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OWINGS MILLS — Surrounded by photographic reminders of a rich draft tradition punctuated by selecting Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden during their inaugural draft, the Baltimore Ravens expressed confidence in their ability to land another elite football player.
With the 29th overall pick of the first round, the defending AFC North champions are banking on one of their top prospects still being available when theyâ€™re on the clock.
That has been a recurring theme for the Ravens. Especially in the bottom third of the first round where they obtained Lewis at No. 26 overall in 1996, tight end Todd Heap at No. 31 in 2001 and safety Ed Reed at No. 24 in 2002.
â€œHistory is a good indicator that we are going to get a player who falls down to us who we have pretty highly-rated,â€ said Eric DeCosta, the Ravensâ€™ director of college scouting. â€œIt could be a top 20 player, could be somebody from our top 25. Most years, youâ€™re going to have players taken outside of that range.
â€œMeaning a player that we have outside of our 29 who will be chosen before we pick, which pushes a good player down to us. I feel confident that will happen again this year, and weâ€™ll get a guy that weâ€™re very excited about on draft day.â€
Although general manager Ozzie Newsome seemed to plant a smoke screen when he indicated that Baltimore could actually take a quarterback at No. 29, itâ€™s much more likely that the Ravens will wind up with an offensive lineman, a cornerback or a linebacker/defensive end at that spot.
That presumption is based on the Ravensâ€™ positional needs, fairly strict best-player-available philosophy along with the fact that LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell and Notre Dameâ€™s Brady Quinn will likely be gone within the first few picks.
Following an annual draft press conference dubbed long ago as the â€œliarsâ€™ luncheon,â€ Newsome quipped: â€œNothing I said today will allow you to know what weâ€™re going to do at the draft, because I said we might take a quarterback at 29.â€
However, the Ravensâ€™ actions and interest tell a different story.
The Ravens have had visits with several versatile offensive tackle/guards that carry first-round grades, including Tennesseeâ€™s Arron Sears, Texasâ€™ Justin Blalock and Arkansasâ€™ Tony Ugoh.
Theyâ€™ve also demonstrated interest in several other blockers, including: Auburn guard Ben Grubbs, USC center Ryan Kalil, Central Michigan tackle Joe Staley, Iowa tackle Marshal Yanda, Boston College center-guard Josh Beekman and Akron guard Andy Alleman.
A converted tight end with 4.79 speed in the 40-yard dash, Staley is the lone player from that group who’s unlikely to still be available for the 29th pick.
â€œThe offensive line is not a sexy position in some peopleâ€™s eyes,â€ DeCosta said. â€œI think this yearâ€™s crop of offensive linemen is pretty strong.â€
The Ravens could use an offensive tackle because of the unresolved status of All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who has been pondering retirement along with the free agent departure of right tackle Tony Pashos that prompted Baltimore to install Adam Terry as the starter on the right side.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are high on several cornerbacks, including Arkansasâ€™ Chris Houston, Pittsburghâ€™s Darrelle Revis and Texasâ€™ Aaron Ross. The Ravens could use an influx of talent at nickel back or someone to ultimately push veteran Samari Rolle for the starting job, barring Rolle engineering a turnaround from a rough 2006 campaign.
Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan attended Houston’s Pro Day.
â€œThere are some very good corners this year,â€ DeCosta said. â€œWeâ€™ve spent a lot of time on these guys. There are some talented guys and if one of those guys and weâ€™re on the clock, I think weâ€™d turn the card in.â€
Because of starter Steve McNairâ€™s age and backup Kyle Boller entering the final year of his contract, the Ravens are looking for a future successor under center.
The Ravens have invested a considerable amount of time evaluating quarterbacks, including visits and campus workouts with Stanfordâ€™s Trent Edwards, Houstonâ€™s Kevin Kolb, Brigham Youngâ€™s John Beck and Ohio Stateâ€™s Troy Smith.
In particular, Edwards and Kolb have separated themselves from the pack and are regarded as strong candidates in the second or third round. The Ravens donâ€™t have a third-round pick following a trade for running back Willis McGahee.
â€œPeople around the league are saying weâ€™re concentrating on the offensive line,â€ Newsome said. â€œWeâ€™ve evaluated the quarterback group as much as any position in the draft.â€
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel has crisscrossed the country studying quarterbacks, including Michigan Stateâ€™s Drew Stanton and Oregon State’s Matt Moore.
"It’s a diverse quarterback group," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "What’s intriguing is there appears to be some options at about every round."
Plus, the Ravens could have their pick of several linebackers and defensive ends toward the end of the first round to bolster the NFLâ€™s top-ranked defense. That athletic group includes Purdueâ€™s Anthony Spencer, Floridaâ€™s Jarvis Moss, Michiganâ€™s LaMarr Woodley, Florida State’s Lawrence Timmons and Miamiâ€™s Jon Beason.
Middle-round possibilities Baltimore has brought in for visits include Nebraska’s Stewart Bradley and South Florida’s Stephen Nicholas.
â€œI think there are some very good outside linebackers in the draft this year,â€ DeCosta said. â€œWhat teams want are players who can do more than one thing.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland