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Ravens keeping tabs on McKinnie as New Orleans shows interest

Posted on 21 March 2013 by Luke Jones

Just a couple days after saying the Ravens were “very open” to bringing back Bryant McKinnie, head coach John Harbaugh reached out to the 33-year-old on Thursday to say he’d like him to return to Baltimore this season.

Whether it happens remains to be seen as the tackle said in a text message that the New Orleans Saints are showing the most interest in his services with their left tackle position currently unsettled following the free-agent departure of Jermon Bushrod, who signed with the Chicago Bears on the first day of free agency last week. Former Ravens guard Ben Grubbs signed a five-year, $36 million contract with the Saints last offseason after playing his final season in Baltimore next to McKinnie on the left side of the offensive line in 2011.

McKinnie said that Harbaugh was simply checking in with the 6-foot-8 offensive lineman but wanted him to know he wants him back with the Ravens, who have already lost center Matt Birk from their offensive line due to retirement. The Ravens haven’t had any contact with McKinnie’s agent Michael George.

“They have other things they are working on, so it’s no rush,” said McKinnie, who joked with Harbaugh to tell general manager Ozzie Newsome to pick up the phone. “We will see how things go.”

The Bears showed some interest in McKinnie prior to signing Bushrod away from the Saints. However, McKinnie might be the top left tackle remaining on the open market as teams are now focusing on the best right tackle options available such as Eric Winston, Sebastian Vollmer, and Andre Smith.

Many have regarded McKinnie as no more than a backup plan for the Ravens at this point as they could look to the draft to potentially find their left tackle of the future. However, Harbaugh told reporters at the league meetings in Phoenix that Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele would also be considered for the position if they do not add another veteran tackle.

The mention of Osemele’s candidacy for the left tackle position is intriguing after Brian Baldinger of the NFL Network mentioned on AM 1570 WNST earlier this week that new run-game coordinator and former Eagles offensive line coach Juan Castillo told him the second-year lineman might be a fit to play on the blind side.

“I think Juan is the single-best developer of talent on the offensive line in the entire league,” Baldinger said. “If Juan tells me he thinks that Kelechi Osemele can play left tackle, I want to see it. I want to see what he looks like if he lines up there.”

The 2012 second-round pick was a three-year starter at left tackle for Iowa State and split time between right tackle and left guard last season.

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Former Bengals G Williams another veteran for Ravens to add to offensive line mix

Posted on 13 June 2012 by Luke Jones

Preparing for the final week of their off-season program and mandatory minicamp, the Ravens appeared all but set on the offensive line, at least in terms of who would be competing for the starting left guard position.

The battle between rookie Kelechi Osemele and second-year lineman Jah Reid — both converting from the tackle position — to replace former Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs was shaping up to be the most compelling competition of the preseason. However, that all changed on Friday when Baltimore announced the signing of former Bengals guard Bobbie Williams to a two-year contract.

Many assume it to be a move reflecting a lack of faith in Osemele and Reid as both have faced physical challenges during organized team activities, but coach John Harbaugh insisted the addition of Williams was something the Ravens were considering since the start of free agency. While unsuccessfully courting Philadelphia guard Evan Mathis to replace Grubbs, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office quietly monitored the rehabilitation of Williams’ fractured ankle suffered in Week 14 last season.

“He is a guy that we knew about right away,” Harbaugh said. “We have always liked him. We had him highly ranked. He had a situation with a broken leg last year. We had to see how that developed.”

With Osemele sidelined and left tackle Bryant McKinnie being held out of minicamp workouts due to conditioning concerns, Williams has immediately stepped in at left guard while Reid has played right tackle as Michael Oher has moved back to the left side of the starting offensive line this week. When the Ravens have their full allotment of linemen at the start of training camp, it remains to be seen how serious they are about entrusting a 35-year-old coming off a major injury to handle the left guard spot.

Despite having started 130 games in his 12 NFL seasons and reportedly receiving an $800,000 signing bonus, Williams hasn’t been assured of anything other than an opportunity to compete with the young linemen to nail down the starting left guard job. He has plenty to prove after playing only nine games last season after facing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances and missing the final three games due to injury.

“That’s just it, that [the left guard spot is] open,” Williams said. “They like the guy I am. They like my character and they like my play. They said that I would be a great fit, and I believe that. I’m up for the challenge, and I’m going to try to maximize every chance I get.”

With the additions of Williams and former Rams and 49ers interior lineman Tony Wragge in the last week, offensive line coach Andy Moeller and Harbaugh have more options in formulating their starting five for the regular season.

It may look much different than anyone expected it to even a few weeks ago.

With the decision to keep McKinnie off the practice field, it’s clear the Ravens aren’t pleased with his weight and conditioning less than six weeks from the start of training camp. If they determine they cannot count on him to start on the left side, they could elect to move Oher permanently back to the left side and shift the competition between Osemele and Reid to right tackle — with Williams then starting at left guard.

A more likely scenario is a competition between Williams and Osemele at left guard with Reid shifting back to his natural tackle position as a reserve. Even if McKinnie sheds more weight and brings his conditioning to a satisfactory level, the Ravens are thin at tackle behind McKinnie and Oher with 2010 sixth-round choice Ramon Harewood struggling mightily during OTA workouts.

Not only does the addition of Williams give the Ravens another veteran on which to lean, but it creates many more combinations for a unit trying to fill the void left behind by its best offensive lineman in recent years.

“We are just building an offensive line. We’ll have competition,” Harbaugh said. “Those young guys are going to be in there competing. The best guys are going to play. It’s nice to have another veteran guy in the mix. It makes us stronger. We’ll see how it shakes out as we go.”

Williams will need to prove he is fully recovered from the ankle injury that diminished his value on the open market earlier this offseason as well as make the transition from right guard to the left side. It was a move interior lineman Andre Gurode struggled with last season trying to fill in for the injured Grubbs after he had spent his entire career at center and right guard.

When posed the question of how easily he could make the move, Williams expressed little concern as he prepares for his 13th season out of the University of Arkansas. The 6-foot-4, 345-pound guard is prepared for anything at this stage of his career, especially if it means a better opportunity to win a Super Bowl as he stays in the AFC North.

“At this stage in the game, that’s all it is is a change — just switch up your footwork and go with it,” Williams said. “The mentality is still the same.”

And it’s a mentality the organization would surely like to see the longtime Bengal bring with him to Baltimore.

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Ravens officially name DeCosta Assistant GM

Posted on 17 May 2012 by WNST Staff

The Baltimore Ravens announced several promotions within their personnel department on Thursday: Eric DeCosta has been named Assistant General Manager, Joe Douglas has been elevated to National Scout, and David Blackburn has been tabbed an Area Scout.

DeCosta, 41, who has served as the Ravens’ Director of Player Personnel the past three years, joined the franchise in an entry-level position in 1996. He moved his way up through the personnel ranks, first as an Area Scout, then as Director of College Scouting, and was subsequently promoted to Director of Player Personnel in 2009.

DeCosta works closely with Executive Vice President/General Manager Ozzie Newsome to oversee both the college and pro scouting departments. During his tenure as the scouting director, the Ravens drafted Pro Bowlers OLB Terrell Suggs (’03), DT Haloti Ngata (’06), G Ben Grubbs (’07), G Marshal Yanda (’07), FB Le’Ron McClain (’07) and RB Ray Rice (’08).

“When we extended Eric’s contract earlier this year, we changed his title to Assistant GM,” Newsome said. “As Eric continues to grow in the personnel department, he is becoming a vital part of the decision-making process.”

Entering his 13th season with the Ravens, Douglas, 35, has served as the team’s Area Scout Southeast since 2009. From 2003-07, he evaluated players in the Northeast, and in 2008, scouted the entire East Coast. Douglas played a key role in scouting and evaluating first-round pick QB Joe Flacco – the Ravens’ all-time leading passer – and Rice, the two-time Pro Bowler.

Additionally, Douglas has organized and coordinated the team’s post-draft rookie free agent signing process, which over the past several seasons has produced standout players such as LB Jameel McClain, LB Dannell Ellerbe and WR LaQuan Williams.

“Joe is so deserving of his promotion to national scout,” DeCosta stated. “He’s a top evaluator and communicator, and he’s been loyal to the Ravens over the years. In his expanded role, he’ll be scouting players across the country, which only makes us better. We are very excited for Joe.”

Blackburn, 29, joined the Ravens as a Player Personnel Assistant in 2007 after serving one year as a graduate assistant at Butler University coaching cornerbacks. He has spent the past five seasons working with Baltimore’s scouting staff in a number of roles, including preparing advance scouting reports of upcoming opponents, analyzing free agent prospects for pro personnel, scouting draftable collegiate players at multiple schools and helping coordinate in-season free agent workouts/visits.

In his new position as an Area Scout, the 2004 graduate of DePauw University will scout prospects at schools in the Northwest, Southwest and Midwest regions.

“We are looking forward to working with David in his new role as an Area Scout,” Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz said. “He has done a great job the past five years working in both our pro and college departments, and he has received a well-earned promotion. David has a strong understanding of the type of player and person we look for in a ‘Raven.’ We’re confident he’ll give us another good set of eyes and ears to continue identifying the prospects we value.”

The Ravens also announced that Mark Azevedo has assumed the title of Area Scout Southeast, formerly held by Douglas. Azevedo, 30, was named an Area Scout in 2010, focusing the majority of his attention on schools in the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest regions. He originally joined the Ravens as a Player Personnel Assistant in 2005 and will now shift his primary responsibilities to the Southeast.

Additionally, Kenny Sanders, who spent the past two seasons interning in the team’s scouting department, has been hired as a Player Personnel Assistant. A 2004 graduate of Gettysburg College, he was a three-year letterman while playing defensive back. A Baltimore native, Sanders, 30, prepped at the McDonogh School.

Ravens “20/20 Club” Graduates: Current Personnel Staff
DeCosta, Hortiz, Douglas, Azevedo and Blackburn are all current graduates of the Ravens’ “20/20 Club,” which includes members of the team’s personnel staff who started with the organization as young personnel assistants and grew into evaluators with more input. The term “20/20” refers to hiring 20-year-olds for $20,000. According to Newsome, however, “The guys actually started when they were a little older than 20 and for more than $20,000, but that’s what we call them.”

Name                        Joined Ravens       Current Title
George Kokinis (Cle.)      1991                 Senior Personnel Assistant
Eric DeCosta                    1996                 Assistant General Manager
Joe Hortiz                        1998                 Director of College Scouting
Chad Alexander              1999                 Assistant Director of Pro Personnel
Joe Douglas                     2000                 National Scout
Mark Azevedo                2005                 Area Scout Southeast
David Blackburn             2007                 Area Scout

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With full off-season, Reid ready to step in at left guard for Ravens

Posted on 19 April 2012 by Luke Jones

It was only a year ago that Ravens offensive lineman Jah Reid was selected in the third round of the 2011 draft and was soon thereafter projected to be the starting right tackle in his first NFL season.

The organization was high on Reid’s immense size and talent, but the lengthy lockout prevented Reid and fellow rookies from even receiving a playbook let alone being able to work out at the team’s facility in Owings Mills. After the Central Florida product struggled in training camp, the Ravens elected to move Michael Oher back to right tackle and a sign veteran Bryant McKinnie to play on the left side, relegating Reid to the bench.

With a year of practice under his belt, Reid now knows what it takes to play at the next level and will try to replace former left guard Ben Grubbs on the starting offensive line. Though he began working at guard late last season, the 23-year-old is taking full advantage of privileges that weren’t afforded to him last year due to the work stoppage.

“It’s nice being here with the team and working out instead of being on my own,” Reid said. “I know what to expect and know what to work on. It’s good being with the position staff.”

With the Ravens unable to re-sign Grubbs, who accepted a lucrative contract with the New Orleans Saints last month, head coach John Harbaugh projected Reid as the starting left guard in late March. However, the Ravens have made it clear that the 6-foot-7 former tackle will have to earn the starting job.

Making the transition to guard is a fresh endeavor for Reid, who only played there sparingly in his time at Central Florida. Reid was also more accustomed to working on the right side of the line a year ago and has spent this offseason on the differences in his footwork.

Experts often say it’s easier for tackles to move inside to guard than it is for interior players to move outside. Reid isn’t sure whether he agrees with that general notion, but he believes he fits the profile of why tackles are able to do it.

“They like to think tackles are better athletes, so it’s easier to transition,” Reid said. “I think I’m an athlete. I think I can be able to do it and play the position well. I look forward to doing that and look forward to playing guard.”

When Marshal Yanda suffered leg and rib injuries last December, Reid began seeing extensive practice time at the right guard position leading up to the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Reid’s services ultimately weren’t needed as Yanda played in the Ravens’ division-clinching win, but his ability to learn a new position grabbed the attention of his teammates.

And while Reid isn’t guaranteed to be starting when the season opens on Sept. 10, the rest of the offensive line expects him to be lining up with them.

“He gives 150 percent effort,” said right tackle Michael Oher, who knows about switching from one side of the offensive line to the other. “He’s going to give it his all. I’m looking for him to get in and make an impact. He’s a very physical player. I’m looking for him to have a pretty good year at guard.”

The next major hurdle for Reid in becoming the starting left guard is next weekend’s draft. The Ravens are believed to have interest in some of the top interior linemen in the draft who could be available with the 29th overall pick, such as Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler of Wisconsin, Cordy Glenn of Georgia, and Iowa State’s Kelechi Osemele.

Even if the Ravens don’t draft an interior lineman in the early rounds of the draft, they are likely to add a veteran before training camp to compete with Reid. The second-year lineman says he’s focused on putting in the necessary work to get better and not concerned with any potential competitors being added to the roster.

“I just have to go in and expect to play,” Reid said. “I want this position, and I see it as mine to lose. I’m not going to [dwell] on anyone else coming in. I’m just going to work on myself.”

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Harbaugh envisions Kruger at outside linebacker for Ravens

Posted on 27 March 2012 by Luke Jones

After longtime linebacker Jarret Johnson signed a four-year contract with the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago, the Ravens began the process of finding his replacement at the strong-side linebacker position.

Pass rush specialist Paul Kruger is the consensus choice among options currently on the roster, and coach John Harbaugh confirmed that notion at the NFL owners’ meetings in Florida on Tuesday. Selected in the second round of the 2009 draft, Kruger struggled to find a role on the defense in his first two seasons before becoming a regular contributor in passing situations last season.

“I think Paul is probably the leading candidate for the ‘Sam’ linebacker job,” Harbaugh said. “I could very definitely see him doing that. When we lost [Johnson], I went back and watched all of Paul’s tape. I watched every one of his plays from last year just to try and get a feel just for whether or not we’d be comfortable with him in there. He did a nice job in coverage, he set the edge well.”

The 26-year-old Utah product collected 5 1/2 sacks while playing in all 16 games last season after struggling to simply avoid the inactive list in his first two seasons. Kruger had only one sack and five tackles over 20 games in 2009 and 2010 as the coaching staff evaluated whether he was better suited for defensive end or linebacker.

He and rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee became mainstays of the defensive line on third down last season as the pair combined for 11 1/2 of the Ravens’ 48 sacks. Now, new defensive coordinator Dean Pees will take a long look at Kruger as the replacement to the run-stopping, blue-collar Johnson, who started every game at strong-side linebacker over the last five seasons.

“Obviously, he’s a very good pass rusher,” Harbaugh said. “I believe Paul can do it. I think he will do it.”

Kruger’s ability to play the run and to drop in pass coverage remains a mystery after limited opportunities in his first three professional seasons. The Ravens will look hard at the draft if a prospect such as Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw or North Carolina’s Zach Brown is available early, but with other positions to address and limited cap space to potentially add another veteran linebacker, Kruger may find himself in position to be the starter when the preseason begins.

“He wants to be that guy and he wants to do it as well or better than how it’s been done for the Ravens,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what you want out of one of your players.”

Of course, Harbaugh’s comments should be taken with a grain of salt when you remember we’re four months away from the start of training camp. The coach is clearly going to show as much faith as he can in players currently on the roster without dwelling too much on hypothetical additions down the road.

The other player mentioned by some as a potential candidate to replace Johnson is 2010 second-round pick Sergio Kindle, but Harbaugh didn’t exactly speak about him in the same encouraging terms as he did with Kruger. Active for only two games last season, Kindle more closely resembles a player fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster than a viable starting option after the slow recovery he endured from a fractured skull just days before the start of the 2010 training camp.

While it’s true that Kindle has never had the benefit of a full offseason program at the team’s Owings Mills facility, it’s clear he has plenty of work to do before the Ravens can afford to keep him on the roster for a second straight season.

“If he comes back and becomes a player in the NFL, it’s going to be an unparalleled accomplishment,” Harbaugh said. “You know what? We think it can happen, and we’re going to know by the end of training camp.”

Cundiff competition

Ever since kicker Billy Cundiff missed a last-second 32-yard field goal that would have sent the AFC Championship game into overtime, fans and media alike have pondered how the Ravens should handle the kicker position next season.

As he did when he spoke to WNST.net at the NFL Combine last month, Harbaugh reiterated that he fully expects Cundiff to handle kicking duties again this fall. However, the Ravens are looking to create some competition for the incumbent kicker in the preseason.

Whether the Ravens choose to add a veteran or sign a rookie following the draft, Harbaugh sees no reason why they shouldn’t explore every avenue to get better — while clearly maintaining faith in the 2010 Pro Bowl selection.

“I say that so I’m not ruling anything out, but Billy is our kicker,” Harbaugh said. “I would anticipate Billy [being] our kicker for the opening game of the season. I think he’ll have a great preseason. I think he’ll have a great season next year, but everybody gets competition and he’s no exception.”

Running without Rice?

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Plenty of work remains, but Friday’s activity a modest step forward for Ravens

Posted on 23 March 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The first 10 days of free agency had been anything but smooth for the Ravens, even if it was expected by anyone paying attention.

With limited salary cap room and 12 unrestricted free agents becoming available, coach John Harbaugh knew there would be difficult decisions to make, including waving goodbye to veterans Ben Grubbs, Jarret Johnson, Corey Redding, Haruki Nakamura, and Tom Zbikowski. Even when the Ravens targeted a potential outsider to help fill one of those voids — such as their flirtation with Eagles guard Evan Mathis — they found themselves without sufficient funds to close the deal.

Other than the re-signing of veteran center Matt Birk last week, the lack of activity was causing some restless nights among the fan base. But with the second week of free agency nearing its conclusion, this is typically when general manager Ozzie Newsome begins hunting for the best value.

Newsome and the Ravens apparently found it on Friday, re-signing linebackers Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo and inking former Bears cornerback Corey Graham and veteran safety Sean Considine to contracts.

“[Waiting] probably wasn’t as hard for me as it was for the fans, because I had a little bit more of a front seat into what we were doing and those conversations are happening every day,” Harbaugh said. “We were involved with guys all the time, but we had our limits as to what we were going to be able to pay certain players.”

While none of the four moves should be labeled as significant splashes, the retaining of McClain allows the Ravens to cross off inside linebacker as one of their most pressing needs this offseason. Though not an elite player, McClain acquitted himself nicely in the absence of fellow inside linebacker Ray Lewis for four games last season.

The 26-year-old repeatedly stated his preference to remain with the organization that took a chance on him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2008, but many expected McClain to find a new home somewhere else once he hit the open market on March 13.

“There’s always that possibility, because this game is unpredictable,” McClain said. “We never know what’s going to happen at the end of the day. But in the back of my heart, I always knew that Baltimore was home.”

With a deep group of available inside linebackers and a slow pace to the market, McClain’s only visit came with the Denver Broncos, who eventually re-signed inside linebacker Joe Mays. Those circumstances led to increased optimism that the Ravens would be able to keep McClain in Baltimore, which became reality on Friday afternoon.

“I probably wasn’t real confident early on because we just know what kind of a player he is,” Harbaugh said. “I think you guys have seen him. Our fans know how good of a player he is. For whatever reason, the inside backer market just didn’t really go crazy.”

McClain represents a rock-solid starting option next to Lewis and quells concerns at the position, but the Ravens will still look to address the inside linebacker position in April’s draft with an eventual replacement for Lewis in mind. Pass coverage still remains an issue, but the re-signing of Ayanbadejo does give the Ravens another option in the nickel package.

Friday also represented an encouraging day for the Ravens’ special teams with two Pro Bowl selections secured for a unit that finished 30th in the NFL in 2011, according to FootballOutsiders.com. The returning Ayanbadejo as well as Graham and Considine will try to help the Ravens improve on their 31st-ranked kickoff coverage and 24th-ranked punt coverage last season.

Of the three signings, Graham represents the most intriguing upside. Regarded as one of the best gunners in the league, he will start on all special teams units and be a focal point for which other teams will have to game-plan. Though clearly behind Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, and Jimmy Smith, Graham does have secondary experience in addition to his special teams prowess.

“He’s kind of a guy like me who you’re going to have to scheme against him and double-team him and come up with ways to stop him,” Ayanabadejo said about his former Chicago teammate. “And anytime you double-team one guy, that’s going to leave someone else open.”

While Friday can be regarded as a modest sigh of relief for the Ravens and their fans, plenty of holes remain with the draft nearly a month away. Identifying starting replacements for Grubbs at left guard and Johnson at outside linebacker are still the top priorities. After that, the Ravens will look to address the third receiver spot as well as to try to find a viable return specialist.

The four signings eat away most of the near-$5 million in cap room the Ravens held entering the day, meaning they will likely need to sit tight until the draft and reassess the roster and the open market after selections have been made.

Yes, Friday represented a satisfying move in the right direction, but it will likely put the Ravens back in the familiar position of waiting.

With plenty of work still to do between now and the start of the season.

Hear interviews with John Harbaugh, Jameel McClain, and Corey Graham in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.

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After rocky first week of free agency, what’s next for Ravens?

Posted on 19 March 2012 by Luke Jones

Nearly a week into the signing period and with Peyton Manning finally choosing his next football home — ending our long-suffering national nightmare — it’s safe to say we’ve reached the conclusion of the first wave of NFL free agency.

As expected, it’s been anything but an exhilarating splash for the Ravens as they’ve witnessed five unrestricted free agents depart while only re-signing veteran center Matt Birk to a three-year contract on Friday. Baltimore has six remaining unrestricted free agents to potentially address, with inside linebacker Jameel McClain at the top of the list.

Unlike veteran defensive starters Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding, McClain represents a more difficult decision as he’ll only turn 27 in July and has plenty of good football in front of him.  He also represents a known commodity at a position where the Ravens lack depth behind Ray Lewis. Though he doesn’t bring the skills in pass coverage the Ravens would like to see improved among their linebackers, McClain proved valuable when Lewis was sidelined with a toe injury for four games last season, leading the huddle while Baltimore barely missed a beat without its future Hall of Fame linebacker.

The problem is general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens are having a difficult time gauging McClain’s value with the market for inside linebackers developing at a snail’s pace so far in free agency. Most top names at the position remain unsigned, including Detroit’s Stephen Tulloch, Seattle’s David Hawthorne, and Atlanta’s Curtis Lofton.

McClain visited the Broncos on Friday and took a physical, but Denver ultimately decided to re-sign Joe Mays, who will presumably be the guy at middle linebacker after making 12 starts last season. With such a deep group of inside backers still available and most having the same limitations in pass coverage beyond the top names on the list, McClain may not find the payday he’s looking for.

Of course, the Ravens have a limited amount of salary cap space and a number of other positions to address. They also placed a second-round tender on restricted free agent linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, which would pay him roughly $1.92 million in 2012, as a likely insurance policy to losing McClain.

Whether they can ultimately re-sign McClain or not, the Ravens are likely to address the inside linebacker position in the first few rounds of April’s draft. And unless the market remains very cool on McClain, Baltimore will likely roll the dice with the combination of Ellerbe and a drafted rookie to fill the void next to Lewis in defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ 3-4 scheme.

Changing of the guard

With the Ravens missing out on free-agent guard Evan Mathis when the veteran elected to re-sign with the Eagles over the weekend, the remaining options on the open market are underwhelming in trying to replace former Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs.

A few veterans such as Jake Scott and Vernon Carey are still out there but represent a noticeable step back from Grubbs at the position. That’s led many to speculate about the possibility of second-year tackle Jah Reid being moved to guard.

The thought of Reid playing guard has intrigued me since he began working there late last season and was a sleeper candidate to replace the injured Marshal Yanda in the regular-season finale against Cincinnati. You typically don’t see 6-foot-7 guards, but having the tallest starting quarterback in the league eliminates the need for shorter interior linemen.

Evan so, it’s difficult to view Reid as anything more than a project for the position, meaning the Ravens’ best bet might be to select a guard in the first or second round of the draft. While many have cooled on the idea of drafting Wisconsin center Peter Konz in the first round after Birk’s re-signing, another intriguing name that might be available at the 29th pick is Georgia guard Cordy Glenn.

With massive size at 345 pounds and impressive athleticism, Glenn has seen his stock rise substantially since the Senior Bowl. Despite playing left tackle as a senior after playing inside prior to that, Glenn is considered to be best suited for guard by most. However, some still flirt with the idea of him eventually becoming a left tackle at the next level.

It’s far from certain that Glenn will be there when the Ravens pick late in the first round, but he would be the ideal candidate to start at left guard compared to the underwhelming veteran options remaining in free agency. And with veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie entering the final year of his contract, the Ravens could also evaluate whether Glenn could move to left tackle in his second season.

Third wideout

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Free-agent guard Mathis chooses to remain with Eagles over Ravens

Posted on 17 March 2012 by Luke Jones

It’s always an uneasy feeling when a free-agent target leaves town without agreeing to a deal.

After departing Baltimore on Friday to ponder an offer from the Ravens, free-agent guard Evan Mathis has decided to remain in Philadelphia, signing a five-year deal with the Eagles. The deal is worth $25 million and includes $7 million in guaranteed money, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Mathis visited the Ravens on Thursday and remained in town overnight before flying back to Arizona on Friday to mull over offers from the Ravens and the Eagles. The 30-year-old left guard received his first opportunity to become a full-time starter in his first season with Philadelphia last year, likely leaving him with a special loyalty to the Eagles.

“To all the Eagles fans who offered me various food and incentives to return… I’ve come to collect,” Mathis wrote on his official Twitter page shortly before official word of the agreement broke.

Mathis ranked as the top left guard in the NFL last season, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

With Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs signing a five-year deal to join the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, the Ravens were hoping to welcome Mathis to Baltimore as an unspectacular but solid replacement. Baltimore re-signed veteran Matt Birk to stabilize the center position on Friday, but there remains a hole at left guard with dwindling options remaining on the free-agent market.

Vernon Carey, Jake Scott, Robert Gallery, and Bobbie Williams are available options, but all would be considered a significant step back from Grubbs. Two sleeper options recovering from injuries would be former Browns guard Eric Steinbach (missed the 2011 season due to back surgery) and Cowboys free-agent guard Montrae Holland, who tore his biceps muscle in late December.

The Ravens will likely look to April’s draft for interior line help, but the consensus top-ranked guard David DeCastro of Stanford will likely be off the board long before the 29th pick. Other potential options in the late-first and second rounds include Cordy Glenn of Georgia, Kevin Zeitler of Wisconsin, and Iowa State’s Kelechi Osemele.

As far as potential options already on the roster, there has been some speculation that 2011 third-round pick Jah Reid could potentially move to guard. The 6-foot-7, 324-pound Central Florida product would be taller than the prototypical interior lineman, but Reid spent time practicing at guard late in the season when Marshal Yanda was dealing with rib and leg injuries. However, this would appear to be nothing more than a fallback option so early in the offseason.

 

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Ravens agree to three-year deal to keep veteran center Birk

Posted on 16 March 2012 by Luke Jones

After suffering five losses in free agency this week, the Ravens have finally retained one of their own by agreeing in principal to a three-year deal with center Matt Birk, the team announced on Friday.

Despite contemplating retirement after the end of the 2011 season, Birk stated his preference was to remain with the Ravens, and it appears as though he will have the opportunity to finish his career in Baltimore. He spent the last three seasons as the starting center in Baltimore after 11 years with the Minnesota Vikings.

The six-time Pro Bowl center will be 36 in July and struggled in the AFC Championship against Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, but Birk had a solid season in 2011 despite missing the entire preseason after undergoing knee surgery at the start of training camp. With Birk remaining in Baltimore, the Ravens will return four of their five starting offensive linemen from last season after Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs signed with the New Orleans Saints on Thursday.

“One of the things we said earlier this offseason is that we were going to focus attention on the offensive line, and getting Matt Birk back is key for us,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a team statement. “He is a top player, his intelligence is obvious, and he is a leader on and off the field.”

With veteran backup Andre Gurode an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to return, the Ravens will unquestionably look to draft a center in April’s draft, with Wisconsin’s Peter Konz being linked to Baltimore’s 29th pick in numerous mock drafts. Newsome said in the team’s end-of-season press conference the Ravens would add another center to the roster for the 2012 season.

Highly respected in the Baltimore locker room, Birk was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis last month, recognizing his community service as well as on-field excellence.

 

 

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Looking for winning fit, free-agent tackle Winston will visit Ravens on Friday

Posted on 15 March 2012 by Luke Jones

Eric Winston thought he’d be vacationing with his wife this week.

Instead, the free-agent right tackle is looking for a new home after surprisingly being cut by the Houston Texans on Monday after six productive seasons. The 28-year-old is scheduled to meet with the Ravens on Friday after visiting Miami on Wednesday and Kansas City on Thursday. Winston will also reportedly meet with Detroit and St. Louis.

After tasting success with his first playoff appearance and an AFC South championship last season, Winston is looking for the best landing spot to give him an opportunity to win the Super Bowl, making Baltimore an attractive destination.

“That’s what you shoot for,” Winston said in an interview with AM 1570 WNST on Thursday. “That’s what you want. I’d be hard-pressed to go back to another rebuilding project.”

Blindsided by the Texans’ decision to dump him, Winston is now making the best out of being a free agent and trying to find the best possible fit for him and his family. The process reminds him of when he made visits with teams as a draft prospect, only he gets to ask more questions this time around.

A 2006 third-round pick from the University of Miami, Winston acknowledges the bond he feels with former Hurricanes such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Bryant McKinnie, even though they played in Coral Gables before his time. He even joked that Lewis was like his grandfather and Reed his father in talking about Miami lore.

“Those guys were just such great examples of what it meant to play there and the intensity and just the passion that you play with at the U,” Winston said. “Of course, you can still look at them now and say that’s the way you’re supposed to play in the NFL.”

Winston hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season, starting all 16 regular-season games for the Texans in each of the last five years. He hadn’t been contacted by former Houston teammates and current Ravens Vonta Leach and Bernard Pollard as of Thursday afternoon, but Winston expressed affection for each player.

“Those are great teammates,” said Winston, who joked that he called Pollard “Benny” to irritate him in the Houston locker room. “Those were guys I’ll always remember because of the people and players they are.”

Putting aside the money needed to sign Winston, the Ravens would be in a curious position should they get him to agree to terms. Current right tackle Michael Oher has two years remaining on his original rookie deal, so there’s no reason to think his roster spot would be in jeopardy. However, veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie is owed a $500,000 bonus on Saturday and is scheduled to make a $2 million base salary in the final year of his contract, meaning the Ravens could release the 32-year-old to save cap room.

It’s difficult envisioning the Ravens signing Winston and asking him to play left tackle, a position he hasn’t played since his rookie season when he did it on a very limited basis. Baltimore could move Oher back to the left side, but he has clearly performed better on the right side over his three-year career.

With the Ravens needing a left guard to fill the void left behind by Ben Grubbs — free-agent guard Evan Mathis visited with the team in Owings Mills on Thursday — a more radical idea would be to sign Winston and shift Oher to left guard, a position he hasn’t played since his first year at Ole Miss. Tackles can generally move inside without as much difficulty as interior linemen trying to shift outside, but it would be an unconventional move to say the least.

Of course, this is nothing more than speculation beyond Winston being scheduled to visit with the Ravens on Friday. With the number of teams interested in the right tackle, the Ravens will have a difficult time landing the former Texans tackle at a suitable price, but there’s no disputing his talent.

To hear Winston’s entire interview with WNST.net’s Glenn Clark on Thursday afternoon, click HERE.

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