As the first full squad practice of the Baltimore Ravens 2013 training camp draws closer, Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta discusses among other things the offseason changes, Vonta Leach and the experience of being a Super Bowl XLVII Champion.
Tony Lombardi: Last season the offensive line seemed to put it together when Bryant McKinnie was moved to LT and KO to LG. This season the Ravens will look to Gino Gradkowski to accept the reins from Matt Birk. What do you expect from Gino and could AQ Shipley push him for the position?
Eric DeCosta: It should be a great battle at OC. Geno is tough, quick, smart and deceptively strong. We think he is going to be a good player. AQ is similar and brings starting experience. He provides legitimate starter skills and at worst is a good backup. Don’t overlook Ryan Jensen too. He has tools to be a good player at center and should transition easily. He’s going to fight a lot in practice.
TL: Joe Flacco’s final 5 games under center in 2012 are well documented and many point to the relationship that Joe has with Jim Caldwell as a big factor in his outstanding play down the stretch. What do you attribute Joe’s success to and what do you expect from him in 2013?
ED: Joe is primed for a big year and we expect him to continue to develop. He and Jim work so well together and Joe has done a great job with our younger players on offense. Joe’s confidence has really grown and that’s a big thing. He’s been able to stay healthy; he is smart, tough, and has great passing skills. We think he has quite a bright future, obviously.
TL: Vonta Leach’s departure is generally thought to be a hit on the team’s rushing attack. However Kyle Juszczyk’s versatility could have opponents on their heels a bit and that could create some opportunities. Your thoughts on this transition…
ED: The roster is never set and it’s a very fluid process at every position…. we continue to have a dialogue with Vonta concerning a role with the team…. as far as competition goes, Kyle and Vonta have different skill-sets. No two players are entirely alike and our coaches do an exceptional job of realizing a player’s abilities and putting them in best position to help win games.
The thing about Kyle that we like is that he’s versatile and smart. He’s got route ability in the pass game, natural hands, and he’s got the chance to play on special teams immediately. With Vonta, you are talking about a smash-mouth point of attack blocker who has played at a Pro Bowl level for years. Both guys have the potential to help us and it would be great to have them both.
TL: Cary Williams has moved on to Philadelphia and it would appear that Jimmy Smith is the next man up. Smith was compared regularly coming out of college to Nnamdi Asomugha. What do you expect from Jimmy and what do you think he needs to do to take the next step towards fulfilling the promise of his physical skills?
ED: Jimmy had a great off-season as you can clearly see when you look at his body and how he is moving. We remain as high on Jimmy as we were on draft day and we’re confident that he’s going to take the next step as a player this year.
The biggest issue has been injuries and the work that Jimmy has put in this past winter will pay dividends for us. He’s got the ability to be a difference-maker with his combination of feet, size, and physicality and we need him to develop if we are going to be a championship defense this year.
TL: What do you expect from other secondary players like Asa Jackson, Marc Anthony and Christian Thompson in 2013?
ED: Last season, having Chykie Brown emerge was huge. Hopefully one of these younger guys will do the same for us this year. Asa and Christian both have NFL skills both as defenders and also as special teamers and we were excited to land Marc Anthony so late in the draft. He was a player who suffered from a slower 40 time at Indy but was an outstanding corner in college. We love his size and savvy and think he’s a player worth developing.
TL: The Ravens have added Juan Castillo and Steve Spagnuolo to their coaching staff. How might the team benefit from these additions?
ED: John Harbaugh does a great job of augmenting his staff every year. In fact, he might be the best coach in the league when it comes to building a staff. I’m biased but that’s my opinion.
The fact that he has history with Juan and Steve is huge…he knows those guys so there is no guesswork involved as far as personality and fit. The other thing is both guys are special guys who are outstanding teachers and have very little ego. They fit easily and they make us better. Football is all about helping players get better…. Coaching matters and with Steve and Juan, we got two guys who can coach with the best….
TL: The month of June was a whirlwind for your organization including a trip to the White House and the ring ceremony. Talk about those two experiences and what resonates the most when you look back upon them.
ED: The excitement felt by the players during that period is something I will never forget. These guys were like school kids at Christmas time. To be able to work together as a team, players, staff, coaches, and scouts and to form these types of shared memories is something that I will always cherish.
We built a very close team and I’m proud of that…. the challenge is to continue. We’ve got to remember our past success but also be able to put it away and move forward.
You have to constantly grow as an organization, teams change, the market changes. It’s a dynamic process and you’ve got to be innovative and aggressive because everyone else is trying to beat you. I think our players, coaches and scouts understand that and we’ve moved on.
We are ready for our upcoming challenges.