Now, defensive front in line for assistance; Once-deep Ravens unit may get 3rd-round pick; NFL DRAFT


Drafting for the defensive front is a luxury for the Ravens that seemingly has transformed into a necessity.

The unit, once the team's deepest, has shown wear in the off-season and has a few important holes to plug heading into Saturday's NFL draft.

The Ravens appear set to pass on Florida State's Corey Simon, the highest-rated defensive tackle, and could wait until the third round before addressing any additions to the NFL's second-ranked defense.

"We will go into the draft looking to get a defensive lineman," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "Whether we'll get it, we don't know."

The questions, likewise, have started to pile up.

Who will back up at defensive end besides Keith Washington? Should the Ravens look to the future now with ends Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett in their 30s by training camp and tackle Tony Siragusa in the final year of his contract? Do they have enough proven depth at tackle to juggle the lineup if starter Larry Webster is suspended for the season for violation of the league's substance- and alcohol-abuse policy?

And does Webster's situation affect the Ravens' draft?

"It has to," Newsome said. "We still are going into the draft looking to upgrade our offense. If there is a player that on the defensive side of the ball can contribute, we'll take him."

If the Ravens hold off until the third round, 10 defensive linemen will likely be taken. The top-tier defensive linemen, such as Simon, Penn State's Courtney Brown and Tennessee's Shaun Ellis, will certainly be gone, and promising talents John Engelberger of Virginia Tech and Tennessee's Darwin Walker should be off the board, too.

So, the Ravens will probably try their luck in the middle rounds, where their history is inconclusive. In their four drafts here, the Ravens have selected three defensive linemen and never higher than the fifth round. The only one still on the roster is Martin Chase, a fifth-round pick in 1998 who was inactive for 13 games last season.

The Ravens could decide to grab a defensive lineman in the third round, where Alabama's Cornelius Griffin, Idaho's Mao Tosi and Brigham Young's Byron Frisch all should be available.

Griffin, in particular, has been mentioned recently by the Ravens.

The 6-foot-3, 297-pound lineman led the Crimson Tide in tackles last season with 53 as a tackle but could project to be an end in the NFL.

Griffin, a junior college transfer, tends to burst upfield with a quick first step, which occasionally takes him out of position against the run.

"People feel that there is an upside to him in the interior," said Phil Savage, the team's director of college scouting.

On the inside, the Ravens still could find quality tackles in the later rounds.

Duke's Chris Combs showed flashes against tough competition, finishing as the Blue Devils' career leader in tackles for losses. He moves well at 6-4, 274 pounds but has trouble at times stuffing the run.

The Ravens could opt for a sleeper in Al Lucas, the Division I-AA Defensive Player of the Year out of Troy State. At 6-0, 286 pounds, Lucas is quick at finding the ball but isn't considered overpowering.

Said Newsome, "The board is great at defensive line."

Yet the Ravens have the opportunity to draft the best at this position in Simon. A team source said they won't select him with their fifth overall pick in the draft regardless of Webster's status or their success in signing free-agent end Sam Adams.

In a recent workout, Simon had a vertical jump of 41 inches and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds, almost as fast as his Florida State teammate, receiver Peter Warrick.

"You talk about a class person," Savage said. "At least in my estimation, he and [Virginia running back] Thomas Jones would be the two classiest players in the draft. There are some concerns that he has had a shoulder injury or two in the past, but he has not had a problem the last 2 1/2 years."

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