Tag Archive | "billy cundiff"

Writing on wall for Cundiff as he sits Thursday night

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Writing on wall for Cundiff as he sits Thursday night

Posted on 24 August 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A 48-17 win in what’s commonly referred to as the dress rehearsal for the regular season went as well as the Ravens could have reasonably hoped.

That is, for everyone other than incumbent kicker Billy Cundiff, who was left standing on the sideline hoping for another opportunity to hold onto the job he’s held for the last 2 1/2 seasons.

But after rookie kicker Justin Tucker handled all kicking duties and converted six extra points and field goals from 33 and 53 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars, even Cundiff might be starting to see the writing on the wall. The 32-year-old appears to be in grave danger of losing his job, and there’s nothing he could do about it Thursday as he watched Tucker perform flawlessly.

He wasn’t happy about it following the game.

“I found out before this game that I wasn’t going to get any reps, which shocked me,” Cundiff said. “I felt like I had a really good week of practice. So, it’ll just play itself out.”

How much longer it will take to make a decision remains to be seen as the Ravens made a bold move in allowing the rookie to play the entire game while Cundiff was relegated to pre-game work to stay sharp. It appears there’s no turning back after Tucker didn’t stub his toe while owning the full spotlight at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.

Coach John Harbaugh offered his explanation following the game, saying the Ravens needed an opportunity to better evaluate what the rookie could do over the course of an entire game. Tucker passed with flying colors.

“Billy has had a great, great camp. He’s done really well,” Harbaugh said. “I think we know Billy. Billy would have come in here and made every one of those kicks, and when we kicked it deep, he would have kicked every one into the back of the end zone. Billy has proven. ‘Tuck’ has not proven. This is something that he needed. We needed to see if he could handle a whole game from beginning to end and have that pressure on him, and obviously he handled it very well.”

The Ravens had to know the potential firestorm this would create with the incumbent kicker, who clearly wasn’t fond of the competition being taken out of his hands. And while the words of praise uttered by Harbaugh sounded good, it almost reminded you of a person offering the “it’s not you, it’s me” line to someone they’re about to dump.

How can the organization go in any other direction now but to choose the rookie as their guy and to part ways with the man who missed the 32-yard field goal in the AFC Championship last January?

Knowing that the question of how much we should read into Thursday’s decision was going to be asked following the game, Harbaugh’s answer hardly sounded reassuring that it was still Cundiff’s job to lose. He easily could have said Cundiff would receive opportunities in the final preseason game Thursday in St. Louis, but the Baltimore coach didn’t.

“We have to make some decisions here again next week,” Harbaugh said. “So, we’ll just have to see how that goes.”

Rumors swirled Thursday evening that the Ravens will not only part ways with the 2010 Pro Bowl kicker but could do it before the final cut-down day on Aug. 31, which would provide the professional courtesy of giving Cundiff more time to potentially find a new team. It makes sense as there’s no point in delaying the inevitable if they’re sold on the idea of Tucker being their kicker for the 2012 season.

In January 2011, the Ravens signed Cundiff to a five-year, $15 million contract that included a $3 million signing bonus. Releasing Cundiff would save $2.2 million in cap room this season — with a $600,000 cap hit remaining — but that would leave $1.8 million in dead money for the 2013 salary cap.

Clearly feeling the sting of not being able to compete, you could almost sense in Cundiff’s tone and words that he might be resigned to the fact that he’ll be moving on sooner rather than later.

“Regardless of my track record, if you look at it in the last two years as a full-time kicker, inside of 50 yards, I’m about 90 percent,” Cundiff said. “If you look at the playoffs, I’m [11 of 12 in three seasons in Baltimore]. In the last two years, if you take all of my touchbacks combined, I have more touchbacks than anybody else in the league. I feel as if that’s not good enough, then I’ll take my services elsewhere.”

What had already been an awkward situation with Tucker forcing the issue so dramatically this summer after Harbaugh had proclaimed Cundiff to be the Ravens’ kicker early in the offseason grew even more uncomfortable Thursday night.

Yes, after a summer full of flirting, the Ravens might be on the verge of moving on with someone else.

“Let’s be honest, I feel I’ve been through enough,” Cundiff said. “There’s not a single thing that someone could throw at me that I’m not prepared for. I know my confidence has been high. I know when I came into training camp a lot of people asked me where my head was at and questioning whether I would be able to kick, or whatever the case may be. I feel I proved throughout training camp that I came in prepared. Regardless of what’s been thrown at me or the situation that I’m in, I feel I’m ready to kick.”

Cundiff’s right. He has performed well this summer.

But it’s looking more and more like he might have been auditioning for a job with another team.

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Your Monday Reality Check: This is just plain awkward at this point

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Your Monday Reality Check: This is just plain awkward at this point

Posted on 20 August 2012 by Glenn Clark

For me, it was probably my 15th birthday party.

ESPNZone had just opened in the Inner Harbor about a month earlier and I wanted absolutely nothing more than to check it out. I convinced my parents to let me have a party there after weeks of haggling.

The agreement came with one significant stipulation. As my parents were by no means wealthy people (although clearly I was more fortunate than others), they informed me I could only bring three friends.

I knew then that the decision I made would easily be the most agonizing of my entire life.

(You probably think I’m being sarcastic. With the gift of hindsight, it’s understandable. But think back to the time you had to make a similar decision. Remember how significant you thought it was? I thought so.)

I was obviously going to bring Brandon, as he and I had been hanging out together almost every day that summer. I had also figured I would take Matt, one of my buddies since first grade. The third choice was by far and away the most difficult. Ryan and Andy were stepbrothers, so how was I going to pick one and not the other? Billy had invited me to his cool birthday party earlier that year, so maybe I owed him. Adam was having a paintball themed birthday later in the month, I definitely didn’t want my decision to jeopardize an invite to his party. And for perhaps the first time in my young life I thought perhaps it was more important to consider inviting a GIRL (Leslie) instead of one of my buddies.

I remember thinking “perhaps I could cheat the system.” I tried convincing my parents I couldn’t invite Ryan without inviting Andy. I tried seeing if they would allow me to invite a fourth if I promised to invite one fewer friend to my 16th birthday. I told them Brandon shouldn’t count against the limit because he was basically living with us that summer anyway. I had hoped to find out someone wouldn’t be able to come anyway because their family already had plans.

I wish I could tell you I remembered who I picked. I don’t. I just remembered how awkward the whole process was.

I’m assuming by this point you clearly see the analogy I’m trying to make between my 15th birthday party and the Baltimore Ravens’ preseason kicking competition. How could you possibly not? I’m laying it on so thick!

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ravens-Lions preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Lions preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 16 August 2012 by Luke Jones

Poised for a better showing after a poor first half in their 31-17 win in the preseason opener, the Ravens welcome the Detroit Lions to M&T Bank Stadium on Friday night.

Welcoming Detroit head coach and Mount St. Joseph graduate Jim Schwartz to town and taking on the Lions for the third time ever in the preseason — Baltimore holds a 2-0 mark — the Ravens hope to begin with a better tempo than they did in Atlanta last week when they were outgained 191-9 in total yards through the first 15 minutes of play. After struggling in all three phases of the game last week, the Ravens will encounter an explosive passing offense that includes quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson as well as an intimidating defensive line led by Ndamukong Suh.

“We always want to come out and get a fast start, but there’s nothing better than a great finish,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “If you have to choose, you are going to want to finish well. I thought our guys finished well. I thought the first group finished well on their last opportunity, and that’s a big thought for us, finishing everything we are doing.”

The Ravens have won 11 of their last 13 preseason games as coach John Harbaugh said we can expect to see starters for most of the first half. As was the case last week, some starters will see more extensive action than others and it will all depend on the flow of the game.

Many will continue to monitor the performance of replacement officials as the NFL continues to impose a lockout of its regular officials. While the most notable problem from the Ravens’ preseason opener was referee Craig Ochoa referring to the Falcons as “Arizona” on a few occasions, there were other problems throughout the league ranging from spotting the ball incorrectly to mismanaging the opening coin toss.

Baltimore is trying to take the high road when it comes to any potential critiques of replacement officials.

“Basically we said, ‘You respect them.’” Harbaugh said. “They are the officials, and these guys are guys that have been doing it for quite a while, and they know what they are doing. I thought our last game they did pretty well for the first time out there. There are always some miscues. We had plenty of miscues ourselves.”

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 would not offer much Tuesday about the status of any player dealing with an injury, leaving us to wonder whether the likes of wide receiver Torrey Smith and cornerback Jimmy Smith will suit up and play against the Lions. It will also be interesting to see if the Ravens clear rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw for his first preseason action. His level of participation in practices increased this week as he continues to recover from a sprained shoulder.

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

OUT: LB Josh Bynes (back), LB Darryl Blackstock (groin), TE Dennis Pitta (hand), TE Ed Dickson (shoulder), LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon), WR David Reed (knee), DL Ryan McBean (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: WR Tandon Doss (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Torrey Smith (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (back), LB Courtney Upshaw (shoulder), G Bobbie Williams (ankle), OT Jah Reid (calf), WR Devin Goda (undisclosed)
PROBABLE: RB Bernard Pierce (hamstring), WR Jacoby Jones (leg), DE Pernell McPhee (knee), C Matt Birk (back), S Ed Reed (knee)

Five players to watch Friday night

1. OL Kelechi Osemele

Most of us have assumed that Bryant McKinnie would eventually man the left tackle spot and Michael Oher would play on the right side after the former reported late to training camp as he said he was dealing with a back injury, but the Ravens still don’t appear to have decided on what they want to do at those positions. The rookie Osemele has complicated the situation further by playing at an impressive level during training camp as the Ravens feel they got an absolute steal with the 60th overall pick in April.

Osemele’s great athleticism and maturity beyond his years have contributed to the coaching staff giving him extensive consideration at right tackle even though the safe play would be to revert back to last year’s tackle combination of McKinnie and Oher. The Iowa State rookie still needs to become a more consistent pass blocker, but he appears to be a far more serious candidate to start than anyone would have realistically expected at the start of camp. His ability to move inside is also a nice insurance policy to have with left guard Bobbie Williams coming off major ankle surgery in the offseason.

2. K Billy Cundiff

I stated at the start of training camp that rookie Justin Tucker would only be able to win the kicking job if he performed at an extremely high level while the veteran Cundiff stubbed his toe along the way. Tucker has been outstanding throughout training camp even though Cundiff had also been very good until this week.

On Monday, Cundiff missed short field goals from 24 and 34 yards and couldn’t convert a pair beyond 50 yards on Wednesday while Tucker continued to kick with ice water in his veins, only missing a 52-yard field goal this week while making all other tries. The veteran will really be feeling the pressure if he doesn’t have a good night in front of a home crowd that hasn’t exactly been forgiving in the realm of social media whenever his kicking miscues have been reported this summer.

Regardless of how Cundiff performs, the crowd response alone will be interesting to watch.

3. TE Billy Bajema

CONTINUE >>>

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Ravens shuffle offensive line during Monday’s practice

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Ravens shuffle offensive line during Monday’s practice

Posted on 13 August 2012 by Luke Jones

Counting down to their second preseason game on Friday night, the Ravens are still trying to find the perfect combination on their offensive line as they begin their fourth week of training camp.

With left guard Bobbie Williams sitting out Monday’s practice with a swollen ankle, Baltimore showed a new alignment up front as veteran Bryant McKinnie lined up at left tackle and Michael Oher moved back to the right tackle spot in the outside alignment the Ravens used last season. Even more intriguing was who took Williams place at left guard with rookie Kelechi Osemele shifting inside.

Osemele hadn’t worked at the left guard spot since organized team activities and had been used as the team’s starting right tackle with Oher on the left side and McKinnie receiving reps with the second-string line. Coach John Harbaugh downplayed the significance of the new alignment and chalked it up to simple experimentation, but the timing is interesting after Williams struggled against the Atlanta Falcons in the preseason opener last week.

“We’re going to work different combinations,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I think it’s important to look at guys in different spots. In the end, it will pay off for us, because guys will be more versatile, and we want to make sure we don’t miss anything. So, we have an opportunity to do that now.”

Most have predicted that McKinnie will eventually work his way back into the starting lineup, but Osemele has been the biggest surprise among offensive linemen and was complimented by Harbaugh for his play against Atlanta. The Ravens were expected to have Osemele and second-year tackle Jah Reid — who practiced Monday for the first time during training camp — compete for the starting left guard job before they signed the 35-year-old Williams in early June.

With Williams receiving rest and his durability likely coming into question, the Ravens appear to be re-examining their options to find the optimal starting five to protect quarterback Joe Flacco and to open holes for Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice. Despite his struggles in Atlanta, Williams has received positive reviews during camp and had practiced nearly every day this summer.

“That’s where we’re at right now,” Harbaugh said. “We just kind of work in some different guys and combinations and let them compete.”

Cundiff struggles

The rough days have been few and far between for veteran Billy Cundiff and rookie Justin Tucker, but the former experienced arguably his worst day of the summer Monday.

Cundiff went 2-for-5 on field goals including surprising misses from 24 and 34 yards. The 2010 Pro Bowl kicker hooked the 24-yarder wide left and pushed the 34-yard attempt to the right. Cundiff also missed a 52-yard field goal at the end of practice.

Meanwhile, Tucker finished the day going 6-for-7 with his only miss coming from 52 yards in the final portion of the workout. Unlike Cundiff, the rookie from Texas was awarded another try from the same spot and made the second one.

Harbaugh explained what contributed to Cundiff’s miss from 24 yards but also added that the try still needed to be converted.

“That was a real high snap, so that threw his timing off, and Billy was out in front of it,” Harbaugh said. “I think sometimes when you have bad conditions, the kicker will slow down to account for the possibility of a bad snap plus a plant foot sliding. So, a high snap like that [in] good conditions, he really didn’t expect that he was out in front of it, and that’s why he missed it. You still need to make it, but it makes it tougher.”

Defense shines

An impressive touchdown strike from Flacco to wide receiver LaQuan Williams highlighted the offense’s 11-on-11 work Monday, but the defense shined for much of the afternoon workout.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb stood out with an interception of Flacco and several other pass breakups. Safety Sean Considine also picked off a pass when a Flacco pass bounced off receiver Anquan Boldin’s hands on a quick slant pattern.

The second offense struggled just as much, as a Tyrod Taylor pass was thrown behind rookie tight end Matt Balasavage so badly that inside linebacker Jameel McClain began laughing and said, “He tried to catch it with his back!”

Rice clowning around

Perhaps the funniest moment of the day came when Rice was interacting with a young fan in attendance at the team’s Owings Mills facility.

With his backfield mate standing nearby, Rice insisted on trying to convince the spectator that Vonta Leach was his son. Even though the fullback is four inches taller, 48 pounds heavier, and five years older, Rice couldn’t help explaining how great it was to have his “son” playing with him on the same team.

For the record, the young Ravens fan wasn’t quite buying it.

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Kickers shine as Ravens practice at M&T Bank Stadium

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Kickers shine as Ravens practice at M&T Bank Stadium

Posted on 04 August 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After a very impressive start to the competition between veteran Billy Cundiff and rookie Justin Tucker this summer, the kickers didn’t disappoint Saturday as the Ravens practiced at M&T Bank Stadium.

After going a perfect 17-for-17 at home last season, Cundiff was 7-for-8 during the practice session with his only missing coming from 65 yards, which is two yards longer than the NFL record. The incumbent kicker made a 57-yarder in a “game-winning” situation and also connected on kicks from 54 and 48 yards.

Meanwhile, Tucker performed well in his first experience at the Ravens’ home stadium as he was a perfect 7-for-7. His long kick came from 62 yards, and the Texas product also added two successful tries from 48 yards and another from 54.

“We got a lot of reps for the kickers in game-like situations, which is really unusual and hard to do,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They both came through. Both of those guys kicked about as well as you could kick.”

With the Ravens not playing a preseason home game until Aug. 17 against the Detroit Lions, Tucker relished the opportunity to kick in front of the home fans — comparing it to the great turnouts the Longhorns would get for their annual spring game — and to get acclimated to the nuances of M&T Bank Stadium.

The rookie certainly gained a few fans with his initial performance at his home stadium.

“If you’re like me or Billy, the crowd doesn’t do too much [to affect] you,” Tucker said. “It’s just being able to get into the stadium and pick landmarks on the scoreboard or whatever just so you have something to aim at.”

While Tucker is still adjusting to life in the NFL and attempting to win the Ravens’ kicking job, Cundiff is trying to hold onto his and has focused on improving his technique in order to do so.

“I think the emphasis right now is on just getting better,” Cundiff said. “I’m using practice for what it’s supposed to be and that’s to get better on technique. It’s a little bit different for most guys [on the team]. We don’t have plays.”

Practice highlights

The Baltimore starting offense ran a successful two-minute drill against the second defense early in practice, marching down the field 80 yards to finish with a Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin.

However, the starting defense offered more resistance to Flacco and Co. as safety Ed Reed picked off a pass that bounced off the hands of wide receiver LaQuan Williams. Earlier in the workout Reed nearly picked off Flacco again as he and Ray Lewis both deflected a pass the quarterback threw near the goal line during 9-on-9 passing drills.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb also grabbed an interception thrown by fourth-string quarterback Chester Stewart in what easily qualified as the biggest mismatch of the day.

After a rough start in organized team activities, rookie wide receiver Tommy Streeter is showing more confidence in running routes and catching the football. The 6-foot-5 target made a nice catch on a sideline route and later ran an impressive drag over the middle as he caught another pass from backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

Tight end Davon Drew had a disappointing day, dropping several passes while working with the starting offense. After Dennis Pitta broke his hand earlier this week, Drew has received extensive reps as the team’s current No. 2 tight end and had performed well until struggling on Saturday.

With a number of players injured or limited along the defensive line, the Ravens gave a number of reps to rookies Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and Terrence Moore with the starting defense.

The Ravens also gave extensive time to Albert McClellan at the rush linebacker spot while Paul Kruger worked as the strongside linebacker for most of practice. Kruger has worked extensively at each outside backer position as the Ravens try to sort out what their best alignment will be without Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs to begin the season.

Infirmary report

Having already lost Pitta for the remainder of the preseason, fans had to be nervous to see tight end Ed Dickson being looked at by the training staff halfway through Saturday’s practice.

Dickson was poked in the eye and didn’t return, but he told media in the locker room he was fine and expected to be back on Monday. His right eye was red, but he said his vision was already getting better.

“He just couldn’t get [his vision] back where he could really get going, but he’s going to be fine,” Harbaugh said.

Reserve linebacker Darryl Blackstock left practice early with what Harbaugh believed to be a groin injury.

Thirteen players were missing at the start of the Saturday evening workout at M&T Bank Stadium.

Offensive linemen Matt Birk (back) and Jah Reid (calf), defensive lineman Arthur Jones (hip), cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (back) and Cary Williams, linebackers Courtney Upshaw (shoulder), Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon), and Josh Bynes, tight end Dennis Pitta (hand), running back Bernard Pierce (hamstring), and wide receivers Tandon Doss (hamstring), Patrick Williams, and David Reed (knee) are sitting out Saturday’s practice.

Williams was absent from practice for the second straight day, but he said it was not related to his surgically-repaired hip.

“It has nothing to do with my right hip that I had surgery on,” Williams said. “It’s perfectly fine. I’m just taking a couple of days off.”

The MRI results on Jones’ hip flexor injury came back favorably as the third-year defensive lineman is only dealing with a strain. The projected starter was unsure whether he’d play in the preseason opener in Atlanta after missing the last three days of practice.

Doss said his hamstring injury is feeling much better and plans to practice on Monday afternoon.

Upshaw said he is dealing with a sprained shoulder after Harbaugh labeled it a bruise on Monday. He is working closer to a return to the practice field.

Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day. Both players were still subject to the acclimation period under the collective bargaining agreement and are expected to be full-go for Monday’s practice.

Fullback Vonta Leach returned to practice Saturday after sitting out with a tight back a day earlier. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Asa Jackson also returned to action after missing Friday’s workout.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from John Harbaugh, Haloti Ngata, Bryant McKinnie, Cary Williams, Arthur Jones, Matt Birk, Billy Cundiff, and Justin Tucker HERE.

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Rookie kicker Tucker continues to impress in kicking competition

Posted on 01 August 2012 by Luke Jones

Though the Ravens have several position battles to sort out during the preseason, none have drawn more attention than the competition between veteran kicker Billy Cundiff and rookie Justin Tucker.

The two appeared even over the first few full-squad practices, but Tucker appears to have gained a slight edge after outperforming Cundiff on Tuesday and completing a perfect 6-for-6 showing during Wednesday’s practice. The Texas product connected on a 55-yarder and made two field goals in late-game scenarios created by the coaching staff.

Cundiff was 5-for-6 on Wednesday, also making a 55-yard attempt but missing one from 43 yards out.

As expected, responses via social media have been loud with any Cundiff miss and strong showings by the rookie kicker, as most fans haven’t forgotten the incumbent’s 32-yard miss in the closing seconds of the AFC Championship that would have sent the game to overtime.

However, their performance in practice is only one piece of a puzzle that will also include four preseason games and the edge in experience Cundiff enjoys — good or bad — over the rookie, who has yet to make as much as an extra point at the professional level.

“We put weight on everything,” coach John Harbaugh said. “The guys get evaluated in everything they do, even the drills. So, we don’t have a weighted measuring scale for that, that I could give you. I think you go by your instincts a little bit, but we know the stats inside out, and you certainly factor all that in. You get more kicks here, so that’s pretty important. But the kicks in the game, probably weigh more per kick, because they’re in games.”

Whether you believe it’s still Cundiff’s job to lose or the two entered camp in a wide-open competition, it’s apparent Tucker has turned heads with his strong leg and confident demeanor.

Wednesday highlights

Cornerback Corey Graham had another strong showing on Wednesday as he worked at the nickel position with the starting defense, breaking up a pass intended for wide receiver Anquan Boldin and continuing to show the physicality needed when matched up against a slot receiver.

Graham has emerged as the No. 4 corner behind Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, and Jimmy Smith and appears to have the inside track to play in the dime package. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has also mentioned his ability to fill in at safety, a valuable insurance policy when you’re restricted to 46 active players during regular-season games.

Though he’s kept his physical play within the parameters of the rules — at least in the eyes of those officiating training camp workouts — Graham might find trouble against officiating crews that tolerate less contact in the secondary. Regardless, his aggression and nose for the football have stood out in the first week of practice.

During an 11-on-11 two-minute drill, Ed Dickson got the best of linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo while catching consecutive passes from quarterback Joe Flacco. The third-year tight end will be counted on heavily to develop an even better rapport with Flacco in the absence of fellow tight end Dennis Pitta, who will be sidelined for the entire preseason with a broken hand.

With defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw still sidelined with injuries, it’s been difficult to get a good read on the defensive line rotation as Pees has rotated a number of players into their spots. On Wednesday, Ryan McBean and Arthur Jones lined up at the defensive tackle spots on the nickel defensive line while linebackers Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle occupied the defensive end positions.

Upshaw has missed the last two days of practice with a bruised shoulder, and Kindle and Albert McClellan are reaping the benefits of first-team reps in his absence.

 

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Healthy Boldin poised for best season with Ravens

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Healthy Boldin poised for best season with Ravens

Posted on 30 July 2012 by Luke Jones

Most talk surrounding the Ravens need to improve their 19th-ranked passing game from a season ago has centered around the development of a talented but raw group of young wide receivers.

While many wonder if Torrey Smith will build upon his record-setting rookie season and some combination of Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams, and Tommy Streeter can etch out roles in the offense, Anquan Boldin keeps working to remind everyone he’s still the Ravens’ most dependable receiver.

Despite recording only 57 catches — one shy of his career low — and 887 receiving yards in 14 regular-season games, Boldin hopes his postseason performance upon returning from knee surgery is a sign of better things to come in his third season in Baltimore. The 31-year-old registered 10 catches for 174 yards and a touchdown in two postseason games, looking more comfortable than he did at any point in the regular season.

“Last year was tough just because I came into camp with the injury,” Boldin said. “I had a partial tear of my meniscus the entire year. There were times where it swelled up, and it was tough to get in and out of my cuts. But after the surgery, it felt great, and I’ve had the entire offseason to rehab and get a lot stronger. I’m moving around a lot better, a lot quicker.”

It’s no secret that Boldin’s production has been underwhelming in two seasons after the Ravens traded a third and a fourth-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals prior to the 2010 draft. Boldin struggled to find a rapport in his first season with Joe Flacco since the young quarterback still had familiar targets in Derrick Mason and Todd Heap on which he could rely. Last season, the lockout eliminated the entire offseason, a period of time in which quarterbacks and wide receivers can grow together exponentially.

Boldin averaged a career-high 15.6 yards per catch despite modest numbers last season, but he’s feeling as comfortable as ever  as he begins his third season with Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

“Understanding what the coaches are expecting, what Joe is expecting, [being] on the same page as Joe, seeing what he sees,” Boldin said. “For me and him, we talk after every play. ‘What are you seeing on this? This coverage, what are you thinking?’ I think as we go on, the relationship just grows.”

Entering his 10th season, Boldin is eligible to receive periodic days off as part of coach John Harbaugh’s famed “30-and-over club” to keep veterans fresh, but the wide receiver prefers staying on the practice field, explaining his need to improve and how one player’s absence can upset the rotation at the receiver position.

It’s an attitude that not only sets a shining example for his younger teammates but is also noticed by the coaching staff.

“He still comes in with a mindset he’s going to work every day to get better,” wide receivers coach Jim Hostler said. “It might be a little bit different than the young guys. It might be a little bit more precision. It might be a little bit more detail, but he still approaches it that way. It’s still, ‘I’m going to do whatever I can to make this the best year I have ever had.’”

Camp highlights

The offense shined during Monday’s practice as Flacco threw touchdown passes to Boldin and backup tight end Davon Drew during 11-on-11 red zone drills. Drew will now see an increased role as the No. 2 tight end behind Ed Dickson with Dennis Pitta breaking his hand during the workout.

Flacco also completed a beautiful deep ball to Jacoby Jones, who beat cornerback Jimmy Smith down the right sideline.

The quarterback continued his fine start to training camp, picking apart a Baltimore defense that was without defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, linebackers Ray Lewis and Courtney Upshaw, and safety Ed Reed.

At one point during practice, an angry Harbaugh challenged his defense by asking sarcastically if they felt like covering anybody.

The kicking competition between veteran Billy Cundiff and rookie Justin Tucker continued on a similar path to what we saw last week. Cundiff connected on field goals from 20, 36, and 52 yards before missing a 55-yarder wide left. Tucker produced the same results, only the former Texas kicker missed his 55-yard attempt wide right.

Fighting words

We’re still waiting for our first fight of training camp, but cornerback Cary Williams and wide receiver Tandon Doss engaged in a verbal altercation that became quite heated during the afternoon practice.

Williams was matched up against Torrey Smith in passing drills, and the wide receiver took exception with the amount of contact on the play. Doss then began jawing with Williams, and the cornerback took exception with a player sidelined with an injury deciding to critique what was happening on the practice field.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed as the horn sounded and the players moved to the next period of the afternoon practice.

 

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Early impressions from Ravens training camp

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Early impressions from Ravens training camp

Posted on 29 July 2012 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their first full week of training camp after Sunday’s day off, here are five early observations from the first few practices of the summer in Owings Mills.

1. Even if the Ravens are satisfied with Bryant McKinnie’s weight and conditioning, this story isn’t going to go away as quickly as the tackle would like.

His claim that he hurt his back in a fall may explain why his chiropractor contacted the team to let them know he wouldn’t be reporting to training camp on time, but coach John Harbaugh’s comments earlier this week suggest the Ravens are having a difficult time believing the explanation. While McKinnie may have felt embarrassed — especially knowing how closely his conditioning is being scrutinized — failing to talk to the organization himself makes it look like he’s hiding more than a minor back injury.

Plenty of speculation exists regarding McKinnie’s financial problems and how he mysteriously went silent on Twitter a week ago, but you have to wonder how much the Ravens are willing to put up with considering they were already uneasy about his conditioning earlier this offseason. Harbaugh’s hardline stance about Michael Oher being the left tackle until further notice is a loud message that McKinnie is on shaky footing with the organization.

Unlike the way in which Ed Reed’s arrival at camp immediately squashed the discussion that buzzed around the All-Pro safety for weeks, McKinnie won’t just waltz back into camp with all essentially being forgotten. What will help the 32-year-old, however, is the lack of a known commodity at the right tackle position when Oher is on the left side.

Even so, McKinnie has plenty to prove before the Ravens can entrust him with the left tackle job for the second year in a row.

2. It’s remarkable how much better the cornerback situation is from a year ago at this time.

More attention has been paid to outside linebacker and the battles at defensive end and on the offensive line, but the most entertaining competition of the preseason will be between Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith for the starting cornerback job opposite Lardarius Webb. Unlike most competitions where you’re typically desperate to see one player emerge as a viable starter, this is a win-win situation where both players are capable of holding down starting jobs in the NFL.

Smith may have gained a slight upper hand during organized team activities as Williams continued to recovery from offseason hip surgery, but the 2011 first-round pick was dinged up during Saturday’s practice to potentially even the playing field once again. It’s also important to remember Williams played with a torn labrum last season, which is remarkable to think about when you consider how critical hip movement is to the back pedal and changing directions.

While the Ravens certainly envisioned Smith as a starter when they made him their top selection two Aprils ago, they really cannot go wrong with either player as the starter, and the other will still receive plenty of playing time. Williams and Smith will again line up at the cornerback spots with Webb sliding inside to the nickel position to match up with slot receivers in passing situations.

Special teams ace Corey Graham has also been very impressive in coverage and looks like a solid bet to be the team’s dime back, which would push Danny Gorrer down the depth chart after he looked solid in limited opportunities last season. It’s quite a difference from a year ago when the Ravens were depending on banged-up veterans such as Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr to play significant roles before Webb and Williams emerged as starters out of training camp.

3. Don’t sleep on Albert McClellan as the Ravens sort out their outside linebacker situation.

While it’s assumed that Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw will line up as the starting outside backers against the Cincinnati Bengals to open the regular season, McClellan has received plenty of reps with the defense over the first few days of practice. His versatility to line up as a defensive end as well as play multiple linebacker positions makes him a valuable asset, and that’s not even taking into account that the 26-year-old led the team in special teams tackles last season.

The start to McClellan’s career hasn’t been dramatically different from that of inside linebacker Jameel McClain, though the former spent his first professional season on the practice squad. McClain also went undrafted and shined on special teams before eventually carving out a bigger defensive role for himself.

Upshaw clearly possesses more upside, but the rookie’s inexperience and need to get leaner may open the door for more opportunities for McClellan, who surprised everyone with his strong play filling in at inside linebacker when Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe were sidelined against the San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving night.

4. There isn’t a wide receiver with better hands on the team than Tandon Doss.

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JustinTucker

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Ravens kicker Tucker ready for high-pressure situations

Posted on 24 July 2012 by Ryan Chell

The Baltimore Ravens 2011 season ended on a rushed field goal that sailed wide left, but there’s a new kicker on this year’s roster chomping at the bit trying to prove to the Ravens-or another NFL team-that he can be the best specialist on the team and make that kick should he get a chance.

That would be Justin Tucker out of the University of Texas. The rookie kicker joined Glenn Clark on “The Reality Check” Tuesday after the first official day of training camp practices located at Owings Mills, and couldn’t be happier to get started.

“It is exciting,” Tucker said of his first NFL shot. “This is definitely a big step. It really feels like we’re getting the ball rolling. OTAs and mini-camps were great…now we’re kicking it up a notch. It’s about to get real fun.”

Tucker, 22, was brought in by the Ravens at the end of May after a tremendous run of consistency on his four-year resume at the University of Texas.

Tucker made 40-of-48 field goal attempts for coach Mack Brown and the Longhorns-his most memorable of recent being a 40-yard game winner against Texas A&M which got him carried off the field by his Longhorn teammates.

He also took on punting and kick-off duties at times in Austin.

Tucker feels like all those experiences couldn’t have him more ready to kick in the NFL given the similarities in the kicking dimensions of the college game and the pro level, and having to kick in high-pressure situations in front of packed arenas.

“You have the same challenges,” Tucker said to Clark. “It’s still you versus yourself on an island. For me, I was fortunate enough to play at the University of Texas in front of 100,000 fans in our stadium…and a bunch more on TV. I can definitely use those experiences for when I’m out here.”

That poise had Tucker on the Ravens’ eye throughout the draft process, and it didn’t take long for coach John Harbaugh and special teams coach Jerry Rosburg to see him out and bring him in for a workout after the last name was called.

“I got a couple phone calls towards the end of the draft and it was really a no-brainer for me,” Tucker said. “I had my sights set on Baltimore…I couldn’t be anymore excited with this opportunity.”

And Tucker proved the Ravens right on the move-delighting them with his long leg and ability to make 55+ yard field goals throughout the OTA and mini-camp process.

Tucker will most likely be the extra leg in camp, but some have speculated that Tucker could give incumbent kicker Billy Cundiff a run for his money.

Cundiff, after making the Pro Bowl in 2010 and signing a five year, 15 million dollar contract, struggled with consistency last season and missed a potential game-tying 32-yard field goal in the AFC Championship Game, ending the season for Baltimore.

Cundiff only connected of 75.9% of his field goals last season compared to close to 90 percent two years ago.

He was 1-of-6 on field goals beyond 50 yards.

But Tucker wanted to make it clear that stats don’t matter-especially ones from a year ago-and that he’s not gunning for Cundiff.

But at the same time, he wants to do this in the NFL for a living and do that, he knows it’s all about getting the job done and putting the ball through the uprights when it matters.

And there’s only so many jobs out there for him to take a hold of and earn.

“Well, this is a competition and it’s a business,” Tucker said. “My goal at the end is to be the best kicker for this team that I can be.”

“Kicking the ball through these poles in really black and white. It’s either good or it’s not. I just need to do the best I can do, and really cherish this opportunity and try and make something out of it.”

In the end, he’s just trying to achieve the same goals as everyone else on this roster, which is to be successful and win football games-most importantly-the last one played in a season.

“It’s just remembering that we’re all in the same boat,” Tucker said. “We all have the same goal-whether you’re a first-year guy like myself or a fifteen-year veteran.”

“There’s definitely ways to achieve those goals, but really sticking your best foot forward and sticking to a plan is paramount.”

WNST thanks Justin Tucker for joining us after practice! Be sure to follow WNST on Twitter for tomorrow’s first full-practice for the Baltimore Ravens! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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In fifth year with Ravens, Harbaugh faces biggest challenge yet

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In fifth year with Ravens, Harbaugh faces biggest challenge yet

Posted on 23 July 2012 by Luke Jones

Upon learning that Ray Rice had agreed to a five-year contract with the Ravens just minutes before the franchise tag deadline last week, my thoughts weren’t of the Pro Bowl running back or quarterback Joe Flacco, who’s next in line to receive a big payday.

Instead, I couldn’t help but think John Harbaugh was breathing a sigh of relief after the most trying offseason of his tenure in Baltimore. Knowing his best offensive player would be present for the start of training camp was a far more welcoming piece of news than the possibility of a lengthy holdout dragging into the preseason — or even longer.

Frankly, he needed the good news after an offseason that provided more disappointment than good in the eyes of many observers.

The only head coach in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first four seasons, Harbaugh has faced little adversity compared to most peers in the challenging and impatient world in which an NFL head coach tries to survive. Other than maybe the select few who own a Super Bowl title, you won’t find an individual with more job security in the league and rightfully so.

Harbaugh has done an outstanding job since coming to Baltimore in 2008, but the last six months have been anything but smooth for the defending AFC North champions.

Headlining the list of misfortune was the partially-torn Achilles tendon suffered by 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. The Pro Bowl linebacker has vowed to return to action this season, but whether he can provide any significant impact remains in serious doubt. To make matters worse, the same injury struck defensive end Michael McAdoo, who was far from a sure thing but represented an intriguing project to provide some of the pass-rushing void left behind in Suggs’ absence.

A salary-cap crunch led to the departure of Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs and other contributing veterans such as Jarret Johnson, Cory Redding, Tom Zbikowski, and Haruki Nakamura in free agency. And despite general manager Ozzie Newsome stating the need to upgrade the offensive line as a top priority, the Ravens managed only to add 35-year-old guard Bobbie Williams while drafting a pair of talented but unproven linemen in Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski.

Ed Reed’s decision to skip mandatory minicamp and cryptic comments regarding his desire for a new contract have left everyone wondering what his frame of mind will be if and when he reports for training camp this week. The head coach didn’t even receive a heads-up from the All-Pro safety of his intentions to skip the three-day camp in early June, so you just don’t know what to make of Reed at this stage of his career in Baltimore.

And, of course, this all came under the shadow of what transpired in the final seconds of the AFC Championship game in January.

The Lee Evans drop in the end zone.

The Billy Cundiff miss from 32 yards.

Even the law of averages is working against the Ravens as they’re the only team in the NFL to have made the postseason in each of the last four years. That run is bound to end at some point in the not-for-long nature of the league.

Are the Ravens in danger of experiencing a hangover in 2012?

“I would probably not use that term. Take two Aspirin. That’s what you usually do, right?” said Harbaugh in late May, drawing laughter from gathered media. “I don’t think we have that problem. I don’t think it’s an issue. You go back to work; it’s a new season.”

Yes, the Ravens go back to work full-time this week, but the challenges faced over the last six months make it all the more difficult to turn their backs on how close they came to advancing to the Super Bowl for the first time in 11 years. The margin for error is so small in advancing to that stage, and all it takes is a key injury or a couple plays swinging in the opposite direction to derail the journey back to that same point.

If anyone is equipped to handle such a position, it’s Harbaugh, whose biggest strength is managing people and providing exceptional leadership. His motivational tools and phrases to unite his players may not always be home runs — in the same way a comedian won’t bat 1.000 with all his jokes — but the Baltimore locker room has been united from the first day he arrived over four years ago.

Even so, as players hit the practice field in the summer heat of Owings Mills this week, it’s only human nature to look around at who’s missing — Suggs and the departed veterans — and think back to that Sunday in Foxborough six months ago, even if only for a moment or two.

They’re bound to wonder if they missed their chance.

“We’ve got lots of things to accomplish, things that we have yet to accomplish,” Harbaugh said. “The team that won the Super Bowl last year, it’s a new year for them, too, and they have a lot to accomplish this year, too. No matter what you did in the past, you have to go to work the next year, and that’s what we do. We’ve done it every year.”

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