Roll Tide Rolling To Baltimore?

There are a few Alabama defensive stars that have caught Ozzie Newsome’s eye.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Categories: Ryan Mink

Has Ozzie Newsome scouted this year’s Alabama prospects?

The Ravens’ general manager laughed at that question at the NFL Scouting Combine.

After all, the former Alabama tight end was at the National Championship game when the Roll Tide defense stoned LSU in a 21-0 victory. He watches all of their games.

Newsome’s love for his alma mater may be particularly useful this year considering there will likely be three Alabama players taken in the first round of the NFL Draft – all at positions of interest for Baltimore.

Alabama Pro Day Report

Outside linebacker/defensive end Courtney Upshaw, inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Mark Barron have all been linked to the Ravens in mock drafts.

Alabama will hold its first Pro Day today on campus, and the Ravens will likely be in attendance. But the man making the final draft decisions already has an extensive working knowledge.

“Yes, I’ve had a chance to study all those guys,” Newsome confirmed to a reporter. “For that level of football, they were as dominant of a defense as it could be for that level.”

Upshaw is generally seen as the highest ranked of the three defensive studs. He’s Terrell Suggs-like in that he’s a big-bodied, physical player at the point of attack against the run and also in pass rush. Upshaw can put his hand in the dirt as an end or stand up as a linebacker.

Critics knock Upshaw because of his size (6-foot-1, 272 pounds) and because he didn’t look particularly smooth dropping into coverage during position drills. Upshaw withdrew from the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, long jump and other drills besides the bench press. He only put up 22 reps.

For that reason, Upshaw, who was previously projected to go well before the Ravens were on the clock at No. 29, could slip. Then again, evaluators such as Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz may fall back to his sparkling tape.

“You talk about a physically explosive man,” Hortiz said. “He beats tight ends up, he powers through offensive tackles. A lot of guys have to work around; he can work through. [He’s] violent on contact, violent tackler, violent taking on blocks. What he’s done to SEC tight ends is a shame.”

Hightower had a strong combine showing, and remains a mid-to-late, first-round prospect.

He’s massive (6-foot-3, 265 pounds), another physical hitter and a wall against the run. Hightower put up 85 tackles, including 11 for loss, four sacks and one interception in his junior season after recovering from a serious knee injury. He idolizes the Ravens and Ray Lewis.

“He’s fast, he’s big, he’s athletic, he’s versatile,” Hortiz said. “I think he’s got inside, outside [linebacker] versatility.” 

Lastly, there’s safety Mark Barron. A ball-hawking, yet physical presence at 6-foot-1, 223 pounds, Barron made many of the calls for Alabama’s defense and was a co-captain. He had 68 tackles this past season and 12 career interceptions.

The Ravens don’t have an immediate need for a starting safety given that Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard are under contract. But they could find a place for Barron in pass-coverage packages and make him Reed or Pollard’s heir apparent. Barron can play either free or strong safety.

“He’s definitely versatile; he can play high or low,” Hortiz said.

One alluring aspect of all three prospects is that they played in a 3-4 defensive system similar to Baltimore’s. The complexity should allow them to contribute right away, which would be particularly useful in the cases of Upshaw and Hightower if Baltimore lost unrestricted free agents Jarret Johnson or Jameel McClain.

Not only did Alabama’s defense remind Newsome of the Ravens’ current unit, it reminded him of the franchise’s all-time best.

“In watching that defense this year, it was very similar to the way we played defense in 2000,” Newsome said. “They were able to stop the run, they could rush the passer and then they had guys in coverage and then you had a ball-hawk at safety. If you want to compare the two, it’s hard to do a college team versus a pro team, but they looked very similar to me.”

The Ravens took Alabama legend Terrence Cody in the second round in the 2010 draft. They signed Crimson Tide linebacker Chavis Williams as an unrestricted free agent last year. They have drafted five Alabama players in franchise history, tied with Miami, Fla., as the second-most from one school behind Oklahoma (seven).

Come April 26th, there will be more Crimson Tide shaking Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand. The question is whether they’ll be doing it while wearing a Ravens hat.

“We’re going to see on draft weekend why they were national champions,” Hortiz said.

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