Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Ravens fill holes through draft

OWINGS MILLS - Huddled around general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh with cameras capturing the moment, the Baltimore Ravens' top three draft picks donned purple team baseball caps and broke into big smiles.

As outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele and running back Bernard Pierce were introduced at team headquarters Saturday, the defending AFC North champions stuck to their strategy of reinforcing the depth of the roster.

While Upshaw and Osemele will immediately vie for starting jobs at strongside linebacker and left guard and Pierce is regarded as the frontrunner to back up running back Ray Rice, the Ravens utilized the final day of the NFL draft to keep filling holes.

"If you look back over the three days and what we've been able to do with our football team, you all knew the areas that we wanted to address," Newsome said. "They all come with different skills. I think we've been able to do it with the young men that we've drafted thus far. It's been a successful three days from that standpoint, but we really won't know until we get them on the field."

Harbaugh already sounded convinced that the Ravens had injected the right kind of football temperament into his locker room.

"We think they're a great fit for our team, they fit our personality," Harbaugh said. "They're tough, physical, hard-nosed, rough, tough kind of guys."

The Ravens' haul of eight draft picks included four players apiece on offense and defense.

The Ravens needed to identify potential replacements at guard with Ben Grubbs signing a contract with the New Orleans Saints, at strongside linebacker after Jarret Johnson signed a contract with the San Diego Chargers and at running back after Ricky Williams abruptly retired after the season.

"You always try to draft the best player out there and try to make your team as strong as you can," Harbaugh said. "There's also the element of need. All three of these guys (Upshaw, Osemele and Pierce) are probably at positions where they can help us right away. We have some opportunity in there for these guys to play."

During the final day of the draft, the Ravens drafted University of Delaware All-American center-guard Gino Gradkowski in the fourth round.

The younger brother of quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder is expected to compete with Osemele and Jah Reid for the left guard spot.

Gradkowski is primarily in Baltimore to be groomed behind center Matt Birk for the future.

Gradkowski had a strong hunch the Ravens might pick him considering he visited the training complex and worked out for the team at Delaware prior to the draft..

"I had a great feel, I feel like I fit that mentality well," Gradkowski said. "I'm elated right now because Baltimore plays football the way it's meant to be played. And that just excites me. It's a perfect spot for me."

"Come in and maybe play guard my first year and eventually take over at center. That's what I was looking to do, get in behind a veteran like Matt Birk. I'm really excited to meet him and pick his brain about football. It's a perfect scenario, and I just couldn't be happier.

By adding Gradkowski and Osemele, a 6-foot-5, 333-pound All-Big 12 Conference blocker from Iowa State, the offensive line has been bolster.

"Obviously we addressed the offensive line," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Kelechi is a phenomenal kid, loves to play physical. That's what we want."The Ravens also selected speedy South Carolina State free safety Christian Thompson, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.

A transfer from Auburn, the 6-foot, 211-pounder is regarded as being interchangeable at free safety and strong safety.

He was mentored by free safety Ed Reed heading into the draft.

"Big, physical, he fits the mold of these three guys right up there," Harbaugh said."There is a theme to our draft right now."

A transfer from Auburn, Thompson earned all-conference honors last season as he recorded 66 tackles and two interceptions. As a junior, he had 46 tackles with one interception and seven pass deflections.

Thompson visited the Ravens prior to the draft. And Baltimore needed depth at the position with Reed often dealing with lingering injuries, including a nerve impingement in his neck, and reserve safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski signing with the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts after last season.

"We look at him as a real physical guy, the kind of safety that we like," DeCosta said. "He will come up and really hit you. He can also play in the back end. We love him as a special teams guy, no doubt. We lost a couple of good players this year at safety who were good special teams players for us.

"Christian was a player that we identified early. I think he was probably one of our favorite defensive players, certainly one of the favorite defensive players on the coaches' board this year, and we're excited to get him."In the fifth round, the Ravens selected Cal Poly cornerback Asa Jackson.

He's expected to immediately contribute as a punt returner.

The Ravens drafted a sizable wide receiver in the sixth round, landing 6-oot-5, 219-pound University of Miami wide receiver Tommy Streeter.

Streeter ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 to 4.40 seconds, also registering a 10-5 broad jump, a 33-inch vertical leap and bench pressing 225 pounds 17 times.

Streeter is expected to emerge as a dangerous red-zone threat. He caught 46 passes for 811 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

Streeter needs to add to his repertoire of route-running, which primarily consisted of fly patterns and jump balls for the Hurricanes. It's impossible to teach his unique size-speed ratio, though.

"A size/speed receiver, 6-foot-5, over 200 pounds and ran a 4.3 at the combine," Newsome said. "You get someone like that, our coaches are really, really happy to work with a guy like him."In the seventh round, the Ravens added to their depth along the defensive line by selecting University of Georgia defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson.

Tyson is an athletic 6-foot-2, 315 pounder with 5.0 speed who bench pressed 225 pounds 30 times.

Still, it wasn't always a smooth process despite the Ravens' conscientious preparations.

"Our board was very similar to the other 31 clubs," Newsome said.Many coveted players went off the board before the Ravens could get in position to pick them, including Alabama middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower and Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones going to the New England Patriots and Wisconsin offensive guard Kevin Zeitler joining the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round.

"I think we probably had to manufacture some runs this year," DeCosta said. "We had some players that we liked, and they got picked, and we had to get creative quickly on the fly. I thought that the trade opportunity in the first round was fantastic. We were prepared.

"We were very organized this year , probably the most organized we've ever been in terms of the different scenarios. Things don't always happen the way you want them to. Some drafts, every player that you want kind of comes to you. Sometimes, you just get wiped out. You have four players, and all the sudden, boom they are gone. You have to get creative."