The Ravens are making a concerted effort to reinforce the middle of their defense, devoting their first three draft picks toward that goal.
After selecting inside linebacker C.J. Mosley in the first round on Thursday, the Ravens added continued their defensive focus a day later, drafting Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan in the second round and Florida State free safety Terrence Brooks in the third round.
“It's important to be strong up the middle,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Friday night. “We'd like to say it's important to be strong at the edges too, but we took a middle linebacker, a defensive tackle and a safety with the first three picks of this draft: all just really quality players, all just highly-rated guys.
“When you watch the tape, you like the way they play. They fly around and they are very physical guys. These guys should be able to establish their personality on our defense for a long time to come.”
The Ravens landed one of the top defensive linemen in the draft when Jernigan plummeted out of the first round largely due to NFL teams' concerns about a diluted drug specimen.
Jernigan was projected as a first-round pick, but dropped significantly after news surfaced that he had produced a diluted drug specimen at the NFL scouting combine in February. Jernigan and his agent both attributed the drug test result to hydration issues, denying that the consensus All-American had tested positive for any banned substances.
Jernigan dismissed initial reports that he had failed a drug test. Under its drug testing program, though, the NFL has treated diluted samples in the past as the equivalent of a positive drug test.
“It wasn't a positive drug test, the sample was diluted," Jernigan said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “I was losing weight very fast, and it was causing me to cramp. My nutritionist wanted me to start drinking a lot more water. She would have to put salt in my Gatorade to keep me from cramping. I had to go see another doctor in Jacksonville and she had to do an IV on me the week leading up to the combine.
“I feel like that was the reason for the diluted test. When I got the information from the NFL saying that I had a diluted test, I reached out to the doctor. I never got any answers. Then, all of this madness just starts. Man, it's just crazy."
General manager Ozzie Newsome said he felt assured about Jernigan after Ravens scouts researched his background and he spoke to the NFL about what a diluted sample meant.
“Our scouts do a very good job with their sources at the school about if there was any history there,” said Newsome, who didn't discuss the situation with Jernigan until Friday. “We were very comfortable taking him with the information we got from our sources and the information I got from the league.”
The 6-foot-2, 302-pounder declared for the NFL draft following his junior year, during which the Seminoles won the national championship. He recorded nine tackles in the BCS national title game victory over Auburn despite battling an illness.
“I was hearing it a lot," Jernigan said of the first-round conversations. "But around the end, around the last couple of weeks, I kind of was hearing second-round a little. With the incident that just happened, I kind of figured out that I would probably fall a little bit.”
Jernigan had 63 tackles and 4.5 sacks last year, his lone season as a full-time starter. He finished his career with 139 tackles, 25 tackles for losses and 8.5 sacks with one fumble recovery.
Jernigan's arrival follows the Ravens losing defensive tackle Arthur Jones in free agency to the Indianapolis Colts, with whom he signed a five-year, $33 million contract.
Jernigan expressed surprise that the Ravens selected him considering that he had little contact with them during the draft process other than a formal meeting with them at the combine.
“I was just kind of by myself waiting on the phone to ring,” Jernigan said. “I was just telling myself, 'All I need is one chance,' and then the phone rang. I'm going to give the Ravens everything I've got of my mind, body and soul.”
With the first of their two third-round picks, the Ravens filled one of their biggest needs.
The Ravens did so with Brooks, a rangy free safety who could allow the Ravens to shift free safety Matt Elam to his natural strong safety position.
It also marked the third straight pick the Ravens used to upgrade the middle of their defense.
“I felt like they needed a safety, and I just felt like a lot of teams needed safeties this year and they just kept passing me up,” Brooks said. “I just knew that at least one of them was going to bite and I'm glad it's the Ravens.
“If I could take one guy with me, it would be Timmy. I just know we do damage together. We did it at Florida State. We can do it anywhere.”
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Brooks ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds and registered a 38-inch vertical leap. That's as fast as many cornerbacks. He started 13 games for the national champion Seminoles, and had 56 tackles, eight tackles for loss, one sack and two forced fumbles.
“I feel like my game is very fast," said Brooks, who had five career interceptions. “My acceleration is one of my strong points.”
The Ravens drafted Colorado State tight end Crockett Gillmore in the third round with the 99th overall pick.
Gillmore provides a large downfield presence at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds who lacks elite speed with a 40-yard dash time of 4.89 seconds. He caught 47 passes for 577 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Gillmore impressed the Ravens at the East-West Shrine all-star game, a performance that earned him an invitation to the Senior Bowl.
The Ravens have four remaining draft picks heading into Saturday
“We do feel good about what we were able to accomplish,” Newsome said. “We're sitting on four picks and we feel like we're going to continue to be able to help our football team.”