Bill, Salisbury: It seems The Wizard of Ozz has done it again - found help at WR, DL, and OL in the first 3 picks with guys that shouldn't have been there for the Ravens to pick. Is this year an example of good luck for the Ravens or just poor drafting by other teams (assuming these guys perform near expectations)?
Mike Preston: I think two of those guys were available because some teams backed off. Mark Clayton, for example, is not the prototype. He is only 5-foot-10, and there are questions about his speed. A lot of the draft publications had him going to the Ravens, so it was no big surprise. Oklahoma defensive end and teammate Dan Cody was there because of questions about his bouts with depression. Now, with all of that said, you have to believe the Ravens did their homework on both players because of the team's draft history.
I would have traded up to obtain offensive tackle Jammal Brown, but the Ravens can live with Syracuse offensive tackle Adam Terry. Overall, it seemed like a good day for the Ravens, but we'll find out in about two to three years. Some people believe five of these guys can play right away and have an immediate impact. If the Ravens are starting five rookies at one time this season, they're in big trouble.
Patrick, London, U.K.: I've seen Mark Clayton play and the man is a game-breaker. But the offensive and defensive lines were depleted via free agency. Don't you think the Ravens should have invested their first round pick in one of these areas and let Clarence Moore and Randy Hymes prove themselves at reciever?
Mike Preston: As stated above, Jammal Brown was the preference, but the Ravens added Terry and North Carolina center/guard Jason Brown via the draft. As for defensive linemen, there weren't a lot of good ones in the draft, and there weren't a lot of them available via free agency. The Ravens made an attempt to sign Eagles defensive lineman Corey Simon, but his contract demands were too high.
I expect Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to give opposing teams a lot different looks this season. He knows he doesn't have the strength or muscle to use the read and react approach. He'll rely on quickness, shooting gaps and bringing pressure. The Ravens drafted defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin in 2003 and Dwan Edwards last season. It's time to see if they can play. As for young receivers like Clarence Moore, Devard Darling and Randy Hymes, I hope the Ravens let them compete with Clayton for playing time. That seems unlikely, though. When you're the No. 1 draft pick, you've got to play even if it hinders the development of other young players (See Kyle Boller versus Chris Redman, and Hymes versus Travis Taylor last season).
Dan, Baltimore: First of all, I miss the days when your column appeared more frequently. You always tell it like it is, which is very refreshing. Considering the upgrades the Ravens have made at wide receiver, will Devard Darling have any significant role this next season?
Mike Preston: Thanks Dan. I appreciate your compliments even though my nickname is "Mr. C" (for critical). The columns will appear more regularly once the football season heats up again.
The Ravens have high hopes for Darling, but it's going to be impossible to spread the ball around with Derrick Mason, Clayton and Todd Heap on the field in a ball control offense that features running back Jamal Lewis. This is going to be interesting because there are some egos involved here. But Brian Billick got it to work in Minnesota; maybe he can finally get it to work in Baltimore. The season hinges on a new offense devised by Jim Fassel, and the arm of "My Man" Kyle Boller.
Roland, Little River, S.C.: With the Ravens always said to be going with the best person available in the draft - and Kyle Boller's best efforts being average at the best - why didn't the Ravens take Aaron Rodgers in the first round? Rodgers is a franchise QB and was still available.
Mike Preston: Oh no, please, please, please. If they had taken Rodgers, we'd have to call the Mayflower trucks back to Baltimore. Rodgers is "My Man" Kyle Boller. They played in the same system and have the same robotic mechanics. If Ozzie Newsome thought more than one second about taking Rodgers, he should be forced to become T.O.'s agent, or worse yet, banished to work for Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins. One Boller is enough. Thank you very much.
Josh, Annapolis: Any chance you'll agree with me that Dan Cody will have just as much impact as Mark Clayton? From what I've seen, those [Mike] McCrary comparisons might be right on.
Mike Preston: It depends. If you're talking immediate impact, no way. Both are making the transition from college to pro, but Clayton has to play right away. He is the No. 1 draft pick, and the Ravens will invest tons of money in him. Cody, meanwhile, will be making the transition from end to outside linebacker. It might take him more time to develop. I suspect the Ravens will gradually use him, putting him in on passing situations. A lot of his playing time also hinges on Peter Boulware and if he has fully recovered from knee and toe injuries. Once Cody makes the total transition, he could become an outstanding player. He has the same motor as McCrary. He is relentless in pursuing ballcarriers to the other side of the field. McCrary, though, studied his opponents. He had a diary on all of them. He was consumed by the sport. We don't know yet if Cody is that committed. Few players are.
Tom, Charlotte, N.C.: Hey Mike, did the Jags hurt us in the second round by taking Khalif Barnes at No. 52 forcing the Ravens to take the best player available in Cody, which wasn't really a "need," then trade up to get Adam Terry later in the 2nd while giving more picks to the Pats? No one really talked about that, but it seemed obvious to me right away.
Mike Preston: I think so, even though the Ravens never really talked up Barnes. They had great information on the guy with former Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel serving as their quarterbacks coach, and he was rated one of the top three tackles in the draft. Cody, though, was a need for the Ravens. The team isn't sure about Boulware returning at full speed, so they needed another rusher on the outside to complement Terrell Suggs. The Ravens did a good job of adding players where they have seen a dropoff in performance. The Ravens signed former Rams outside linebacker Tommy Polley and named him a starter, but his contract is only for one season. By most standards, Polley is considered soft even though he runs well. But he certainly can't bring the heat on passing situations like Cody.
Freddie, Alexandria, Va.: Did the Ravens give up too much in order to obtain Adam Terry. Two 3rd rounders and a 6th rounder seems like a lot to give up, especially for a guy that isn't strong in run blocking.
Mike Preston: It was strange. I think once Barnes was gone, they had no choice but to make a move on Terry. Was it too much? Not when you consider the risk for this season. The window for the Ravens going to the Super Bowl is closing. They could have gambled, waited until the second period of free agency to find a tackle. But now, they have a young one. They should pursue a veteran before training camp begins, but don't bring back Ethan Brooks. I'd rather have Aaron Rodgers.
Joe, Champaign, Ill.: Going into the past two drafts, there has been constant talk about how easily the Ravens could find a replacement for Will Demps in the middle rounds. Putting the Gerome Sapp situation aside, is Demps more valuable to the Ravens then what most people give him credit for? Yes, his lateral speed is a bit slow, but at worst he is an average starter at the position.
Mike Preston: You're right, he's just an average starter. Demps, though, plays hard and within the system. He covers up for a lot of gambling mistakes his buddies make in the secondary. The Ravens talk about cutting him every year, but he always makes the roster. Actually, he is one of the better tacklers on the team. He also comes up well in run support, and was in on a number of tackles using run blitzes.
Jim, Reisterstown: Rate the best and worst 2005 team drafts, and where do the Ravens fit into the mix?
Mike Preston: The Best: Dallas, Miami, Tennesee, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Ravens. The Worst: Buffalo, Jacksonville, Denver, Seattle.
Bacon, Baltimore: Mike, looking at the Ravens' off-season acquisitions and the players just drafted, what do you feel their chances are of seriously contending to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl?
Mike Preston: The defense is sound, and in good hands with Ryan. They need to prove they can defend the run, especially late in the season, when the Ravens seemed to have tired the past two seasons. Overall, the defense is good enough to win most games. If "My Man" Kyle Boller improves and the right side of the offensive line holds up, the Ravens should be contenders. I'm not putting them in the Super Bowl, but I'm not putting anybody there yet. Hell, it's only April. It's way too early to start talking Super Bowl.