Word quickly spread through the University of Alabama football complex that day, and linebacker C.J. Mosley couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
It was last fall, and part of Nick Saban’s routine during training camp is to always have a daily speaker, some of whom the players will never forget.
They’ve included Dewey Bozella, who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, talking about never giving up; New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi on handling expectations and success; former NBA player Chris Herren on how he overcome his drug-abuse problems; former player and director of football operations for the NFL Gene Washington about life after a career in sports and Michael Franzese, a former New York mobster with the Colombo crime family.
But when Mosley, who had come back for his senior season and to get his degree, found out that Ray Lewis was in the building, he got excited.
“People started whispering around like, 'I heard Ray Lewis is going to be here. I heard Ray Lewis is going to be here,’” Mosley said to Alabama reporters at the time. “For me he’s one of my role models and one of my idols growing up as a linebacker and as a football player. Just to have him here was very exciting.”
It's only fitting that Mosley will be going to where Lewis was a seven-time All-Pro, and where he established himself as a future Pro Football Hall of Fame selection.
Thursday night, the Baltimore Ravens made him the 17th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, one of two Crimson Tide first-round selections. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix went 21st to Green Bay, prompting Packers general manager Ted Thompson to quip, "We've had good success with the Crimson Tide kid we took last year," about running back Eddie Lacy, the 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year.
They were Saban’s 15th and 16th first-round selections with the Crimson Tide, the most for a coach in program history, and 20th and 21st overall, tying him with Mack Brown and Lou Holtz for the fifth most ever. Although Alabama remained tied with Southern California (1993-97) for the longest consecutive streak of top-10 selections during the common draft era (since 1967, with five), it became the first program to have multiple first-round picks for five straight years.
The player who was selected in Mosley's slot last year, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones by Pittsburgh, signed a four-year, $8.705 million contract.
“He’s smart, very smart, relentless player, fast,” assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said during a press conference in Baltimore. “Always involved."
Although Baltimore had bigger needs at offensive tackle and free safety, the team’s long-standing policy is to usually take the best player available in the first round. DeCosta revealed that the Ravens had Mosley rated 10th overall, but he was one of three players they were targeting as their turn approached.
When Dallas was on the clock at No. 16, Mosley’s agent told him that Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin was probably the only player remaining who might make the Ravens think twice about him. After the Cowboys ignored the temptation to take Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and opted for Martin, there was no doubt.
Baltimore fielded some last-minute trade offers, but General Manager Ozzie Newsome said it would have taken a “bonanza” of picks to change their minds. Granted, the Crimson Tide legend had previously selected six Alabama players since 1997, including trading down to the second round and still getting outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw in 2012, yet none had been in the first round.
“I know we got better as a football team because of the way C.J. plays, but I know we got better as an organization because of the person that he is,” Newsome said about the Butkus Award winner as the nation’s best linebacker who was prouder about being named a Crimson Tide captain.
“You’re our kind of player,” owner Stephen Bisciotti told Mosley over the phone while other people in the Ravens’ war room started high-fiving.
“He’s the one guy you can’t find anyone to say anything negative,” added scouting director Joe Hortiz—an Auburn graduate.
While the versatile Mosley can play either inside or outside linebacker, he’ll be groomed to be the eventual heart of the defense and make all the play calls just like Lewis. But that’s where the similarities end.
"I'm not trying to be the next 52,” Mosley made sure to tell the Ravens reporters on a conference call.
|Ozzie Newsome's draft picks from Alabama|
|Terry Jones Jr.||TE||2002||5||155|
During his 17-year NFL career, Lewis made 227 starts, was twice the Defensive Player of the Year, and he was named the most valuable player after Baltimore beat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
About the only thing they have in common is that they’re the only two interior linebackers the Ravens have ever selected in the first round. That’s it.
“I wish I was as vocal as him,” Mosley said about Lewis' address to the Crimson Tide last fall, which was about doing your job and being accountable.
“I don't really think there are too many linebackers who can meet with his emotional side.”
Mosley also disclosed something that has stuck with him about Lewis' attention to detail.
“Usually when you wake up the first thing you do is look at your phone,” Mosley described. “He said when he wakes up he just takes a deep breath and clears his mind.
“Who even thinks about that when they wake up in the morning? Just the start of his day, is his thought process that fast?”
There's no better place to work on that than in Baltimore.
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.