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OWINGS MILLS — Minutes after being leapfrogged for a coveted prospect and shortly after declining hefty trade demands for Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, the Baltimore Ravens landed top-ranked Auburn offensive guard Ben Grubbs on Saturday with the 29th overall pick of the first round.
Despite exploring a trade for a plummeting Quinn who wound up with the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore stuck with its conventional draft philosophy. Drafting the best offensive lineman remaining on their draft board wasnâ€™t a sexy pick, but it fulfilled a need and an expectation.
â€œNo doubt he was our highest-rated player at this point,â€ Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said. â€œSometimes, you can get your highest-rated player to also fulfill a need. He was the No. 1 ranked guard in the draft, but itâ€™s just a position that people tend not to draft very high.
â€œWhen you look at the history of the guys, they normally play for a long time. Ben is a young man that when we talk about a Ravens-type player, he fits the mold.â€
The San Francisco 49ers jumped directly in front of Baltimore in a trade for the New England Patriots’ No. 28 pick to grab athletic Central Michigan left tackle Joe Staley, regarded by most scouts as one of the top 20 players in the draft.
Newsome didnâ€™t acknowledge whether Staley was who the Ravens wanted prior to the 49ersâ€™ pick, but said he immediately declined a few offers to trade back for extra picks when he was on the clock at No. 29. Grubbs is regarded as more NFL-ready now than Staley, too.
â€œThe phone started to ring, but I immediately told everybody we were picking,â€ Newsome said.
The Quinn option intrigued Baltimore enough to worry Browns general manager Phil Savage, but not enough to surrender next yearâ€™s first-round draft pick and other picks to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 22. The Kansas City Chiefs at No. 23 were another team that Baltimore reportedly held discussions with about trading up to get Quinn.
Quinn said he spoke to Ravens team officials during his free-fall.
â€œWhen he started to come down the draft, we talked about it,â€ Newsome said. â€œSo, when he started his slide we did make some inquiries about him and I applaud Phil for coming back in and getting him.â€
Plus, the Ravens bemoaned not having a first-round draft pick in 2004 after trading it in 2003 to acquire quarterback Kyle Boller.
â€œThat was a big factor,â€ Newsome said. â€œWhen you donâ€™t have a first-round draft pick, it affects your draft, it affects your draft preparation. Yes, that did play into our thinking.â€
A 6-foot-3, 315-pound converted tight end and defensive lineman, Grubbs will immediately compete for the starting right guard job with incumbent Keydrick Vincent. Chris Chester is expected to battle with veteran Mike Flynn at center. Newsome said he instructed offensive line coach Chris Foerster to simply put the best five linemen on the field.
Grubbs is regarded as a mobile blocker adept at pass blocking, capable of anchoring on the line of scrimmage, pulling or tracking down linebackers in the open field.
â€œI know I can bring athleticism,â€ Grubbs told Baltimore reporters during a conference call from Tuscaloosa, Ala. â€œI am very quick and powerful for my size. I can pretty much make every block there is. I can get north and south, or I can get around the corner.
â€œNobody out there works harder than I do. I bring a lot to the table. I can pick up pretty much any scheme. Iâ€™ve got heart and Iâ€™m just able to take this long ride. Iâ€™m ready to be one of the top offensive linemen in the game.â€
Grubbs started 38 consecutive games at left guard for the Tigers, allowing only three career sacks, seven pressures and was flagged for four penalties. He earned All-Southeastern Conference and All-American notice last season.
The native of Eclectic, Ala., was a linebacker and fullback in high school who also played basketball. He covered 40 yards in 5.16 seconds at his campus workout and bench presses 430 pounds.
Although the Ravens gave high grades to USC center Ryan Kalil and Texas guard-tackle Justin Blalock, they had Grubbs rated much higher. He was one of their top 20 prospects on their draft board.
â€œBen was one of the guys that we felt had very little weaknesses across the board,â€ Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. â€œHeâ€™s very athletic. He anchors well, has strong hands and is smart.
â€œHeâ€™s one of my favorite players in the draft. He was a consensus player. He passed every single test with flying colors.â€
The Ravens were confident enough in Grubbsâ€™ potential to make a historic move as Newsome, a former University of Alabama legend who played for the late Bear Bryant, drafted the first Auburn player in franchise history.
Former free agent wide receiver Frank Sanders is the only other Auburn football alum to play for Baltimore.
â€œTwelve years, and I finally drafted an Auburn player,â€ Newsome said. â€œIâ€™ll probably catch a little flack down in Tuscaloosa for a while.â€
With the clamor of family and friends in the background, Grubbs expressed shock that Baltimore picked him since he didnâ€™t visit the Ravensâ€™ training complex or talk to them prior to the draft.
He had an inkling that Baltimore might be interested when he perused a mock draft Friday night, but it didnâ€™t become a reality until he saw a â€˜410â€™ telephone number show up on his caller ID.
â€œI started to holler and my family started to holler, I picked up the phone to answer it and Mr. Newsome said, â€˜You must have had caller ID,â€™â€ Grubbs said. â€œThat was a very exciting moment for me, and Iâ€™m just thankful and blessed.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland