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Ravens patiently waiting for rookies to make a mark

Back in April, the Ravens' 2010 draft haul was being hailed by pigskin pundits as one of the NFL's best. Many experts gave high marks to Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome — the four-eyed, bug-collecting, tuba-pumping valedictorian of the annual draft.

The Ravens traded the No. 25 pick to the Broncos for a trio of picks. They giggled when a pair of first-round talents, Sergio Kindle and Terrence Cody, landed in their laps in the second round. And they spent the rest of their selections on pass-catchers and project players.

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"Baltimore traded down and still loaded up on talent all over the place," ESPN draft and hair gel guru Mel Kiper Jr. — who gave Newsome's staff an 'A' — wrote at the time.

Nine games into the season, Baltimore's ballyhooed draft class has contributed just six catches, 15 tackles and a couple of decent kickoff returns to the 6-3 Ravens. Meanwhile, other NFL newbies, from the top pick (Rams QB Sam Bradford) to an undrafted rookie (Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount), are making serious noise on Sundays.

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As far as the Ravens are concerned, though, there's nothing wrong with a little peace and quiet from the rookies right now.

"When you have a really good football team like we have, you're probably not going to get as much out of your rookie class ... as some other teams are," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said late last month. "And that's a good thing."

A significant factor in the organization's continued success is Newsome's ability to anticipate holes in the depth chart years in advance. In 2008, he drafted Ray Rice, Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura — luxuries then but integral players today. A year later, he stunningly selected Michael Oher in the first round even though the Ravens appeared to have more pressing needs than another offensive tackle.

Still, while the current crop of rookies is "developing," as Harbaugh said, there are armchair general managers ready to bust out their red pens and knock Newsome's latest draft project down a grade — or four.

The main source of their frustration is the fate of Kindle, whose season ended before it began when he fell down stairs just days before training camp. It was a fluke incident the Ravens can't be faulted for. After all, a player's ability to walk in the dark doesn't show up on college game film.

The loss of the athletic linebacker was a blow, no doubt. The Ravens have had trouble generating a pass rush outside of Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. But it's still too early to label Kindle a bust.
"Hopefully, that head injury goes away and that young kid can come back and play because he's a great talent," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said.

And then there's Cody, who Harbaugh thinks has "all the ability in the world." But the meaty defensive tackle is behind in the numbers game and hasn't been able to make a dent despite the defense's on-again, off-again struggles stopping the run.

We can chalk 2010 up as a redshirt year for defensive lineman Arthur Jones and injured offensive tackle Ramon Harewood.

And despite minimal impact so far from Cody, receiver/returner David Reed and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, Harbaugh said "you'll see more and more of those guys as the season goes on."

Harbaugh, Newsome and the Ravens hope we won't see too much of the rookies, though. At least not in 2010.

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