THE GRAPEVINE: Ravens don’t want prime time faceoff at Heinz Field

Lombardi's Way THE GRAPEVINE: Ravens don’t want prime time faceoff at Heinz Field

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Each team in the NFL can submit scheduling requests to the league’s ivory tower.  On the scheduling wish list that the Ravens forwarded was a request not to play a prime-time game at the ketchup bottle in Pittsburgh. 

If the NFL schedule makers reach into their usual bag of tricks, the World Champion Steelers are likely to open the NFL season on Thursday night and clearly an attractive opponent would be their bitter divisional rival the Baltimore Ravens. While many would consider the Ravens’ request more on par with the Cowardly Lion than the Wizard of Oz, count me among those who are happy to see the team’s forward thinking.

Divisional games are so important and clearly the request if granted gives the Ravens a chance to start the season and establish momentum against a weaker opponent than the Steelers in a much less hostile environment than Heinz Field.

Ozzie Newsome & Company will find out if their wish comes true very soon if the prime-time games for Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights are announced as expected after this week’s NFL owners meetings. The balance of the regular season schedule will be released sometime in April before the NFL Draft.

Wide receiver is clearly a need position for the Ravens that will be addressed in the upcoming draft.  The question is “When?” The Ravens currently have the No. 26 pick in the draft and many mock drafts have them selecting one of these three collegiate receivers: Darrius Heyward-Bey Percy Harvin, or Hakeem Nicks.

The position is one of if not the most difficult position to project to the professional level and consequently there have been more wasted first day picks on receivers than nearly every other position. Teams that select first round receivers almost seem compelled to put the player on the field to start their rookie campaigns and that’s a tall task.

Effective NFL pass catchers must be able to grasp new and expanded playbooks, read defenses and make pre-snap adjustments that parallel the same adjustments made by their quarterbacks.  It takes time and until it really clicks in for the young receivers, they won’t play as fast – slowed by the mental processing that takes place immediately before and after the quarterback says, “Hut!”

To challenge a draft prospect on a cerebral level and determine their mental processing prowess, NFL scouts subject draft eligible players to the Wonderlic Test. A score of 17 is considered average for a wide receiver. Heyward-Bey scored a 14, Harvin a 12 and Hakeem Nicks an 11.

Comparatively speaking the other projected first round choices at the position, Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin scored 15 and 27 respectively. Draw your own conclusions…

Darrius Heyward-Bey seems to be the preferred choice for the Ravens by the local fan base. He has all of the desirable measurables (save the Wonderlic) that teams look for in a receiver: size, strength and speed. But his production at Maryland is questionable at best.

Defenders of Heyward-Bey might successfully explain away the lack of productivity and point to things like inconsistency at quarterback. Still his inability to dominate given his ideal physical skills will give NFL GM’s pause and the pause may lead to a pass on DHB when teams are on the clock during Round 1 come April 25.

North Carolina Tar Heel Hakeem Nicks was far more productive in the ACC than DHB and his style of play is very reminiscent of Michael Irvin.  Nicks ran a 4.49 forty at the combines but chose not to run during his pro player day at the university. Word is that Nicks put on about 14 pounds during the three week period between the combines and his pro day in Chapel Hill.

One of the topics for discussion during the owners’ meetings this week is the NFL Draft.  Some are proposing that the league move the draft to February and then delay the free agency period until sometime after the rookie minicamps. This might influence teams anxious for improvement to become more financially responsible and refrain from overspending on desirable free agents.

Such a move could favor the Ravens who are among the league’s most prepared teams throughout the calendar year when it comes to evaluating collegiate talent.  It would also favor teams that are more stable off the field. Clubs that make post season coaching or front office changes will be far behind the curve in developing and implementing draft strategies if the draft were held in February.  Keep in mind that many such changes don’t take place until late January into February.

Newly acquired nickel back and kick returner Chris Carr certainly knows how to warm his way into the hearts of Ravens’ fans.  During a recent conference call with the Baltimore media, Carr commented on his decision to play for the purple and black.

"I just always had a feeling about Baltimore and how it would be cool to play for them," Carr said. "Playing in Baltimore, the two times I’ve played there in my career, I was like, ‘Man, these are the best fans.’ There’s no better place to play."

Speaking of playing in Baltimore, the Ravens are moving in on free agent offensive tackle Orlando Pace.  According to one source, the Ravens are in the driver’s seat for Pace, “if they want him.” Word is the Ravens would like to replace Willie Anderson with Pace if they can make the numbers work.  The team is concerned about Anderson’s blossoming waist line.

If Pace does become a Raven, he’ll be forced to do something that Adam Terry has struggled with – move from left tackle to right tackle. Jeremy Green, the director of pro scouting for Scouts Inc. not only thinks that Pace could play right tackle, he should play right tackle at this point in his career.

“I think he could play right tackle and it might almost be better for him to play right tackle. He’s not going to be as physical in the running game as you might like, but he’s also not going to be facing the opponents’ best speed rusher like he was on the left side. He has really struggled with some guys that can really rush the passer. It was getting to the point where guys were running around him. But even if he’s at 80 percent, I think he can handle the guys on the other side. You could do a lot worse than having a player who is 80 percent of what Orlando Pace once was, especially on the right side.”

My colleague Michael Popovec wrote today about the importance of depth at the position of cornerback.  Clearly the Ravens have struggled with that due to injury over the past couple of seasons.  Mix in Fabian Washington’s propensity to miss plays while under the care of the medical staff on the sidelines for intermittent minor nicks and depth becomes an even bigger issue.

But I have to disagree with Michael’s position on Samari Rolle.  To pay Rolle $4.1 million to be a nickel just doesn’t make any sense regardless of the need for depth.  Moreover, Rolle really isn’t built to be a nickel at this point in his career and he’s not dependable enough to be a starter.  Age has taken away some of the fluidity in Rolle’s hips and that is a vital trait for nickel backs taking on slot receivers.

I do expect the Ravens to add depth to the secondary via the draft but not necessarily on Day 1.  The matchup of their draft board and available players when Ozzie is on the clock will determine that. That said, keep this name in mind (except when traveling through Cleveland’s airport) – Derrick Martin. 

Martin played extremely well during camp last August and prior to his injury he was the best reserve corner in preseason contests.  He has fully recovered from his labrum injury so look for D-Mart to provide quality depth for secondary coaches Chuck Pagano and Mark Carrier.

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24×7 Networks, LLC’s founder (the parent of and His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts “The Fanimal” also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi.

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