents begin taking calls immediately after the draft ends.

Though the Ravens addressed many of their needs, they’ll look to add special teams and offensive and defensive line depth.

Three of the team’s current linebackers – Jameel McClain, Albert McClellan and Dannell Ellerbe – joined the team after going undrafted, and have developed well enough that the Ravens once again did not select an inside linebacker to potentially replace Ray Lewis.

Cyhl Quarles, a safety from Wake Forest, said Saturday night on Twitter that he had agreed to sign with the Ravens.

The Ravens also signed Florida quarterback John Brantley and wide receiver Deonte Thompson, according to a report in the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun.

“There are still a lot of good players out there,” DeCosta said. “The hunt goes on.”

The Ravens will convene a rookie minicamp in two weeks, Newsome said. 

Taking the long road

Gradkowski hasn't met Joe Flacco, but he's anxious to play with his fellow former Delaware Blue Hen.

"I feel like, from the things I have heard, we are very similar, personality wise," Gradkowski said. "So I think we will hit it off, and I am excited to meet him."

Like Flacco, Gradkowski transferred to Delaware in search of playing time. He redshirted as a freshman at West Virginia and played in only one game his second season. His departure followed Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez's decision to become the head coach at Michigan. Gradkowski slipped on the depth chart and decided to find a new opportunity.

He had Flacco — among others — to look to for reassurance that elite players could emerge from the FCS level.

"He paved the way for all the small-school guys, especially guys coming from Delaware," Gradkowski said. "He is doing a great job of representing the school to the best of his ability, and we appreciate that."

Extra points

Safety Christian Thompson, whom the Ravens selected with the 130th pick out of South Carolina State, sought advice from Reed before the draft and was told to "stay hungry, stay humble and save your money," according to reports out of South Carolina. … Upshaw said he looks forward to trying to tackle former Alabama teammate Trent Richardson, whom the Cleveland Browns selected with the third overall pick. "It's going to be a little rivalry of its own," Upshaw said. "He tried to run me over a couple of times in practice, so I got a little vengeance out for it." … Running back Bernard Pierce, the Ravens' third round pick (No. 84), brushed aside any suggestion that his durability should be a concern. The Temple product admitted to struggling with hamstring issues and a separated shoulder but said he has felt fine since the beginning of last season.

ckorman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/chriskorman

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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