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April 12, 2008

Quarterback Ryan could be what Ravens desire

Nearly eight months ago, Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, reclining in a McDaniel College dorm room during training camp, let out a deep sigh and contemplated the future of his roster. Steve McNair was aging, Kyle Boller wasn't an acceptable long-term option, and Troy Smith looked like he had years of development ahead. If the quarterback was supposed to be the tip of the sword in an offense, Newsome's options wouldn't be breaking skin much longer.

When the subject of a franchise quarterback arose, Newsome didn't even wait for a visitor to finish his question: "Next year, would you be willing to spend a first-round …"

"Yes," Newsome said, leaning forward with conviction. "That might be the time. We were involved in the talks (to draft) Brady Quinn. There have been some good quarterbacks to slip down in the first round the last few years."

Now, far higher on the draft board than he ever expected, Newsome is still hoping his quarterback slips to him. In other words, he's still waiting.

It's become a familiar posture for this general manager and this franchise:

Waiting for McNair to get healthy.

Waiting for Boller to turn his career around.

Waiting for Smith to show something.

And though Newsome won't say it publicly, his demeanor smacks of someone who is tired of waiting. Draft etiquette insists that he maintain that typical frosty faηade, exuding that "no matter what happens, we got what we wanted" vibe. But the reality is that Baltimore's brass has Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan at the top of their draft board, and everyone else is a distant second. Yet, while would Ryan fill perhaps the most glaring long-term need this franchise has ever known, the Ravens find themselves sitting on precarious draft real estate.

Once considered a prime spot to land a marquee quarterback in the NFL draft, the Ravens' No. 8 overall pick is stuck in a sort of daft limbo. The draft's tea leaves suggest the spot is too high to snatch a second-tier signal caller such as Louisville's Brian Brohm, Delaware's Joe Flacco or Michigan's Chad Henne. But it also appears too low to get Ryan, a player that new head coach John Harbaugh – a former assistant with the Eagles – has been aware of since Ryan was a nationally renowned prep player in Philadelphia.

"If they want (Ryan) they are going to have to do some work," said an AFC general manager who asked that he not be identified. "When you need a player like that – any player, really – the worst spot you can be in is sitting with anything but (the) No. 1 (pick), because you are always exposed. There is that chance of something happening in front of you. And they aren't even close. Seven teams (picking before the Ravens) might as well be 70."

In reality, the Ravens really only need to worry about three franchises: the Miami Dolphins (first overall pick), Atlanta Falcons (third) and Kansas City Chiefs (fifth). Everyone else currently ahead of the Ravens appears fixed on other areas, and the quarterback-needy teams behind Baltimore don't appear to have enough ammunition to move up. And regarding the Ravens' troublesome trio, there have been encouraging signs in recent days.

The Dolphins look like they've locked onto either Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long or Virginia defensive tackle Chris Long. Other innuendo has the Falcons infatuated with LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. And while Chiefs coach Herm Edwards made a ridiculous public display of affection toward Ryan at his pro day, the reality is that the Chiefs have been publicly blowing kisses in every direction the last few weeks and have been amorously linked to at least a half-dozen players at the top of the draft.

That has left the Ravens to wait, hope and cross their fingers. A front office source also told Yahoo! Sports they also haven't ruled out moving up in the draft, much the same way they made rounds of calls to see what it would take to move up for Quinn last year. Whatever the case, this is the year Baltimore must address the quarterback spot. Not only because McNair suffered a troubling spate of injuries last season and looks to be flaming out at 35, but because there simply aren't a plethora of options beyond this draft. Next season – and possibly the next two years – appear to be light on quarterbacks, and maybe only the Cleveland Browns have the depth to part ways with a starting-caliber quarterback.

And though some personnel men wave off the notion that future quarterback classes are certain to be wanting – "People are always saying that, and then new guys surface every year," said Packers general manager Ted Thompson – the Ravens don't have the luxury of gambling.

As Newsome admitted back in February, "Who would be our starting quarterback in September? You'd have to say Steve McNair. We have no one else."

The Ravens sent two executives to Ryan's pro day – director of college scouting Eric DeCosta and director of pro personnel George Kokinis – and also will have a private workout. And on the back end of the plan, Baltimore has already hosted Flacco, and planning private workouts with Brohm and Henne. One way or another, this appears to be the year a quarterback is selected in the first two rounds.

"Yeah, we're looking at all of them very hard," Harbaugh said.

It was one of the new coach's most adamant points at the NFL scouting combine, when he said the quarterback spot "needs to be strengthened," and added, "I know we're going to use every resource at our disposal to get that done. We're going to get that done."

Where it happens remains to be seen. The Ravens have done their due diligence at other positions, including bringing potential first-round cornerbacks and wide receivers in for workouts. And if Ryan is off the board when Baltimore selects, there is a possibility the Ravens move back and select a player like Michigan State wideout Devin Thomas or Indiana's James Hardy.

Indeed, there are other needs in Baltimore, and a larger plan that is being put into motion. Whether it's pushing veterans harder in training camp or getting the offense geared toward the more versatile playbook of new coordinator Cam Cameron, the upcoming draft is only one part of a recalibration that could take years. But ultimately, there are few players that fit so cleanly into a team's plans than Ryan does with the Ravens.

"He finds a way to win in the fourth quarter," Harbaugh gushed. "He's a big-time competitor. He's an accurate passer, he's big, and he can scramble. He's smart. He gives his receivers a chance. A lot of people are worried about his interceptions, but a lot of that is giving his receivers a chance to make plays, too. He's going to be a really good quarterback in this league."

Make no mistake, the Ravens want to be the team that brings that belief to fruition. All that's left now is for Newsome to show the same conviction in April that he felt almost eight months ago – and to go get his player, rather than being forced to wait all over again.

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