The Ravens held their annual State of the Ravens event last night and I was lucky enough to get a ticket. Each year this proves to be a very special event.
After a half hour of drinks, we were hustled into an auditorium for giants – big seats and a great movie on the 2009 season using angles not seen on TV (NFL Films?).
Dick Cass, President of the Ravens was the first to the podium. He announced the Ravens would have HD boards and a new field for the 2010 season (both features will be in place for the lacrosse championships at the end of the month). The Ravens are also replacing all of their SD TVs with HD in the stands and concourses.
Kevin Byrne was the master of ceremonies and introduced John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome who sat together on the right side of the stage. Ray Rice received his Ravens player of the year award. He briefly discussed his weight and workout regimen which includes 200 and 300-yard sprints with a 20-lb suit. Harbaugh made the point that was an exercise counter to the strengths of a smaller, powerful runner like Rice.
Byrne then fed Ozzie and John a number of pre-selected topics:
· On Anquan Boldin, Ozzie described the process to acquire him which began in 2009. Ozzie confirmed that the Cards were looking for a “Roy Williams” type deal (Williams went to Dallas for a 1st and a 3rd) in the early weeks of 2009, but their price was lowered to a “high 3rd round pick” by this off season. Since the Ravens had a low 3rd round pick, Ozzie said the deal might have failed, but they were given permission to negotiate with Anquan and were also considering another UFA (Kevin Walter?) at the same time. Harbaugh complemented Ozzie for getting the leg up on other teams by negotiating the deal with Boldin then the picks were worked out as a 3rd and 4th for the Cards 5th.
· Harbaugh also noted that Boldin was moving to Baltimore with his family and indicated that he’d like to end his career here. His initial impressions are that AB has more vertical explosiveness than he had anticipated and is very quick to transition from catch to run. Perhaps best of all, AB has a natural desire to teach, which should be good for the younger receivers.
· Regarding Stallworth, JH said the Ravens needed to ask him “what was going on?”, not only relative to the accident, but relative to his unfulfilled NFL promise. Donte was the 13th player taken in his draft class (Saints, 2002) and the Ravens will be his 5th team. JH said they saw a player who was humble, remorseful, and determined to succeed.
· Perhaps the most interesting news of the night came regarding the trade of 25 for 3 picks. Ozzie and John each said the player they would have drafted was Tennessee DT Dan Williams. Oz indicated that at the start of the draft the Ravens had 13 players they wanted at 25. Of the 13, Williams was the only one available when their pick came. When Denver sweetened the deal to include a 4th, the Ravens passed on Williams and took the extra selections. JH said he would have loved to have Williams, but complemented Ozzie for the combination of the trade for AB and the draft-day exchange.
· After day 1 was complete, the top 2 players on the Ravens board were Kindle and Cook, in that order. They did not think either would drop to 43. After the Vikings traded up to get Cook at 34, they were shocked that Kindle managed to fall to them. On a side note, Kevin Byrne had posted a list of top players (he did not mention the source, but indicated it was public) still available after round 1. Cook’s picture was on the Ravens website. As Kevin describes it, Oz said “your killing us” by having Cook’s picture up. Byrne asked if he should take the picture down, but Oz said “no, then Belichick will know that’s who we want!”
· They discussed new coaches Zorn and Pees. JH said Zorn is an ideal coach for Flacco for this point in his development. Oz commented that the coaches improve talent by demanding accountability of the players. The example given was the Ravens study to face Cincinnati’s unbalanced line. JH sensed that the players were confused and said that they would be there all night to figure it out. Ozzie said he was comfortable with the Harewood selection, because the coaches will demand that he develop and he thinks they have a player who could be very good in 2 years.
· Byrne asked the two to reflect on Michael Oher. Oz said Oher’s agent had asked if he should play in the Senior Bowl. Oz said “yes”, adding that he thought MO had underperformed as a Senior. Oz said his Senior Bowl performance reestablished MO as a top tackle. JH admitted initial doubts about his football IQ. However, when he came in for his press conference after the draft, the Ravens gave him a playbook (he may have just said “his assignments”) and he knew it well when he returned for the first OTAs.
· One of the attendees asked about the interview process at the combine. Oz said the Ravens had 10-12 people in the room (as compared to 3 for the Eagles, per JH) and the questions could come from anyone. That caused the process itself to be intimidating, which Ray Rice confirmed. While neither could recall a specific question that had disqualified a candidate, they said it has happened that they get to the end of 15 minutes and everyone agrees the player won’t be a Raven. JH specifically mentioned that a player that wants to run from an issue or deny responsibility is viewed negatively while they are looking for honesty and humility. The player who did not have a good interview at the combine was Gresham. However, he was subsequently brought to the castle for a visit and was much improved.
· Kindle was specifically mentioned regarding the interview process. When asked about hitting the building while texting/driving, Kindle drew a diagram of the incident and explained how it occurred. He said he didn’t know a car could travel 300 ft. in the time he had to text. JH described it as “his version of Xs and Os”, but said the description was honest and innocent. He then had to answer the question of why he left the scene. Speaking on behalf of Kindle JH said since he never knew anyone who ran into a building while texting, he did not know what to do and thought “leaving might have been the smartest move”. JH said the Ravens were “forced to disagree” and got a laugh from the room.
· Ozzie was asked about other drafts in the division. He described Cleveland as a team in transition. The Ravens liked Haden, but the team has a number of holes to fill. Pittsburgh drafted 3 linebackers who Oz said will contribute immediately on special teams. The Ravens loved Pouncey and Oz said he thought he will be a Pro Bowl center in the future and a good guard to start. Oz also said Gresham will help the Bengals in both the pass and run games. He also gave kudos to Texas’ Jordan Shipley.
· The discussion ended with the cornerback situation. Ozzie said the team is looking for a specific type of corner, but that such a corner might not be available until June. Interestingly, Oz mentioned the team is looking at the possibility of an older QB. All 3 of the Ravens QBs are approximately the same age and an older player to mentor Flacco would be a possibility.
The auditorium session then adjourned to dinner where Flacco and Rice were available for conversation and pictures. Both were happy to talk football and they were real gentlemen. Ray explained how he watches the secondary on a running play to determine which player he will need to beat if the play is blocked perfectly. Joe talked about the sorting capability they have on their database of plays for film study. We were given a tour of the facility including one of the film rooms. The Ravens have an enormous store of college video which is being digitized. Having done a fair amount of this myself, I have to imagine converting the thousands of Beta (yes Beta) tapes will take an army or years to complete.
The Ravens sent us home with an autographed photo of Harbaugh and Newsome.