To replenish, Ravens need fresh blood

The Baltimore Sun

It appears the Ravens are close, possibly one player away, from a Super Bowl after a strong 2008 season that included reaching the AFC championship game. But appearances can be deceiving.

The Ravens, though, are smart enough to realize it.

"We're not content," said Eric DeCosta, the director of pro personnel. "We do have holes. We're not one player away. That was obvious in the Pittsburgh game [the AFC championship].

"We have a lot of question marks, but we have good leadership and we already have a good plan in place."

The Ravens need new blood, and that can come only via the draft. You could see age and injuries take their toll on veterans such as wide receiver Derrick Mason, tight end Todd Heap, cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister, offensive tackle Willie Anderson and even linebacker Ray Lewis. The Ravens paced Lewis through practices, and he wasn't as effective in the last month of the season as he was in the first half.

It's fair to assume Rolle and McAlister will not return next season, so the Ravens are in the market for a shutdown cornerback. Mason hinted after the final game that he might not be back next season, and there would likely be new faces in the meeting room in 2009.

But with the Ravens holding the No. 26 pick in the first round, a big, speedy receiver such as Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree or a shiftier one such as Missouri's Jeremy Maclin might not be available. The Ravens might not be able to draft a stalwart cornerback such as Malcolm Jenkins from Ohio State or Vontae Davis from Illinois.

So what do the Ravens do with the pick?

The Ravens won't give you an answer because they could be faced with some interesting scenarios. The Ravens could fill a big need by selecting Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew, whom some rate as the best in the draft at his position. Pettigrew is the complete package: He can block and seal off the perimeter; he also has good, strong hands. Another option might be Missouri tight end Chase Coffman, who had 90 catches for 987 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. A tight end who can dominate over the middle can open up the rest of the field for other receivers. The Ravens made a similar move in 2001, when they drafted Heap 31st overall in the first round.

"If we love a guy and we think he is special and can come in and start, then we would take him," DeCosta said. "Pettigrew could come in and make an impact."

The Ravens also need to find an offensive tackle, especially if they are to catch the Steelers. Pittsburgh showed how to beat the Ravens.

Most teams tried to blitz and rattle quarterback Joe Flacco. The Steelers rushed only four most of the time and dropped seven into coverage. The Ravens still had to max-protect to give their tackles help on the outside. Sometimes the Ravens would send out only two receivers and Pittsburgh double- teamed Mason.

DeCosta said he was impressed at the recent Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., with several tackles, including Michael Oher from Mississippi and Phil Loadholt from Oklahoma.

One position the team doesn't have to worry about is quarterback. Flacco played well as a rookie, but he has to progress even more for the Ravens to take the next step to catch Pittsburgh. That means no more throwing across his body or trying to force passes into the middle of the field.

Those corrections will come in time. In April, though, the Ravens might try to find Flacco some help with a speedy receiver on the outside who might slip down to them, such as Florida's Percy Harvin or Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey. Or the Ravens might want to risk the No. 26 pick on D.J. Moore, a cornerback out of Vanderbilt.

The Ravens have options, but they also have holes. But the long-term solution is to build with youth because the veteran players and this team are running out of Band-Aids.

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