After saying they would not deal their top first-round pick to attain a higher position in the NFL draft, the Baltimore Ravens are considering trading up from their No. 4 slot to select Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips.
Phillips, whose off-the-field problems -- he is on probation after pleading no contest last fall to charges that he assaulted his former girlfriend -- overshadowed his performance at Nebraska, had a three-hour dinner Wednesday night with team owner Art Modell, director of pro personnel Ozzie Newsome and head coach Ted Marchibroda.
Modell also met with Phillips yesterday at the team's Owings Mills training complex, where Phillips was shielded from the media. Of the 19 prospects who have visited the team this week, only Phillips had dinner with Modell.
"We hoped to do this thing in a clandestine way, which is not our style," Modell said. "But in this case, the kid has been absolutely overwhelmed with inquiries about his problem. I want the professionals, our clinical professionals, to tell me what's going on, how deep, if at all, the problem is.
"I touched on [the incident] very lightly," Modell said. "I was impressed by the young man. He's quiet, has a good sense of humor, a sculptured body, enormously strong looks, big shoulders. There's a resemblance to Mike Tyson."
At 5 feet 11, 225 pounds, with outstanding speed, Phillips has unquestionable football credentials.
As a sophomore, Phillips rushed for 2,230 yards, scored 21 touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards per carry, helping the Cornhuskers win the national title. Last season, he returned from a six-game suspension after the incident to lead Nebraska to its second crown with a 165-yard rushing effort in the Fiesta Bowl.
"He can run inside and has great acceleration," said Newsome, who also spent two hours with Phillips at the scouting combines in February. "His most important asset is his vision. He can see the whole field. There's not a back [available in the draft] that has his speed and size.
"I just wanted to see him in another environment," Newsome said of having dinner with Phillips. "I wanted to see him relaxed, so he could help us out in the full evaluation."
The Ravens have been eyeing Phillips with increasing interest lately, as have numerous NFL teams. The New York Jets have the first pick in the April 20-21 draft, and reportedly are considering choosing Phillips over their early favorite, Southern Cal receiver Keyshawn Johnson.
By tomorrow, Phillips will have visited Jacksonville and Arizona, who own the second and third picks.
Baltimore has the fourth pick. The Ravens have said they will select one of four blue-chip players. Besides Phillips, they are Johnson, Illinois linebacker Kevin Hardy and UCLA offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.
Earlier this week, Modell said he would not consider trading up in the draft. Yesterday, when asked if the Ravens would do so to select Phillips, Newsome said: "People are posturing around the league already, lying about who they want. We would consider [trading up to get Phillips]."
"Under certain circumstances, we would not ignore that opportunity," Modell said. "We can't go wrong in the fourth spot. If we want [Phillips] more than the other three, then we'll have to move up. I've got an idea. It's a long shot. It has to be a certain team and a certain situation."
Modell was asked about the possible public relations repercussions of making Phillips the first player drafted in Ravens history.
"When we finish our own internal investigation of Lawrence Phillips and he passes our level of testing, I wouldn't care about a public outcry," Modell said. "We're not virgins at handling players who've had problems. This may have been an isolated case. I was impressed with him, subject to further review."
Newsome said he has talked to "a number of teams" from the sixth to the 20th slots in the first round about trading down.
The Ravens' top needs are at running back and linebacker, and Newsome especially likes Hardy because of his size -- 6 feet 4, 244 pounds -- and his proven ability to play in pro-type defensive schemes. Hardy was in Owings Mills yesterday. The team is also high on Ogden, 6 feet 8, 318 pounds, who Newsome said would be moved to left guard.
The Ravens also have the 26th pick in the first round, which they could be reserving for Texas A&M; linebacker Reggie Brown. In addition, the team is looking for another tight end. Eastern Kentucky's Jason Dunn, rated just behind Ohio State star Rickey Dudley, could be the Ravens' second pick.
Newsome also said the Ravens are looking for a third quarterback. He said that spot could be filled by Maryland's Scott Milanovich, who served a four-game suspension last fall for gambling. Newsome added that the team wanted to work out Milanovich and Maryland wide receiver Jermaine Lewis recently at the Owings Mills complex, but the fields are not ready.
NOTES: The Ravens will be host to an NFL draft party on April 20 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel. More than a dozen players will be available for autographs. . . . The team is trying to arrange an April 27 minicamp workout at Memorial Stadium.
Pub Date: 4/12/96