I received a phone call Thursday night just before the Ravens made their first pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. I’d been watching the Orioles and flipping back and forth—caught up for the first time in draft frenzy. The caller asked with urgency, “Who is it going to be?” I felt the Ravens needed shoring up on the offensive line, in the defensive secondary and in the backfield. I first said Ha Ha Clinton Dix (safety) or Calvin Prior (safety), names that I’d been hearing over the last few days that weren’t yet listed with their new team. Eric Ebron (tight end), Zack Martin (tackle) and Mike Evans (receiver) were already gone.
And then I remembered something that Ravens writer Garrett Downing had said on 105.7 The Fan earlier in the day. Ozzie also likes inside linebacker C.J. Mosley from Alabama.
“It could also be C.J. Mosley,” I said to the caller. Roger Goodell called out Mosely’s name as the pick. Nineteen years ago, Ozzie selected what turned out to be a Hall of Fame inside linebacker from Miami who was fast, strong and a leader. Ray Lewis was fast from side-to-side like Mosley supposedly is but many thought Ray was too small to play the position. Mosley brings similar attributes of speed, athleticism and leadership but there are doubts about him too. After tackle Zack Martin went to the Cowboys, he fit perfectly into the Ravens’ strategy of taking best player available.
The Ravens continued bolstering the interior of the defense by picking athletic lineman Tim Jernigan, Jr. from Florida State. He was followed by another Seminole, safety Terrence Brooks. The best offense is a good defense – and with the loss of Arthur Jones and James Ihedigbo – the Ravens focused on what has been a franchise strength since inception.
Late Friday night, the Ravens selected Crockett Gilmore, a rangy tight end from Colorado State–and another weapon for Joe Flacco.
Saturday’s selections focused on the offense. After picking 6-7 defensive end Brent Urban from Virginia, the Ravens summoned a flurry of offensive players including local product Michael Campanaro, (wide receiver) who attended River Hill and Wake Forest, Lorenzo Taliaferro (running back), Keith Wenning (quarterback) and John Urschel (guard-center). Urschel is finishing a second masters degree in mathematics at Penn State and brings an academic pedigree similar to retired center Matt Birk. Campanaro is a Wes Welker-type receiver.
There’s more work to do before the season starts, but they are off to a great start. They’re selecting players with the intention of getting back to the Super Bowl and they don’t believe that they’re that far away. As for the draft, Assistant GM Eric DeCosta told 105.7 The Fan that the Ravens were “not interested in the Pro Bowl but the Super Bowl.”
Several weeks ago, John Harbaugh told reporters, “You guys know the direction we’re headed in.” The Ravens have their sights on Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale and are applying a familiar formula to get there. They are making more moves than a Jacoby Jones dance routine. Gary Kubiak is here to help us win another Super Bowl. They’ve signed Steve Smith just as they did Anquan Boldin and Derek Mason before him for one purpose—to make it to the Promised Land in Arizona. They inked Owen Daniels – a solid performer at tight end from the Texans. They resigned Dennis Pitta, Daryl Smith and Eugene Monroe.
With $25 million in salary cap space and a plan for addressing urgent needs at wide receiver and on the offensive line, Ozzie Newsome has proved he is a dangerous man. An 8-8 season left a bad taste within the organization and he and his staff are doing everything they can to erase any memory of mediocrity. The draft has added more exciting additions to the team.
There are also intangibles awaiting us next season. What does the future hold for Ray Rice after his worst season ever and an aggravated assault charge for allegedly striking his wife? The disturbing images we are left with show him dragging an unconscious woman off an elevator. I’ve thought a lot about Ray Rice in the offseason and hope he can move forward from what happened in the Atlantic City casino.
His career started veering off course when he turned up field in the Super Bowl and fumbled. Or was it when he slammed Bengal Vontaze Burfict to the ground after the play was over in the last game of the season in 2012? In 2013, he supposedly spat in a player’s face. Does he have anger issues? For his entire career, he has made every effort to show us that he is not that kind of a person.
Rice has a lot to prove both off and on the field in 2014. He’s been given the gift of motivation and we’ll see what he does with it. I reread what I had written about him in Never Easy, Never Pretty:
“He had grown up in a project known as “The Hollow” in New Rochelle, New York, the TV hometown of Rob and Laura Petrie on the old Dick Van Dyke Show. But Rice’s life was no sitcom. Before Rice ever knew him, his father was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting that turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. All the running back possesses of his father is a snapshot that he carries with him. Raised by his mother and a cousin nicknamed S.U.P.E. who was an aspiring rap singer and who served as a role model before moving to Los Angeles and being killed in a car accident, Rice escaped his situation by playing sports. He learned to play football on a narrow rectangle of concrete adjacent to a playground that had at its end an asphalt section that served as the end zone. By the age of 8, he was working odd jobs and bringing home money as “the man of the house.”
What can we expect from Terrell Suggs and Jacoby Jones? As for team chemistry, Suggs and Jones are essential elements. I love Terrell Suggs – his spirit, his leadership and his sense of humor. He is the mayor of Never Easy, Never Pretty Land and his term just got renewed for another 4 years. He’s moving on to an advanced degree at Ball So Hard University. Sizzle me timbers, Terrell Suggs will be a Raven for life. Suggs had a respectable season last year – with 10 sacks – but not a great one. Defenses made adjustments to stop him in the second half—and at times he ran out of gas. But he still commanded their attention and got inside their heads. He’s also particularly good at rattling Ben Roethlisberger.
Here is an excerpt from Never Easy, Never Pretty.
“It was a loose locker room in Baltimore. You had your preacher in Ray Lewis. There were thefootball geeks like Ed Reed with his playbook and pencil. Flacco and Pitta shared an old school bond like Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry. Suggs, or “Sizzle” as he liked to call himself, a self-professed graduate of the fictitious “Ball So Hard” University that he founded in 2009 as an alternative to the school of hard knocks, served as mayor of the Ravens’ ongoing freak show. “Ball So Hard” football tournaments are held in T-Sizzle’s honor for Baltimore youth in the fall. The 2012 Ravens were a wicked and ripe concoction of personalities who left it all—the good, the bad, and most definitely the ugly—on the field. Jacoby Jones had come home. With the Ravens, he could be himself and one day pursue his dream of showing the world his dance moves on the television show Dancing with the Stars.”
Jones adds an element of spontaneity to the locker room and to the game. He found himself in Baltimore. His expressions and offbeat outbursts are hilarious—and his most memorable plays are some of the greatest in team history.
I’m predicting big things from the Ravens next season and for the next few years. We will get back to the Super Bowl soon enough. I’m not saying we’ll win it. The NFL has changed and the balance of power has shifted to the NFC. The 49ers, Seahawks, Panthers and even the Eagles will have a say in who gets future Lombardi trophies.
In the AFC, the Broncos, Patriots and Colts play such weak division schedules that it will be difficult for them to match the intensity of anyone in the NFC. The Broncos couldn’t handle the physicality of the Seahawks in the Super Bowl and it is doubtful that they will be able to do so in 2014—even with their new players.
The Ravens are well-positioned to make another run. We pride ourselves on physicality and toughness. As Brady and Manning face retirement, Flacco is entering his prime. I reviewed the schedule and predicted an 11-5 record. However, I didn’t take into account the fact that Ray Rice might be suspended for two games. We face the Bengals and the Steelers in the first two weeks and it won’t be easy.
Judging by their efforts over the last four months, the Ravens organization has one goal in mind: a Super Bowl return. That is their expectation every year. We’re lucky to live in a city where the football team sets its sights on the Lombardi every season. It raises the bar and increases the pressure. It also makes for some good talk radio.