Tag Archive | "albert mcclellan"

Your Tuesday Reality Check: Let’s bust Upshaw talk

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Your Tuesday Reality Check: Let’s bust Upshaw talk

Posted on 04 September 2012 by Glenn Clark

I love the word “bust.”

Honest to God, it’s one of my favorite words in the English language.  If you check Dicitionary.com, there are 18 different uses of the word “bust” including seven verbs, five nouns, an adjective, a verb phrase and three idioms.

Coincidentally, “Three Idioms” was also a rejected name I suggested for a cover band I briefly joined in college. I thought it would have played better with the journalism school crowd. Shows what I know.

Think of the many ways you use the term “bust.” Perhaps you’ve used it to describe a sculpture. Perhaps you’re like me and only discovered one particular use of the word when you were first introduced to Pamela Anderson. Perhaps (again like me) you’re used the word quite a bit because you’re absolutely terrible at poker. Heck, perhaps you’ve even taken a cue from the worst college sports “pump up” video of all time and suggested you were “busting in” something or other.

I really hope it’s not the last scenario. God I hope it’s not the last scenario.

My interest today is in a different form of the word “bust”, the same form we heard Baltimore Ravens fans (and a few analysts covering the team) using to describe WR Torrey Smith just about 12 months ago.

Did that form of the word “bust” hit home because sheepishly you thought to yourself “oh no…I was one of those people. He’s talking about me!”?

It’s fine. You’re not alone. This is a safe place. You’re among friends here.

You probably described the former University of Maryland star as a “bust” because during the preseason he had only four catches total for just 20 yards. His hands appeared to be such an issue that only a few weeks into the preseason the team decided to trade for then Buffalo Bills WR Lee Evans in hopes to push Smith back to being the team’s third receiver instead of a starter.

You probably said something along the lines of “I can see why this guy fell to the bottom of the second round when some people thought he had first round talent.” You might have even called my show (you know who you are) to say “this guy is just the second coming of (fellow former Terps WR) Darrius Heyward-Bey.”

It was weird because after he caught the game winning touchdown at Heinz Field to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, I didn’t get too many of the same calls.

Go ahead. If you considered Torrey Smith a “bust” during the preseason or the beginning of last year’s regular season, please raise your hand. I just hope you have the fortitude to make the admission. I wouldn’t want to think that you were the type that made such proclamations and then later stated “I knew all along.”

I did not make such proclamations, personally. I also didn’t proclaim Smith to be ready to be a Rookie of the Year candidate either. The only things I really said were along the lines of “he hasn’t even played an actual NFL game” and “I have absolutely no idea how Smith is going to perform when the lights come on. We’ll have to wait and see.”

(Continued on Page 2…

Comments (4)

Ravens-Jaguars preseason primer: Five position battles to watch

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens-Jaguars preseason primer: Five position battles to watch

Posted on 22 August 2012 by Luke Jones

Moving ever closer to games that actually count, the Ravens will play their third preseason contest of the summer Thursday as they welcome the Jacksonville Jaguars to M&T Bank Stadium.

Coach John Harbaugh is planning to play his starters well into the third quarter as Baltimore meets Jacksonville in the preseason for the first time ever. Traditionally, the third preseason game is considered the final real test for the regular season as starters see their most extensive action before barely making a cameo — if they even do that — in the final preseason game.

The Ravens will try to find more rhythm on both sides of the football, but the vanilla looks we saw in each of the first two preseason games will remain as the coaching staff does not game-plan for opponents in the preseason. For this reason, some downplay the significance placed on the “dress rehearsal” of the preseason.

“I guess that’s the way we’re trained to kind of look at it, just because that is the game [the starters] play the most in,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We want to go out there and put good work forward and good footage that we can look at and learn from. This week is kind of the same. We want to go out there and we want to play well, but at the same time, we need to clean some things up and see what we’re getting better at and see what we still need to work on maybe even a little bit more.”

As is always the case, the preseason holds the most significance for players competing for starting positions or spots on the 53-man roster, but the coaching staff wants to see rhythm and communication improve as some starters will be playing together in a game for the final time before the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 10.

Issues facing the Ravens in the offseason such as becoming more efficient in the red-zone offense and establishing a pass rush without Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs have carried into the preseason, and Harbaugh would like to see glimpses of optimism in those areas with the season set to kick off in less than three weeks.

“The performances of certain players are a really big part of it, but the performances of groups and units together is probably more important, because that’s how the game is played,” Harbaugh said. “We would expect that to be the case – guys working together better, fewer communication mistakes, being more synchronized.”

Even for longtime veterans such as 17-year linebacker Ray Lewis, the third preseason game provides a nice tuneup to not only be on the field for an extended period but to provide the emotional charge they’ll experience in beginning their quest to return to the AFC Championship game — and try to advance a step further — in 2012.

And while it’s not on the list of priorities for Thursday’s game, the Ravens’ embarrassing 12-7 loss to Jacksonville last season was on the mind of at least one Baltimore defensive player. The Jaguars ran for 132 yards against the Ravens on Oct. 24 of last season, but 105 came from the legs of running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who is currently holding out over a contract dispute.

“This is a good test for us,” Lewis said. “These guys run the ball pretty well, and for us to come in and have this type of test right now, being our third preseason game, yeah, I’m a little ready.”

Unofficially (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess at what the injury report would look like if there were one.

Though not dealing with an injury, defensive end Pernell McPhee’s status for Thursday remains unknown as he’s been away from the team since the weekend due to the death of a family member.

Again, this is not meant to be an official injury report:

OUT: OT Jah Reid (calf), LB Josh Bynes (back), TE Dennis Pitta (hand), TE Ed Dickson (shoulder), LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon), WR David Reed (knee), DL Ryan McBean (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (leg), LB Sergio Kindle (shoulder), S Sean Considine (head), LB Darryl Blackstock (groin)
PROBABLE: WR Torrey Smith (ankle), G Bobbie Williams (ankle)

Five positions to watch Thursday night

1. Left guard – Bobbie Williams and Kelechi Osemele

Should starting right guard Marshal Yanda be held out Thursday after accidentally being undercut by linebacker Chavis Williams during Monday’s practice, it will be more difficult to get a read on where the Ravens stand with their left guard position. It appears the coaching staff has finally settled on veteran Bryant McKinnie at left tackle and Michael Oher on the right side — the two have practiced in those spots exclusively since the second preseason game — but Osemele has begun working at guard more extensively with the 35-year-old Williams still dealing with scar tissue breaking up in his surgically-repaired ankle.

Interestingly enough, Williams was working at right guard in Yanda’s place, which seemed odd for the lineman expected to start on the left side, but it was the position the veteran primarily played in his years with the Cincinnati Bengals. Osemele has been very impressive this summer, making you wonder if he could eventually unseat Williams in the starting lineup. His ankle makes you question whether Williams will hold up over a 16-game schedule, but the Ravens feel confident that Osemele can be a contributor as a rookie if necessary.

My gut choice if the season started today: Williams gets the nod due to experience, but the Ravens won’t hesitate to go with Osemele if the veteran struggles as the season progresses.

2. Defensive end – Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee

Thursday would be a golden opportunity for Jones to make up ground if McPhee remains away from the team due to a death in the family. A hip flexor injury cost Jones valuable practice time, allowing McPhee to receive the bulk of the reps and take the lead in the push for the starting job. A 2011 fifth-round pick out of Mississippi State, McPhee had the reputation of being stronger against the run prior to a surprising rookie season that included six sacks, and he played well against the run in the Ravens’ first two preseason games.

Jones has a strong lower body that translates well in run-stopping situations, but he doesn’t stand out when asked to get after the quarterback, which led many to believe he would see time on first and second downs with McPhee spelling him in passing situations. However, it now appears McPhee can handle the duties of a three-down lineman, and Jones could find himself as more of a situational player like he was last season. Regardless of which player the Ravens anoint as the starter, both will factor heavily into the defensive line rotation.

My gut choice if the season started today: McPhee has stood out on the defensive line as a more complete player and would be the choice as the starter even though Jones will still see plenty of opportunities.

3. Rush linebacker – Albert McClellan and Courtney Upshaw

CONTINUE >>>

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , ,

What to Look for on Thursday Night

Posted on 22 August 2012 by jeffreygilley

Come thursday night, the Ravens will be looking to exercise some demons against the Jacksonville Jaguars.  In week seven of last season, the Ravens suffered an embarrassing loss to the Jaguars on national television.  Joe Flacco and the offense could not move the ball as the Ravens fell 12-7.

Even though this is the preseason, the Ravens still want to win the game.  More importantly, the first team offense and defense must show improvement.

In the preseason, the offensive and defensive schemes are very vanilla.  Defenses dont give away their exotic blitzes for other teams to study.  Because of this, there is usually a three to four man rush which means a lot of one on one match-ups on the offensive and defensive line.  That said, the Ravens defensive line has not generated any pressure this entire preseason.

The loss of Terrell Suggs might prove to be more of a predicament than first expected.  Courtney UpShaw had a disappointing performance in his debut against the Lions but I think he will get his act together and perform well throughout the season.  UpShaw wont be handed the job but he will be expected to play a lot and make a sizable impact.

In addition to UpShaw, the Ravens have many other young and unproven linebackers.  Albert McClellan, Paul Kruger, and Sergio Kindle will be asked to take the place of Suggs.  I am not so optimistic that they can do that.  Kruger had a good year in 2011 but Suggs was a big part of his performance.  Suggs was able to command double teams which would in turn, leave Kruger one-on-one with an offensive lineman.  Even with Suggs’s help, Kruger only amassed 5.5 sacks.

Hopefully, I am wrong and Kruger can play well this season but I just dont see it.  If the front seven cant put pressure on the quarterback, expect the Ravens secondary to struggle.

Joe Flacco needs to have a good game this thursday.  He has looked solid but not great this preseason.  Torrey Smith should be back which will help Flacco tremendously.  The Jaguars will be a good test for Flacco seeing as the Jaguars had a top ten defense last season.  But, I think Flacco will have a very good game against the Jaguars.  He seems to be more confident and decisive after the AFC Championship game where he outperformed Tom Brady.

Jim Caldwell has also had an impact on the growth of Joe Flacco.  In the first two games, Flacco seems to be surveying the field more rather than just checking the ball down to Ray Rice.  He has also gotten better at looking off safeties to make plays.

Also keep an eye on rookies Omar Brown, Bobby Rainey, Deonte Thompson, and Asa Jackson.  All four of these players have performed very well and if the preseason ended today, I think they would be on the team.  Thompson, Rainey, and Jackson have all showed their potential on special teams as return men and on coverage.  Jackson and Thompson have performed extremely well returning kicks and both had long returns against the Lions which were both called back on penalties.

Omar Brown on the other hand, is making play after play.  Brown is a turnover machine and seems to have a future on the team if he continues to perform at a high level.

Comments (0)

Flacco embracing increased focus on no-huddle offense

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Flacco embracing increased focus on no-huddle offense

Posted on 13 August 2012 by Luke Jones

The Ravens appear primed to use the no-huddle attack more this season than they have at any point during the John Harbaugh era, and that’s perfectly fine with Joe Flacco.

In fact, the fifth-year quarterback wouldn’t have it any other way if given the choice.

“I love the no-huddle,” Flacco said. “We’ve got to get quicker and quicker at it. I like to go up there and run a play, run a play, run play. That’s what we’re going to be, and I think we have to make sure we get it as fast as we can.”

The Baltimore offense operated almost exclusively without a huddle in the preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, running 82 plays over the course of the game. Of course, that number becomes even more astonishing when you consider the first-quarter struggles that led the Ravens to only run nine plays for nine total yards in the first 15 minutes.

Running 73 plays in the final three quarters, the Ravens won’t always use the strategy, but Harbaugh stated Saturday that it’s been a major point of focus during organized team activities in the spring and over the first three weeks of training camp.

“That’s something that we have been practicing from the beginning, so obviously, that’s going to be a big part of what we do. We just have to pick our spots and all that.”

What can’t happen when using the no-huddle attack is to go three-and-out as the Ravens did for three consecutive series against the Falcons in the first quarter. Not only does it force a punt back to the opposition, but it leaves the defense even more fatigued than usual and will often result in the opposition controlling the tempo.

“It works really well when you convert; it doesn’t look so good when you don’t convert,” Harbaugh said. “When we have situations during the season, if we are out there, if we chose to go that tempo, that we don’t convert, our defense is going to have to get stops. When we do convert, we are going to build some momentum on our opponents. You have to understand how that goes.”

Veteran defensive lineman pushing Cody

Perhaps the most surprising sight from Sunday’s practice in Annapolis was seeing veteran defensive tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu lining up with the starting defensive line during several periods while starter Terrence Cody worked with the second-team defense.

Cody is still listed as the starting nose tackle on the team’s most recent depth chart released Saturday, but the 33-year-old Kemoeatu has appeared to not only lock down a spot on the 53-man roster but is now pushing for serious playing time after not even playing in the NFL last season.

“I would say Kemo is pushing for a starting job,” Harbaugh said. “He has done that the last couple of [weeks], really since training camp has started. He’s in great shape, and he’s played extremely well.”

Kemoeatu has battled Achilles tendon and shoulder injuries in recent years and has played in only 14 games over the last three NFL seasons. The veteran played in Baltimore from 2002 through 2005 before signing a long-term contract with the Carolina Panthers.

He signed a one-year contract with the Ravens in early May after being released by the Washington Redskins last July and sitting out the 2011 season.

Upshaw working way back slowly

Rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw worked in his third straight practice on Sunday after he sat out the preseason opener in Atlanta while still recovering from a right shoulder sprain.

The 22-year-old continues to be very limited and has his right shoulder heavily wrapped. He missed seven straight practices after sustaining the injury in a collision with rookie running back Bernard Pierce on July 28.

Upshaw is stilled listed as the Ravens’ starting rush linebacker on the official depth chart, but Albert McClellan and Sergio Kindle have received the reps in the rookie’s absent. McClellan has played well and is vying to win the starting job, according to Harbaugh.

“I’m not really feeling any pressure,” Upshaw said. “It’s just all these guys are here fighting, and I knew that coming in after they drafted me. But they just want me to get back to fight with them. Honestly, I just want to get back on the field. It’s not even about competing with [McClellan]. I just love the game so much, and I want to be out there playing the game of football.”

Expressing confidence that he would play in the Ravens’ second preseason game this Friday, Upshaw acknowledged that he still feels soreness in the shoulder and would have to be cleared to play by the training staff to compete against the Detroit Lions.

Reed sets record straight

CONTINUE >>>

Comments (1)

Ugly first half brings Ravens’ offseason concerns to light

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Ugly first half brings Ravens’ offseason concerns to light

Posted on 09 August 2012 by Luke Jones

The look on coach John Harbaugh’s face through most of the first half said it all in regards to the Ravens’ performance in what turned out to be a 31-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons after a strong second-half performance by the second and third-teamers on Thursday night.

You never want to take too much away from the first preseason game, but there was no sugarcoating how ugly the performance was over the first 30 minutes of action.

The Baltimore offense was held to just nine total yards on nine plays as it failed to collect a first down in the first quarter. Playing without linebacker Ray Lewis and rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw, the defense was carved up by Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense for 191 yards in the first 15 minutes and allowed 17 points in the first half.

The effort was sluggish, but the major story was the Ravens’ biggest offseason concerns coming to fruition in the first snapshot of a live-game situation this summer. To panic would be much too premature, but to ignore the lack of a pass rush and concerns along the offensive line means you haven’t been paying attention to the events of the last seven months.

The Ravens received their first dose of reality without linebacker Terrell Suggs as they were unable to generate any pressure on Ryan, who picked on cornerback Cary Williams and the rest of the secondary as wide receiver Julio Jones caught six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. Matching up against Jones and fellow wideout Roddy White is challenging enough, but the Ravens’ front seven were barely able to breathe on Ryan, let alone bring him to the turf.

Upshaw’s absence certainly didn’t help, but outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle made little impact and Albert McClellan didn’t find success until Atlanta’s reserves began entering the game in the second quarter. As we’ve said all along, the Ravens will need a collective effort from multiple players to make up for the absence of Suggs, but what they showed against the Atlanta offense simply won’t get it done.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees still has plenty of time to continue to find ways to generate consistent pressure, but he won’t see very much to like when he looks at the tape of the first half against the Falcons. In addition to the struggles with the pass rush, the Ravens displayed poor tackling and appeared to lack energy on the defensive side of the ball in the first half.

Despite finally waking up to march down the field for an 11-play, 77-yard drive that finished with a Joe Flacco touchdown pass to tight end Ed Dickson in the second quarter, the offense was anemic as the middle of the offensive line struggled to open running lanes and protect the pocket. Rookie Gino Gradkowski started at center for the injured Matt Birk while Michael Oher started at left tackle and rookie tackle Kelechi Osemele played on the right side.

Most alarming about the offensive line was a renewed concern at the left guard position, which was a major topic of discussion all offseason after the free-agent departure of 2011 Pro Bowl selection Ben Grubbs in March. After a strong showing through the first two weeks of training camp that had quelled most concerns at the spot, veteran left guard Bobbie Williams struggled mightily as he was consistently pushed backwards in pass coverage and had a breakdown in communication with Gradkowski that led to another sack.

On a high note for the offensive line, tackle Bryant McKinnie held up well with the second unit as he took reps into the third quarter. Though matched up against lesser defenders, his pass blocking appeared strong and his conditioning didn’t appear to be an issue, making you wonder if he showed the coaching staff enough for him to be reinserted at the left tackle position with the starting offensive line this coming week.

Despite being under duress for most of the time he was in the game, Flacco was 9 for 12 for 88 yards and a touchdown pass while operation out of quick-tempo offense over his four series of work, but the offensive line allowed him to be hit hard a few times.

With a 36-year-old center and a 35-year-old left guard projected to start, the Ravens need as much time as possible to build continuity along the offensive line. Questions will remain about how well Williams and Birk will hold up, but the options are thin behind them as Gradkowski showed flashes but often appeared to be overpowered at the line of scrimmage.

The good news for the Ravens is they still have a month to address these issues in trying to inject life in their Suggs-less pass rush and gain stability along the offensive line. The first half of Thursday night’s game is nothing more than 30 minutes of meaningless football in the scope of the 2012 season.

But it was visual evidence that the prevailing concerns of the offseason are very real and still need to be addressed before the Ravens welcome the Cincinnati Bengals to town on Sept. 10.

Comments (6)

Ravens-Falcons preseason primer: Five players to watch

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens-Falcons preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 08 August 2012 by Luke Jones

The Ravens ramp up their summer preparations for the 2012 season by traveling to Atlanta to take on the Falcons in their preseason opener Thursday night.

Meeting the Falcons for the ninth time ever in the preseason, the Ravens are 5-3 all-time and defeated Atlanta by a 21-7 margin in their preseason finale last season. The two teams have met four times in the regular season, with the series tied 2-2.

Baltimore has won 10 of its last 12 preseason games, but the Ravens will naturally only play their starters a brief time as coach John Harbaugh labeled it a “standard” plan for the opening preseason contest. Most starters will play roughly a quarter and the Ravens have not game-planned in any way for the Falcons specifically.

Even with the brief cameo, quarterback Joe Flacco and the starting offense hope to play efficiently before calling it a night roughly midway through the first half.

“It’s all about timing and execution,” Harbaugh said. “How crisp do we play? How do we execute under pressure? How do the guys take that execution from a practice environment and take it to a game environment against another team in a live-type situation? It’s all about executing our offense.”

A story that may go overlooked by most fans Thursday night will be who is officiating the game at the Georgia Dome. The National Football League is currently using replacement officials after locking out its regular officials when labor negotiations were going nowhere in early June. Reports suggest the league is prepared to begin the season with replacement officials.

Some concerns have been raised over the competency of replacement officials and how it might impact player safety, but most players have had little to say about the labor dispute and the Baltimore coach took the high road when asked about the situation earlier this week.

The league has put the replacement officials through extensive training and candidates have officiated at the collegiate level or for other professional leagues.

“We don’t even think about that,” Harbaugh said. “The refs will be fine. They will be what they are. Everybody is going to try to do their best. Our guys have plenty of things to worry about besides the officiating.”

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess at what the injury report would look like if there were one.

Harbaugh revealed that any player who didn’t practice Tuesday would not play in the game and players who have recently been held out of extensive practice due to injury may not play either. Older veterans may also be included in the list of inactives, which could mean linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed sit out the preseason opener.

Again, this is not meant to be an official injury report:

OUT: C Matt Birk (back), DE Arthur Jones (hip), CB Jimmy Smith (back), LB Josh Bynes (back), RB Bernard Pierce (hamstring), LB Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring), LB Darryl Blackstock (groin), WR Patrick Williams (leg), TE Dennis Pitta (hand), OL Jah Reid (calf), LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon), WR David Reed (knee)
DOUBTFUL: LB Courtney Upshaw (shoulder), WR Tandon Doss (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Jacoby Jones (undisclosed), DE Pernell McPhee (knee), DT Haloti Ngata (hamstring), OT Bryant McKinnie (back)
PROBABLE: G Marshal Yanda (limited Monday and Tuesday)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. LT Bryant McKinnie

The 32-year-old lineman told WNST.net Wednesday morning that he will not only play but receive more reps than usual in the preseason opener in an effort to get into better football shape after missing the start of training camp with a lower back injury. McKinnie has worked mostly with the second-team offensive line as Michael Oher continues to receive most of the first-unit reps on the left side.

If McKinnie has a good showing against the Falcons, he’ll likely find his way back into his starting spot sooner rather than later as the Ravens will want to build some continuity with the offensive line. However, if he struggles, this competition could play out a little longer, especially if rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele continues to impress as he has during training camp.

2. LB Albert McClellan

With Upshaw unlikely to play, McClellan could find himself making the start at outside linebacker along with Paul Kruger. Last season, the former practice squad member established himself as one of the team’s best special teams players and even filled in admirably at inside linebacker when Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe were sidelined late in the season.

McClellan could at least put himself in the conversation with Upshaw for a starting spot if he can take advantage of his opportunities to work with the starting defense. Upshaw’s weight is still higher than it should be, and he’s just coming back from a sprained shoulder that sidelined him for over a week.

Upshaw clearly has the higher upside, but McClellan has had a strong start to training camp and his versatility could earn him some significant time defensively this season.

3. LB Nigel Carr

The rookie from Alabama State has earned plenty of publicity early in training camp, but he needs to turn in a strong performance on Thursday with Ellerbe unlikely to play with a hamstring injury.

Much like Ellerbe, Carr is considered a “thumper” and has drawn praise from the coaching staff and media alike, but he will need to show more discipline and the ability to drop into pass coverage to earn stronger consideration for a roster spot. Ellerbe figures to see action in the nickel package and is a good backup despite questions about his work ethic and durability.

If Lewis is also held out of Thursday’s game, Carr may even see some time with the starting defense, and you can’t ask for more than that as an undrafted rookie. The 6-foot-2, 247-pound linebacker will need to prove he belongs, however.

4. RB Anthony Allen

Expected to battle the rookie Pierce for the backup running back job behind Ray Rice, Allen has found plenty of reps with the 2012 third-round pick sidelined for much of camp with a hamstring injury. Instead, Allen has seen more competition from diminutive rookie free agent Bobby Rainey at running back.

Allen is a physical runner and impressed as a seventh-round rookie last preseason, but he doesn’t possess great vision, which may limit him to short-yardage and goal-line situations. However, he can gain separation from Pierce in their competition with a strong performance against the Falcons.

Rice will likely play no more than a series or two, meaning Allen will receive touches with the first-string offense as well as the second unit. The Georgia Tech product must secure the football and recognize running lanes in the Ravens’ zone blocking schemes.

5. K Justin Tucker

Tucker has impressed over and over again during the first two weeks of training camp, with a 62-yard field goal at M&T Bank Stadium being the highlight in front of 20,000 fans. As good as incumbent kicker Billy Cundiff has been during training camp, Tucker has created a serious competition by being even better.

It will be interesting to see if Tucker brings the same swagger and consistent leg to the Georgia Dome turf with the knowledge that kicks in preseason games will undoubtedly hold more weight in the eyes of Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg. Considering the Ravens have now had a kicking competition in three of their last four seasons, it’s important to remember kicks in practice only mean so much.

The Ravens will likely alternate quarters or halves for the two kickers, so you’d expect the veteran Cundiff to handle duties in the first quarter, but many eyes will be on the rookie from Texas when he gets an opportunity to line up against the Falcons.

Comments (0)

Ravens training camp mailbag

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens training camp mailbag

Posted on 05 August 2012 by Luke Jones

Two weeks into training camp, I’ve decided to clean out the inbox and answer your Ravens questions to this point. I plan to make this a Sunday feature during the remainder of the preseason, so send your first name/location and questions to luke@wnst.net to be included next week.

Here’s the first edition of the training camp mailbag:

How does undrafted rookie linebacker Nigel Carr look to you and could he be the next Bart Scott and Jameel McClain? — John in Towson

I hesitate to draw conclusions before I see rookies compete in an actual preseason game, but Carr’s physicality and athleticism are impressive as an undrafted free agent from Alabama State. Carr has definitely caught the attention of the coaching staff after John Harbaugh said the 6-foot-2, 247-pound linebacker “runs around and hits everything he sees” on the practice field. Considering how much Baltimore linebackers have struggled against the pass in recent years, Carr’s ability to drop in coverage — albeit against second and third-team offenses — hasn’t gone unnoticed, either.

His troubled past, which included five felony charges that led to his dismissal from the Florida State football team two years ago, caused many teams to shy away from the linebacker this spring, but the Ravens have provided Carr an opportunity that he’s taken advantage of to this point. For what it’s worth, Carr is listed fourth at the Mike linebacker position on the team’s depth chart released late last week.

It’s way too premature to suggest Carr will be the next diamond in the rough for the Ravens at the linebacker position or that he will even make the 53-man roster, but a strong preseason will definitely put him in the conversation for a spot. As is the case with any young player, how Carr fares on special teams will factor heavily in his chances to make the team.

Considering the Ravens have made little — or no — real improvement with the offensive line to give Joe Flacco and Co. time, how much do you see the play-calling changing to compensate for that? — Scott in New Zealand

Until we actually know what the offensive line will look like in early September, this question remains difficult to answer, but I don’t expect offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to dramatically change his approach to play-calling. The key will be how much more efficient the Ravens can be in the passing game and in short-yardage situations.

Assuming Bryant McKinnie regains his job at left tackle and Michael Oher moves back to the right side, the question will be how effective the Ravens can be running the ball to the left behind McKinnie and new left guard Bobbie Williams. Baltimore struggled to run effectively to that side last season when Ben Grubbs was sidelined and veteran Andre Gurode filled in at left guard, and McKinnie was never regarded to be an exceptional run blocker even in the prime of his career.

The Ravens will attempt to go vertical often as they did last season, but they hope to be more effective with a more experienced Torrey Smith and the addition of speedy veteran Jacoby Jones. However, the offensive line must give Flacco enough time for these vertical plays to develop.

Regardless of how the line looks, the Baltimore offense will still thrive with the contributions of Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice and the use of tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Improving their efficiency in the down-field passing game will be the biggest challenge in this offense taking it to the next level.

Among the injured Ravens players to miss extensive time at the start of camp, who is hurting himself the most? — Justin in Cockeysville

Continue >>>

Comments (0)

Friday notes from training camp

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday notes from training camp

Posted on 03 August 2012 by Luke Jones

Trying to figure out exactly how the Ravens plan to handle their starting outside linebacker positions has been challenging with conflicting information out there since the start of organized team activities.

While fourth-year linebacker Paul Kruger and rookie Courney Upshaw are still listed as the projected starters on the first depth chart released earlier this week, Kruger is listed as the strongside — or “Sam” — linebacker while Upshaw is at the rush linebacker spot, which contradicts what Kruger told reporters during OTAs. Further complicating the situation is the shoulder injury that’s sidelined Upshaw since Monday.

Kruger and the combination of Sergio Kindle and Albert McClellan — with Kindle getting first-team reps while McClellan worked with the second unit Friday — have manned the outside linebacker spots for the starting defense this week, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees is keeping everyone guessing as Kruger has lined up at the strongside position as well as the rush linebacker spot.

When the starting defense came out in its nickel alignment Friday, Kruger and Kindle lined up as defensive ends with Ryan McBean and Bryan Hall lining up at the tackle positions as Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee are still being brought back slowly after injuries.

Regardless of who ultimately lines up at each outside linebacker position at the start of the regular season, there are question marks over the ability of both Kruger and Upshaw to drop into pass coverage, making it understandable that the Ravens are playing around with as many looks as they can to see what will work best without the services of Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Return game

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg hasn’t offered much in revealing what the Ravens’ plans are in the return game, but veteran wide receiver Jacoby Jones has a strong hold on the punt return job and is listed in the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Jones has taken the majority of reps as the punt returner even though former punt returner Lardarius Webb may occasionally find himself back deep.

However, the kick returner job appears to be more wide open with no definitive player emerging to receive more reps during practices. Jones is listed as the No. 1 kick returner on the depth chart, but backup running backs Anthony Allen and Damien Berry as well as rookie wide receiver Deonte Thompson received reps returning kickoffs on Friday.

Jones has the clear edge in experience, but you have to wonder if the Ravens will want him to handle return duties for both punts and kickoffs when he is expected to be the team’s No. 3 receiver this season.

We will begin to gain more clarity when the Ravens take on the Atlanta Falcons in the preseason opener on Thursday.

Highlights from practice

Tight end Ed Dickson continues to have an impressive camp as he caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Flacco in an 11-on-11 portion of practice.

Matched up across from Kruger at the line of scrimmage, Dickson found a tiny window as Kruger dropped into zone coverage and Flacco threw a beautiful pass into the end zone for the score.

Though Flacco seemed to develop a better rapport with Dennis Pitta over the course of last season, he appears to be on the same page with Dickson during camp, which is good news after Pitta broke his hand earlier this week.

Flacco also delivered a bullet to wide receiver Torrey Smith on a slant pattern that beat cornerback Danny Gorrer and likely would have gone for a touchdown had the whistle not blown shortly after the reception. Smith has looked more comfortable with the entire passing tree through the early portion of camp and appears to be catching the ball more often with his hands instead of his body as he would tend to do last season.

After receiving Thursday off, rookie kicker Justin Tucker was 5-for-6 on field goal attempts as he connected on tries from 46 and 53 yards before coming up just short on a kick from 60 yards away.

Veteran kicker Billy Cundiff was given Friday off as Rosburg told media a day earlier that he would.

Roster move

With Bryant McKinnie returning to the practice field on Friday, the Ravens waived offensive lineman Paul Madsen after they had signed him in early June.

The rookie from Colorado State had previously been with the Buffalo Bills before being claimed off waivers by Baltimore.

He is the brother of former NBA player Mark Madsen.

 

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , ,

Ravens more interested to see banged-up Upshaw in game situations

Posted on 03 August 2012 by Luke Jones

The Ravens continued to be without rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw Thursday as the top draft pick recovers from a shoulder injury.

The 35th overall pick has missed four straight practices after sustaining a shoulder injury in Saturday’s workout. Upshaw appeared to suffer a stinger in a collision with rookie running back Bernard Pierece, but the 272-pound linebacker finished practice.

Though the Ravens want to see Upshaw return to action as he’s expected to be the starting strongside linebacker, they aren’t concerned as long as the 22-year-old is ready to play in preseason games, starting with the opener in Atlanta next Thursday.

“I’ll start getting worried if it’s halfway through the preseason,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “What we just need to do is get him out there, especially in some preseason games, and have him hit, get hit, and actually play. It’s one thing to go out and practice. There’s different situations here in practice that are just not the same as game-type tempo and game-type situations, and that’s why we need to get him out there. I’m not too concerned, yet, until if we get down the road and he’s not playing any games. Then I will be concerned.”

In Upshaw’s absence, Albert McClellan and Sergio Kindle have received more reps with the starting defense, and coach John Harbaugh said earlier this week that McClellan is competing for the starting job. Upshaw has an impressive pedigree after playing in the vaunted Alabama defense, but he failed his first attempt at the team’s conditioning test at the start of training camp and the team would like to see him slim down a bit as he’ll be expected to drop into pass coverage more than he did in college.

While the Ravens labeled it a shoulder bruise, it’s appearing more likely the injury is more severe than that. Upshaw has walked out to the practice field during the latter portion of a few practices this week after receiving treatment on the shoulder.

“Courtney Upshaw got a bruise on his shoulder, so he is out for now,” Harbaugh said Monday afternoon after Upshaw missed his first practice. “It’s a bruise, and he’ll just take the time that it takes to get healed up. Jimmy Smith bruised his shoulder [Saturday], too, and he was able to get back [Monday]. So, it kind of gives you an indication.”

Unlike Smith, however, Upshaw’s recovery time has taken much longer.

Comments (0)

Kruger adjusting to full-time role in fourth season

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Kruger adjusting to full-time role in fourth season

Posted on 31 July 2012 by Luke Jones

Upon learning 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs had suffered a torn Achilles tendon in late April, Paul Kruger knew it would create the kind of opportunity he’s been waiting for, even if it didn’t come under the most desirable circumstances for the Ravens.

The 2009 second-round pick struggled to find his niche in the Baltimore defense in his first two seasons before finally seeing consistent time as a pass-rush specialist on third down last season. Kruger collected 5 1/2 sacks while providing a viable option on the opposite edge of Suggs, who posted a career-high 14 sacks.

Now being asked to play Suggs’ rush linebacker position, Kruger knows no single player will be able to replicate the star linebacker’s impact. Kruger is simply hoping to occupy the spot to the best of his ability in hopes that Suggs will be able to return to the field at some point during the second half of the season.

“You’re talking about the best defensive player in the league,” the fourth-year linebacker said. “It’s pretty much impossible to replace a guy like that. We just need to get him healthy and get him back, but for me, it’s about just me being the best player that I can be and filling that role.”

While most believe Kruger can make an impact rushing the passer, questions remain about his ability to be a three-down linebacker. Often overlooked by the sack totals and his ability to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks, Suggs blossomed into a consistent run stopper over the last few seasons after entering the league as a one-dimensional player.

Setting the edge and showing he can play the run consistently are the keys to the Ravens feeling confident in Kruger as a starter.

“That is our No. 1 priority,” linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “When we look at guys all the way from pro free agents to the draft to the guys on our current roster, the three things we ask them to do is set the edge, rush the passer, and then cover. So, we all have a great deal of improvement to make in that area.”

Kruger has plenty to prove, but he’s relishing the opportunity to finally show why the Ravens invested a high draft pick in him. After the coaching staff bounced Kruger back and forth between defensive end and linebacker in his first few seasons, the 26-year-old is finally able to focus on one position, knowing a golden opportunity is staring him right in the face.

“It’s a lot more positive when you’re out there and [your role is] much more clear,” Kruger said. “In the past, it’s been rough to kind of not be able to see exactly what you’re working towards or where you’re going or what position. So, it’s been a long road, but it’s paid off, and I’m still grinding. We’re not there yet, but I’m pretty happy about it.”

Camp highlights

Billy Cundiff and Justin Tucker had been deadlocked through the first week of their kicking competition, but the rookie gained the upper hand on Tuesday.

Tucker was 5-for-6 on field goals while Cundiff only went 4-for-7. Both players went 3-for-4 in a series of kicks as each missed from 55 yards and connected from 60 yards in an impressive showing. However, when they were called upon to make kicks in more authentic conditions you’d find in a game, the veteran misfired twice while Tucker made both of his tries.

“We put them in a lot of game-like situations where they had to run out, make a kick [at] the end of the game, during a game, those kinds of things,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They did a good job of that. We try to do that as much as we can, as opposed to just go out and kick five field goals in a row, because you don’t do that in a game.”

Unlike Monday when the offense had the better day, the defense extracted some revenge as Bernard Pollard and Ray Lewis each intercepted quarterback Joe Flacco in an 11-on-11 team period. The quarterback gained some redemption by tossing a touchdown to No. 1 receiver Anquan Boldin, but the starting defense appeared more confident in coverage after Harbaugh chastised the unit a day earlier.

It probably didn’t hurt that Lewis and fellow veteran Ed Reed were back on the field after receiving Monday off.

Rookie cornerback Asa Jackson had a sparkling day as he picked off two passes while playing with the second defense. His first theft came against backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and he later secured an interception against Curtis Painter.

With rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw still sidelined with a bruised shoulder, Albert McClellan received extensive time at the strongside linebacker position. His versatility will earn him more opportunities as defensive coordinator Dean Pees can line him up at defensive end or any of the linebacker positions if needed.

“The more you can do in our whole system, the better off you are going to be,” Harbaugh said. “Albert can play a lot of positions because he is so smart. He did the same thing in college; I think he played seven or eight positions in college. He is in competition. He is competition for the starting ‘Sam’ [linebacker] spot.”

And while it may not qualify as the first real “fight” of camp, defensive tackle Terrence Cody and rookie offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski mixed it up during Tuesday’s practice, but the altercation was quickly extinguished.

Training camp tunes

In addition to welcoming a limited number of selected fans to their Owings Mills facility, the Ravens have also begun playing music during the team portion of workouts in an effort to recreate the buzz once experienced when training camp was open to the public in Westminster.

Players and coaches alike have been given the opportunity to make song suggestions, but the most bizarre song played on Tuesday had to be “Renegade” by Styx. Of course, any diehard Ravens fan could tell you that’s the infamous tune played at Heinz Field to fire up the Pittsburgh Steelers and their home crowd.

Was it a motivational ploy to keep players hungry during an otherwise routine practice or simply an appreciation for a classic song?

“We had ‘Renegade’ today, yeah,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a good song; it’s a great song. We love that song.”

A more objectionable choice was heard over the weekend as Lil Wayne and Rick Ross blared over the speakers, which probably didn’t go over well as younger fans were in attendance.

It appears the Ravens have now refined the song selection process to eliminate profanity-laced songs.

“You heard that one? That one has been scratched from the list,” Harbaugh quipped. “Did you notice? We haven’t heard that one since. And I like some rap music. There are a few of them I like, but that’s not one of them. Keep it clean.”

 

Comments (0)