School is officially out and it’s vacation time for the players. But, before they go running off to exotic-points-unknown, here’s the 2008 report for the starters and prominent back-ups who saw playing time this season.
Joe Flacco (B+) – Arm strength, accuracy, calm-cool-and-collected. He can – and did – do it all. The only part of his game that needs an upgrade is his ability to read the play more quickly and run with the ball for yardage if necessary. Both of those elements will come with time. Our quarterback worries appear to be over. Note to the Football Gods: Thank you.
Troy Smith (No grade) – Didn’t play enough to warrant a review. Maybe next year. Maybe not.
Willis McGahee (C+) – Had a few very strong games but battled injuries and playing time indifference throughout the season. Came through with some big runs in the season’s final month and produced an outstanding overall effort vs. the Steelers in the AFC title game. Overall, not the level of production we’re expecting from our #1 running back.
Le’Ron McClain (A) – Stepped into a new role and was a major part of Baltimore’s running game with his Bettis-like style and ability to run hard north-to-south. Can he be a 350-400 carry guy in the future? I’m not sure about that. But the man has a spot on next year’s team, for certain.
Ray Rice (B) – When used, he was effective. My take on Rice is this: I’m not sure he’s ever going to be looked at as “value” as a 2nd round pick. But I think his versatility will keep him in the league a long time and I hope the Ravens find a true role for him next year. I’d like to see him “touch the ball” a dozen times a game in ’09 via the pass/run, etc. I thought the team’s offense staggered a bit late in the year when he wasn’t available due to injury.
Lorenzo Neal (B) – He’s a veteran (16-years in the league) fullback. They’re a dime a dozen. But if he wants to come back for the right price, I’d bring him back.
Todd Heap (C+) – Whether it was Cameron not using him or Heap not being useful, we’ll probably never know. But ’08 was a forgettable year for Heap NUMBERS-WISE. Still, his contributions can’t always be measured by yards receiving, catches, etc. He’s a very good blocking tight end, he stayed healthy for the most part all year and made a game-changing catch against the Titans in the playoff game at Tennessee. I still think he can be effective if the playbook calls for it.
Jared Gaither (A) – Joe Flacco played all 16 games and didn’t miss a snap because of injury. A major reason why? Jared Gaither. He’s not Jon Ogden, but his transition to left tackle was virtually seamless and there are those in the front office who think he could be a Pro Bowl player in ’09 or ’10. One of the great “Ozzie moves” of the last 3-4 years.
Ben Grubbs (B) – One staffer told me that Grubbs got tuckered out down the stretch and was less effective in the post-season than in the regular season. Still, the 2nd year player was an outstanding contributor on the offensive line and remains a key part of the team’s plans in the future.
Jason Brown (A) – Might have parlayed his outstanding ’08 campaign into a big-dollar contract somewhere else…but he’d like to stay in Baltimore if the numbers work. Moved over from guard to center and never missed a beat. A quiet leader and a player the Ravens will miss greatly if they let him get away.
Chris Chester (B) – Quietly produced one of the best “stories” of the year for the Ravens. Was nearly cut last season and entered ’08 on the bubble as the team struggled to find a role and a spot for him. Took advantage of injuries to Marshal Yanda and Adam Terry and proved he can play in the NFL. The club would like to see him bulk up another 20-25 pounds or so, but he earned a chance to compete for a starting position next year with his play in ’08.
Adam Terry (B-) – Suffered a serious ankle injury in training camp and never really recovered from that although he wound up seeing significant time as both a starter and a player coming off the bench in certain down-and-distance situations. Couldn’t really cut it at left tackle when given the chance in the past, but has been effective on the right side at both guard and tackle. Probably not a starter in ’09, but an experienced back-up like Terry is a good thing to have when the injuries mount up.
Willie Anderson (B) – Some in the front office questioned his conditioning when he joined the team just prior to the start of the season and it took him a while to start hitting on all cylinders, but Anderson was another steal that paid off handsomely for Ozzie and Company.
Derrick Mason (A) – Who can ever forget that Cowboys game when his arm fell off in the middle of the field and he still caught a touchdown pass from Joe Flacco? Truly had a year for the ages, becoming only the 31st player in league history to go over the 10,000 yard mark in receiving. I think he’s a Ring-of-Honor guy for the Ravens…but I’d like to see his role change in ’09 – to something more of a #2 or slot-receiver.
Mark Clayton (C+) – Had a couple of big games and a circus catch in Cleveland that will be one of the top clips on the team’s ’08 highlight-film, but there’s still LESS to talk about with Clayton than MORE. And that’s not what you need or expect from a #1 draft pick. He’s a good, complimentary receiver, but probably not much more than that.