On June 18, we chatted with Eric DeCosta the Ravens’ Director of College Scouting. Eric is always refreshingly candid so we sat down to get his take on topics such as the mini camps, the upcoming season and the acquisition of Steve McNair.
Tony Lombardi: Eric, good morning and Happy Father’s Day to you. Did you get breakfast in bed this morning?
Eric DeCosta: Actually I didn’t. I’m babysitting this morning so if you hear any screaming in the background my daughter has probably got herself in a lot of trouble. My wife is out running a few errands right now and hopefully when she gets back I’ll be king of the day.
TL: You better be. Eric, speaking about the king of the day and before we get into the topic of mini camps, I wanted to ask a bit about the McNair trade…we’ve heard that other teams may have been entering the mix for McNair’s services and that sped things up…what really happened?
ED: I think basically we wanted to get Steve in as quickly as we could and actually have him in for the last two weeks of OTA’s and that was really the biggest thing. We had offered something and the Titans offered something else and that was basically the hold up over the last 6 to 8 weeks. And finally the thing sort of reached a head and Floyd Reese called us back and said, “Ok, I’ll do it for the fourth round pick.”
We had a comfort level with that thinking that we would probably get a fourth round pick through compensatory picks next year. So we got it down and we were fortunate to get Steve in for the last two weeks, the first week in meetings and then this week with office and practice time. We feel really good about that.
TL: Eric, the Ravens have had 15 OTA’s during which much attention was given to the rookies both drafted and undrafted. From your observations so far, any pleasant surprises or mild disappointments? And what about those 4 we mentioned…Olson, Ross, Moses and Paris?
ED: As for the surprises, one of the things that is kind of nice is our running back situation. P.J. Daniels has stood out in my mind. He’s got very good hands and he’s very quick. Initially he may not have that long burst that Jamal Lewis has but he’s very, very quick laterally with good hands and I’ve liked everything I’ve seen of him. Another guy who has looked very strong is Musa Smith who is coming back from that very severe leg injury that he suffered two years ago. He looks real quick and if he can give us anything this year, that will be a huge boost to the running game. He and P.J. will probably compete to be the third down back initially.
Mike Anderson looks good. So we have a lot of depth there.
Another guy that looks good and he’s a guy that you were talking about earlier [and that’s] Cory Ross. I think Cory Ross is a guy that is going to be very hard to cut. He returns punts and kicks. He’s shifty, he’s short but he’s a strong runner and he gives you a little bit of a spark. It’s going to be hard to keep five or six running backs on the roster with the fullbacks, but Cory is a guy that may stick on the active roster or possibly on the practice squad. And down the road if something were to happen to B.J. Sams, Cory Ross can be a punt returner in this league – I’m sure of that. He catches the ball very well and he’s been a pleasant surprise considering that we only gave him like $500 to sign with us.
TL: Now that’s what I call value!
ED: I think it was $500. It may have been a thousand but it was no more than a thousand.
TL: Did you pay for his flight here?
ED: Actually he had to walk and it took him four weeks to get here.
TL: (laughing)…Well there you go, that’s part of his training camp, making it a little tougher these days. You mentioned B.J. Sams. I noticed that he’s no longer listed as a running back and he’s been working out at DB. Are his days as a running back with the Ravens over?
ED: Well I’ll tell with B.J. the value is that he can do some different things for you. We’ve used him as a receiver, we’ve used him as a running back in different packages. We like B.J. We’ve used him as a nickel and he’s played some corner, there’s a lot of different things. But obviously his primary role is as a punt and kick off returner. I think he did play one game last year at DB and Dennis Thurman our defensive backs coach thinks BJ has got some potential. We’ve got some running backs now that can do some of the same kind of things that BJ does. We’ve used Mark Clayton in the backfield over the past year and he’s taken over that role from BJ.
We’re trying to find other ways for BJ to contribute and he has potential to be a disaster or emergency DB or corner. If he can do that, it improves his versatility and his value to the team.
TL: Another UDFA’s that caught my eye is Ronnie Prude. How has he performed so far in your opinion?
ED: Ronnie is a guy who is very quick. He’s very instinctive and was coached very well in college. He’s made some plays. He’s the kind of guy that if he’s seen something one time, he’s not going to make the same mistake and he responds very well. He can take hard coaching which is important. We’ve learned that in the past if you can get a DB who has been coached by Nick Saban, usually they’re pretty good.
If you remember when New England won the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, they had a kid by the name of Randall Gay who ended up playing quite a bit for them. Randall was a guy that played for Nick Saban and he was an undrafted free agent. But those guys that played for Nick Saban, he’s an unbelievable DB’s coach. They’re used to playing a lot of different coverages and they take hard coaching well. Ronnie is a lot like [Gay].
We brought Ronnie into Baltimore before the draft. We had talked about drafting Ronnie. He was a little bit of a sleeper for us. He didn’t go to the combines. We liked him on tape. He’s a smart kid and I’m not really surprised that he’s playing as well as he is. He’s competing with David Pittman and Derrick Martin and Corey Ivy for that corner/nickel spot. He’s got a chance. I think he’s going to make the team and he’s doing good things. Obviously until the pads come on you really don’t know. As he goes against better and better receivers, there’s one thing you have to understand, these undrafted guys are going against the undrafted receivers. You want to see Ronnie go against Mark Clayton or Derrick Mason. He’s starting to do that now and he still continues to make plays. He’s playing with confidence and I think he’ll be a pretty good prospect for us down the road.
TL: Demetrius Williams/Haloti Ngata ~ they weren’t able to participate in some OTA’s because their Oregon class didn’t graduate until this past Friday. Talk about that rule and then talk about what the coaches plan on doing to make up for lost time with Williams and Ngata.
ED: First of all the rule was one that was put in place by college coaches. Basically what the rule says is if a guy has not yet graduated, he is not allowed to participate until he graduates with the exception of the first rookie mini camp. So we got a chance to see Haloti and Demetrius Williams at least for a couple of days. But they had to go back to Oregon until they graduate which in my mind is a silly rule since Haloti is not even in school right now. So he’s not able to participate until graduation but he’s not graduating. It’s a very silly rule and it hurts the Ravens a little bit. We were aware of the situation, it happens every year. Ohio State has a late graduation [as does] UCLA. So other teams are affected as well.
What we were able to do to our coaches’ credit, we were able to fly out Clarence Brooks our D-line coach and [receiver’s coach] Mike Johnson to work with those guys for three days. I think Mike Johnson went out to LA to work with Demetrius and Clarence went to Salt Lake City to work with Haloti. They spent time in meetings. We actually had Drew Olson meet up with Mike Johnson because the same situation happened with Drew. He met up with Mike Johnson and Demetrius in LA and they threw the ball and completed the conditioning drills.
TL: Many have said that Kyle Boller’s future is in jeopardy with the team. I tend to think that McNair’s arrival is a boost for him, at least long term. The guy that I think is at greater risk is Brian St. Pierre. With McNair and Boller on the roster, it would seem more likely that the Ravens might keep Drew Olson on the 53 man roster and not try and sneak him through to the practice squad like Josh Harris and Derek Anderson. Your thoughts on St. Pierre and Olson…
ED: It will be an interesting competition to see how it all plays out with Brian and Drew. Both guys bring different things to the table. I believe what the league is going to do is change the practice squad rule – in the past you could only keep a guy on the practice squad for two years. I believe now they are going to lengthen that to three years which would give us if we wanted to, the option of putting Brian on the practice squad. In the past we’ve been burned trying to get guy on the practice squad ala Derek Anderson and Josh Harris. One of the things we’ll have to look at is do we keep three quarterbacks on the active roster or two? There are a lot of different combinations to look at but I’ll tell you this, with Steve McNair and Kyle Boller I feel like we have one of the deepest – we went from having a weakness at quarterback to it being a strength. Boller as a back up is probably one of the best back ups if not the best back up in the league.
As you guys have said, Steve McNair coming here in some ways takes a lot of pressure off Kyle. He’ll learn, he can sit back, he won’t feel that tremendous pressure and I think that’s going to help him long term. I think you will see that Kyle will really benefit from the situation. He’s embraced it, he’s working his butt off, he studies, he and Steve have already hit on a nice relationship that I’ve seen over the last two weeks. I’m excited to see how the whole thing plays out.
TL: Speaking of watching things play out, it is still unclear what the Ravens will do a safety opposite Ed Reed. Will Dawan Landry be given every chance to make the team and is there a chance that the Ravens could look for an available veteran safety?
ED: Well I think we’re looking at options now and some players that could emerge. George Kokinis our pro scouting director is so tied in with the league and we’re aware of different players who may be cut and others that might not be cut. But looking at the safety position, I think we’re fairly content just to sit and wait. Dawan looked pretty good but to say he’s going to be the starter, you can’t say that. I think he’ll contribute. Hopefully he’ll continue to make progress and take the steps he needs to take. I think he is going to be an outstanding special teams player. But at safety we’re looking at some different things. We’ve used Adalius Thomas back there a bit. I’ll say that to people and they’re like, “Huh?!?” But we’ve done it in the past.
We have some different packages we use – we call it the Steeler package where Adalius actually plays strong safety.
TL: You know I heard Rex making that call during mini camp practice and I wondered what [Steeler] meant.
ED: That’s basically a package where AD – obviously we’re not going to play him half field where he has a lot of coverage responsibilities. But we bring in AD as a safety and we bring in another linebacker whether that’s Dan Cody or Jarret Johnson, however that plays out and Adalius goes back to strong safety and it’s a real good package for us versus the run and it gives us some pass rush. We’ve actually used that against the Steelers and if you look at what we did against the Steelers last year we played pretty well defensively, Obviously it’s a [package] a little limited against the pass but I’ll tell you what, last week in practice AD did some one on one stuff at corner to work on his technique. And if you haven’t seen him do that, a guy who is 270 pounds who can turn and run with a guy like Mason, it’s very impressive. He’s a very gifted guy.
Whatever we do at safety, I know that Rex Ryan will have a lot of different options. That is a position that we want to address. We tried to address it in the draft this year and we had some guys that we had targeted earlier in the draft but it fell through for us and we weren’t able to get a safety. I feel good about the position. We’re aware of it. I think we have enough veterans in the secondary to compensate to a degree for the lack of a real stud safety.
(Note: The next day, the Ravens announced the trade to reacquire Gerome Sapp.)
TL: You mentioned Dan Cody. He has worked extremely hard to get back out on the field. Your thoughts on his progress so far and how close is he to getting back to that upfield burst that he displayed at Oklahoma?
ED: Dan is an unbelievable competitor. We knew that. He’s tough, he’s smart and he’s motivated. I don’t know that we have a guy who’s worked harder this offseason than Dan Cody. I love his demeanor and he’s made great strides considering the injury – what is it 10 months, 11 months out from the injury? His long term prognosis looks unbelievable. He has another gear as a pass rusher and we’ve been very, very impressed with what he’s done so far. Of the edge he’s extremely quick and he’s tenacious. He reminds me mentality wise of Mike McCrary. I’m not comparing him to Mike, one of the great Ravens players of all time. But Dan has that same mentality and character about him that we think is very critical and I expect him to be a significant player for us this year. I think he’s going to rush the passer on third down and present problems for the opposing tackle and I expect him to make a lot of big plays for us this year.
TL: Eric after the last OTA, Brian Billick was asked to comment on the practices and the team so far. And what he said was, “I like the personalities. I think the additions we’ve made not only from a physical standpoint but from a personality way – character wise, has been outstanding!” Your thoughts on that.
ED: [Among] the biggest things when I’m looking at players are football toughness, mentality, speed and character. We’ve taken some guys over the years that didn’t bring a lot from a character standpoint and it’s been a mistake. Over the last two years I’m very proud of the guys we’ve drafted and I think they are great people and they are very good football players as well. If the guy is a knucklehead, we’re going to pass – I’m just not going to take him! I’m not going to do it. Ozzie is not going to do it. We’re not going to go down that road with these guys. I’m consumed with character, their background, football intelligence, instincts, the ability to make plays, durability, production and obviously talent. But all of those things are things that we think are very important in the make up of a good football player.
Character is critical – the make up, the chemistry of the team. In looking at the team last year I don’t think that the chemistry was very good. You can’t obviously change these things over night but I think if you draft enough good people who work hard and want to be here and buy into the program, I think you can change it. New England did it over the course of a few years and it’s paid huge benefits to those guys. So I’m trying to do that, we’re trying to do that, the scouts, Ozzie, the coaches are buying into it…the coaches are doing a great job of working with the players we bring in. They are passionate about what they are doing from a coaching standpoint, so I think we’re on the right track. I really do!
TL: The offensive line has a lot of pressure on it, but they seem to be a determined unit this year. They are working hard and developing the chemistry you encourage. Talk about the development of the young guys, Pashos, Brown, Rimpf, Terry and Chris Chester.
ED: Nobody has worked harder than Tony Pashos over the last couple of years. One of the big things for Tony is Chris Foerster, the offensive line coach coming in and really being excited about Tony. I give Tony a lot of credit. He has lost a lot of weight, about 35 pounds. He’s worked on his feet and he’s always been real smart and tough but limited athletically but he’s worked on that. One of the reasons we had a little more success on offense towards the end of last year [as in] the Minnesota game and the Green Bay game, I give a lot of credit to Tony. He’s not a great player but he’s a good player and he plays hard. For an offensively lineman, that’s one of the big things — consistency, effort, intelligence and overall toughness.
As for the other guys, Jason Brown has made great strides from last year to this year. He’s benefited from Mike Flynn being hurt getting a lot of reps as the 1. Jason is a little different than guys like Mike Flynn and Casey Rabach over the years because Jason has some weight behind him and some pop. At the center position, guys might be typically undersized. Jason is a guy that can move people off the ball. And we’re excited about him and he has a chance to start eventually. He has really taken that next step. And if we had to play the first game this year against Tampa Bay and Mike Flynn couldn’t play, I think Jason is a guy that I have a lot of confidence in.
Chris Chester, we like everything that we see so far. He’s very athletic, tremendously athletic. When you see him out there with the other offensive linemen there’s a noticeable difference in the way that he moves, so light on his feet and unbelievable balance, very quick. I think he’s going to be a significant player in this league. It may not be this year but he has some God given ability that other players don’t have. His strength will continue to improve and he’ll continue to get bigger and stronger. He will challenge to start. It will be a dog fight. He and Keydrick Vincent and Mulitalo…I like his long term potential.
Brian Rimpf is a guy that gives us some versatility because he can swing. He can play some guard and center and he’s also played tackle in his past so he could play all three positions in a disaster situation.
The guy that has really helped himself from last year to this year is Mulitalo. His body weight is down a little bit. His body fat percentage is way, way down. He’s in much better shape and I expect him to be much improved from last year. Last year was a huge disappointment for me in how he played but Edwin is a guy who has worked on his liabilities and I think he’ll be a guy that emerges as the old Edwin Mulitalo this year.
TL: Many high profile veterans were not at the voluntary practices…yet Derrick Mason was there every day working his butt off. Is there any reason for fans to be concerned about the notable absences and does that in any way affect chemistry in the locker room?
ED: I don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s always been that way. If you go back to the year we won the Super Bowl, it was basically the same situation. [These practices] are not mandatory and a lot of veterans don’t always participate. It doesn’t bother me that much. Every team goes through this. I think the Green Bay Packers had 21 guys that weren’t there. Guys have different things going on at this time of year and fortunately we’ve had everybody here at least at some point. I think that’s the biggest thing. You never want to get into a situation where the guy isn’t practicing at all. If it were up to me I’d have everybody at every practice but that just isn’t a reality in the current NFL.
One of the good things is that it does give us an opportunity to give reps to the young guys. When you don’t have an Ed Reed here and you are able to get Dawan Landry more reps, that’s a positive thing.
TL: Dick Cass back tracked from statements concerning the team’s expected cap position in 2008. But even if the Ravens have to release some vets, it would seem as though they are better prepared to handle the departure then than they were in 2002.
ED: Well first I didn’t hear Dick say that but I think those comments were blown out of proportion a little bit. This is not the same type of situation that we were faced with in 2002 and people should realize that. Will our roster be different in 2008? Sure it will be but we’re still going to have a core of very good players in Baltimore and like you said, if we continue to draft well like we have been doing the last couple of years anyway, I don’t think we’ll miss a beat. We have some younger guys that when they get a chance to play they’re going to play pretty well.
We’re always looking ahead and we’re looking at different scenarios. We’re trying to get something done with Ed Reed right now long term and we’ve got Terrell Suggs coming up in a couple of years. We have a lot of veterans on this team and some might not be with us in 2008. But we’ll have some younger players who will emerge and become significant players for us by then. My job is to draft good players and put them into position to make plays at some point.
Last year’s draft with guys like Dan Cody, Mark Clayton, these guys will emerge to be very good players for the Ravens. Adam Terry is another guy that I think is going to emerge as a tackle. I feel good about this year’s draft as well. So that’s about 20 players and we’ll probably have another 10 picks this year assuming compensatory picks. You are talking about 30 players over three years. Surely some of those guys will pick up where guys who might not be with us in 2008 leave [off]. We’ll have the holes filled and we’ll be ok.
TL: Forty-two days until camp….what will keep Eric DeCosta busy during that time?
ED: Between now and then I’m a dad full time. I’m not doing much. I get a lot of invitations to golf and usually I’ll pass them up. You guys know what scouts do. I’m usually away from home 120 to 140 days per year so the next 40 days, I’m going on vacation. We’re going to take some trips and I’m going to spend a lot of time swimming with my daughter, playing in the yard and trying to teach her how to play lacrosse, soccer and all these other things. She’s three years old.
Training camp is exciting. I get to do 40 days of nothing and then when I get back it’s full steam ahead!