Ravens make defense a priority in NFL draft
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP)
Not long after the confetti settled on the turf at the Superdome, the world champion Baltimore Ravens realized their defense was in need of a major overhaul.
The unit was ranked an uncharacteristic 17th in 2012, and much improvement was needed if the Ravens were to have a shot at successfully defending their Super Bowl title.
For that reason, general manager Ozzie Newsome did not panic after Ray Lewis retired and free agents Ed Reed, Cary Williams, Darnell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, and Ed Reed departed. Instead, Newsome launched a makeover that featured the signing of Elvis Dumervil, Marcus Spears, Chris Canty and Michael Huff.
The focus on defense continued in earnest at the NFL draft.
The Ravens' first four picks in were defensive players, and six of Baltimore's 10 selections will be playing on a defense trying to regain a reputation for greatness.
''We feel very, very good about what we've added to our football team for the 2013 season,'' Newsome said.
After taking safety Matt Elam, linebacker Arthur Brown and nose tackle Brandon Williams during the first two days of the draft, the Ravens launched a busy Saturday afternoon by taking Ohio State defensive end John Simon with the 129th overall pick.
''We talked about getting stronger up the middle, and we did that early with our first three picks,'' Newsome said. ''Today we were able to come back and pick up some tough guys who love the game.''
Newsome addressed some of the team's shortcomings on offense, although those four picks - two linemen, a wide receiver and a fullback - came at No. 130 overall or later.
Still, coach John Harbaugh believes the team is far better now than it was three days earlier.
''It's good to see the draft shake out,'' Harbaugh said. ''It's one thing to have draft picks and prospects, it's another thing to have Ravens, players on your depth chart. Our depth chart is a lot deeper, a lot stronger right now. We've got competition at most spots.''
Simon had nine sacks in 2012 and was a two-time team captain with the Buckeyes. Although he's a bit undersized at 6-foot-1, 257 pounds, Simon was still good enough to be named All-Big Ten in his last two seasons.
Asked if he's a good fit for Baltimore, Simon replied, ''They're a tough, hard-nosed team and I feel that's how I play the game, so I'm really excited to part of the organization.''
Next came a compensatory pick at No. 130, and at that juncture Newsome shuffled the script by selecting Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk. The 6-1, 248-pounder won't immediately challenge Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach for the starting job, but if called upon to serve as an escort to running back Ray Rice, Juszczyk won't back down.
''I'm a confident blocker. Physicality has always been one of strongest traits,'' he said. ''I'm not going to shy away from hitting someone in the mouth.''
Juszczyk caught 125 passes for 1,576 yards and scored 22 touchdowns a tight end/H-back for the Crimson and contributed heavily to special teams. He has the same agent as former Ravens center Matt Birk, a Harvard grad who retired shortly after Baltimore won the Super Bowl in February.
Newsome's stayed on the offensive in the fifth round, selecting Wisconsin offensive lineman Ricky Wagner at No. 168 overall. The 6-6, 308-pounder played right and left tackle for the Badgers, but could get time at guard for Baltimore.
''If that's what they need, I'll definitely step up,'' Wagner said.
In the sixth round, Newsome took a chance on Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore at No. 200 overall. The 6-4, 300-pounder tore the ACL in his right knee in the national championship game against Alabama - the same knee he injured as a junior - and won't be ready to play in September.
''He's a guy we're going to bring along in rehab,'' Newsome said. ''If he plays in 2013, that's a plus.''
As the sixth round wore on, Lewis-Moore had all but abandoned hope of being drafted and had left to make a sandwich when he got the call from Newsome.
''I was just watching to see where my teammates go,'' he said. ''It's crazy to be part of this organization.''
Three picks later, Baltimore took offensive lineman Ryan Jensen, who played at Colorado State-Pueblo. The 6-foot-3, 317-pounder played tackle in college, but he's projected to be an interior lineman at the pro level.
He will likely compete against second-year veteran Gino Gradkowski for the starting center job in the wake of Birk's retirement.
In the seventh round, Newsome took Elon wide receiver Aaron Mellette, who caught 18 touchdown passes in 2012 for the small college school. Baltimore's final pick, at No. 247 overall, was cornerback Marc Anthony, who played at Cal.