Ravens Q&A with the Sun's Jamison Hensley
Each Tuesday in the Toy Department we bring you a Q&A with the reporters and writers who are in the field, chasing the news. This week The Baltimore Sun's Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley took time to answer some of our questions. Jamison has been covering the Ravens for The Sun since 2000. They've won just one Super Bowl during his tenure as beat writer. Coincidence?
Question: Given the vast amount of lies, smokescreens and subterfuge that usually clouds each team's draft, how surprised were you by Saturday's and Sunday's picks? Did you have many hints that their draft would unfold the way it did?
Hensley: Like most of the Ravens officials, I was surprised that Michael Oher would last into the 20s. He was rated by the Ravens as the fifth-best offensive player in the draft. This was just another year where a top talent fell down to them. Don’t get me wrong -- the Ravens are good. But they’ll even admit they’re lucky at times.
After the first round, I wasn’t surprised how the draft unfolded. I felt they would get a pass rusher (to be groomed behind Trevor Pryce), a cornerback (to add some youth to the secondary) and a tight end (Todd Heap and L.J. Smith are getting older). The only complaint -- no surprise -- is the fact that the Ravens didn’t get a wide receiver.
Question: When you look at the Ravens roster right now compared to the end of the last season, how does it compare? Better? Worse?
Hensley: On paper, I think the Ravens are somewhere in the middle. Michael Oher is an improvement over Willie Anderson at right tackle. Matt Birk is on the same level as Jason Brown at center. Chris Carr isn’t as flashy as Yamon Figurs as a returner, but he is tougher. I’m not sold on the Ravens’ biggest free-agent signing, cornerback Domonique Foxworth. It seems like they overpaid for him.
But all of this is negated by the Flacco Factor. If Joe Flacco continues to improve at quarterback, he makes the entire team better. This is a quarterback-driven league. So, the roster might not be as good as last year, but Flacco can negate that.
Question: The Ravens clearly seem excited that Michael Oher landed in their laps. How likely is it that Oher is starting as a rookie?
Hensley: I would say that it’s 50-50 that Oher beats out Willie Anderson at right tackle, but I would put it at 90 percent that he finishes as the starter. The Ravens could follow the same plan as Ben Grubbs, who was the first-round pick in 2007. Grubbs didn’t start immediately, but he split time with Chris Chester at guard. Midway through the season, Grubbs became the full-time starter. This is how the Ravens should proceed with Oher.
Question: A lot of other teams seemed to have some concerns about Oher. Why do you think that might have been, and why didn't the Ravens share in those concerns?
Hensley: A league insider told me that Oher’s interviews didn’t go well at the combine. Teams wondered if he would be able to make the transition to this level and pick up NFL offenses. The Ravens placed a lot of value in Oher’s size and disposition. He could be the young, mauling right tackle that the Ravens have wanted for years. Plus, the Ravens have a great support system on the offensive line with Ben Grubbs, Marshal Yanda and Matt Birk. They will certainly look after Oher.
Question: Let's visit hypothetical-world for a little bit. What if the Raiders pretended they were a sane football team on Saturday and didn't jump at Darrius Heyward-Bey with the No. 7 pick. How does that change the course of the first round, and is there any way that Oher slips down to No. 23?
Hensley: I don’t think so, The key was the Raiders passing on receiver Michael Crabtree, who fell to the San Francisco 49ers (11th overall pick). The Ravens thought Oher would never make it past the 49ers. Oher then did a free-fall. The Ravens traded up to No. 23 because they thought the Buffalo Bills would leapfrog them from No. 28.
Question: Are you surprised the Ravens didn't aim for a bigger upgrade at wide receiver last weekend?
Hensley: Once the top receivers went in the first round, I thought the Ravens would go for a wide receiver in the second round. Ramses Barden from Cal-Poly would have been a good fit here. Instead, the Ravens picked defensive end-linebacker Paul Kruger, and Barden was gone before the Ravens’ third-round selection.
Question: Is Anquan Boldin still a possibility, or are they likely to go into next season with the same crew of receivers?
Hensley: I wouldn’t rule out Boldin. It’s difficult for me to imagine that the Cardinals could bring him back after essentially putting him on the trading block. The Cardinals’ asking price could even drop to a third-round pick. The key is whether Boldin’s asking price on a new contract will drop. Teams seem wary to pay him $9 million to $10 million a season.
Question: Prior to the draft, the Ravens publicly said they really like the receivers they have on the roster. Do they not agree with the fan perception that Joe Flacco needs a deep threat to reach his full potential?
Hensley: The Ravens understand that their receivers are average at best, but they can’t say that publicly. By not drafting a receiver or trading for Boldin, the Ravens are banking that Demetrius Williams is healthy and can become that deep threat. Also, Mark Clayton averaged 17 yards per catch last season. He needs to be more consistent.
Question: People say the Ravens are a piece or two from the Super Bowl, but isn't it just as easy to say they're an injury or two from a 7-9 record?
Hensley: I would even say they are one injury away. If Flacco gets injured, there is no way the Ravens make the playoffs with Troy Smith. The Ravens would have trouble rebounding from an injury to receiver Derrick Mason, center Matt Birk and safety Ed Reed.
Question: The Ravens held true to their word and didn't try to fill needs early in the draft. Was this a mistake at all? Where are they vulnerable right now?
Hensley: First, it’s hard to argue with Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta. Their track record gives them a pass. But you have to wonder about their decision to pass on a receiver in the second round. The Ravens need to capitalize on finally finding a franchise quarterback. They have to give him weapons to develop.
Question: What is the biggest question still to be answered before this team takes the field?
Hensley: Even though this team went to the AFC championship game, I have plenty of questions. In order. 1. Can the Ravens’ defense withstand the loss of Rex Ryan? 2. Who stretches the field for Flacco? 3. Who is going to be kicking field goals?
Question: So does an NFL beat writer just spend the next four months on vacation? Will you be reporting from The Sun's Bahamas' bureau?
Hensley: The first minicamp begins May 8, so I get to take a small breather. After that, I have what I call Ray-time. I go down to Miami and hang out with ol’ 52. We run on the beach in the morning, get massages in the afternoon and then play Madden all night long. I always go with the Ravens in Madden, so Ray makes me do his dance before the game starts. Good times.