Posted on 15 May 2012 by Glenn Clark
Posted on 23 April 2012 by WNST Audio
Posted on 27 March 2012 by Glenn Clark
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.”
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?
Posted on 17 February 2012 by Luke Jones
As the start of free agency moves closer and teams prepare for April’s draft, the Ravens continue to evaluate their needs in all three phases of the game.
Earlier in the week, I looked at Baltimore’s biggest needs on offense as well as essentials for the defense. In the conclusion of a three-part series, we finally take a long at the often-forgotten but always-important phase of the game: special teams.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron undoubtedly receives the most criticism among the coaches on the Ravens staff, but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg may deserve the most heat after a disappointing 2011 season. According to footballoutsiders.com, the Ravens’ special teams ranked 30th in the league in a percentage contrived from efficiency in field goals, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, and punt returns.
Looking from a more simplistic stance, Rosburg’s units struggled in both kickoff coverage (31st) and punt coverage (24th) and allowed three returns for touchdowns. In the return game, the Ravens ranked ninth in kickoff return average and 19th in punt return average, rarely getting a significant spark from either group as injuries and ineffectiveness forced them to shuffle returners in and out of the lineup.
Kicker Billy Cundiff converted only 75.7 percent of his field goal attempts, ranking 28th in the league. The 2010 Pro Bowl kicker made only one of six attempts from 50 or more yards and was only 11-for-20 away from M&T Bank Stadium — where he was perfect on 17 attempts. And that’s not even taking into account his heartbreaking 32-yard miss in the closing seconds of the AFC championship game that would have sent the Ravens into overtime against New England.
If you’re looking for a bright spot, punter Sam Koch ranked 10th in punt average (46.5 yards) but 19th in net average, which was affected by the Ravens’ suspect coverage.
While it’s difficult to target a laundry list of special teams’ needs from a position-by-position standpoint — the units simply need to improve across the board — but two positions stand out this offseason.
Before you get carried away, this isn’t the pitchfork mentality we’re talking about here. Cundiff isn’t going anywhere for now. However, his disappointing season topped off by the most devastating moment in the 16-year history of the franchise can’t be forgotten as the Ravens assess their special teams.
To their credit, the organization and Cundiff have handled the miss with as much dignity as can be expected, with no one publicly questioning whether the Ravens should have kept veteran Shayne Graham to kick in the postseason. It’s been a credit to coach John Harbaugh and the family atmosphere in the locker room.
But what everyone is thinking privately is a different story. In his defense, Cundiff battled a left calf injury late in the season, but it doesn’t excuse what was a very inconsistent year after signing a five-year contract last January. For a kicker without a proven track record beyond his Pro Bowl season a year ago, Cundiff may have reverted back to the inconsistent performer seen early in his career.
The Ravens need to bring in another kicker to seriously compete against Cundiff during the preseason. The organization will keep Cundiff for now in hopes of avoiding the situation in which they found themselves in 2009 after parting company with Matt Stover. Neither Steve Hauschka nor Graham Gano were fit for the job, forcing the Ravens to scramble during the regular season until they settled on Cundiff.
It needs to be a serious competition, whether the Ravens elect to find a rookie coming out of college such as Randy Bullock of Texas A&M or a veteran on the open market. Graham wasn’t good enough to win the competition against Cundiff two years ago and has struggled with long-distance kicks in recent years, so it makes little sense to bring him back for the competition.
Even if Cundiff performs admirably in the preseason and wins the battle, the Ravens and their fans simply won’t know whether he’s recovered from the disappointment in Foxborough until he finds himself in another late-game situation. It’s difficult to envision the Ravens ever fully trusting Cundiff again, but they’ll at least give him a chance in the preseason before moving on for good.
2. Kickoff-Punt Returner
The Ravens had 10 different players return kickoffs — three of those only returned squibs or pooch kicks – in 2011 and never found stability at the position. Second-year return specialist David Reed was demoted after two fumbles on returns against the Seattle Seahawks and then tore his ACL when he finally earned another opportunity to handle kickoffs.
While Reed will certainly find himself in the mix if he proves healthy in recovering from the knee injury this offseason, the Ravens must look to add an impact returner, preferably someone who can handle both kickoffs and punts to allow Lardarius Webb to focus solely on his duties at cornerback. Field position is critical, and the return units rarely aided the Ravens offense in setting it up on a shorter field.
Of course, the new kickoff rule limited many returners across the league, but the Ravens cannot settle for a returner downing the ball in the end zone constantly as they did down the stretch with reserve safety Tom Zbikowski this past season.
The Ravens could look to the draft for a returner such as Arkansas receiver Joe Adams in the middle rounds, who could add depth in both areas. One name to keep an eye on in the preseason is receiver Phillip Livas, who was signed to the practice squad in the final weeks of the season. Though only 5-foot-8, Livas was a record-setting return man at Louisiana Tech and could be a sleeper to watch in the preseason.
Posted on 09 February 2012 by Luke Jones
In the final days of the Ravens’ 2011 season, it was difficult to say which was more exhausting: the vocal minority of fans bashing quarterback Joe Flacco or the increased amount of complaining about those select few.
(And to be clear, this commentary doesn’t mean Flacco is infallible and exempt from criticism, either. We’re talking about those who have made irrational suggestions such as benching the Baltimore starter and inserting the rookie Tyrod Taylor.)
But it’s certainly come into perspective this week if you’ve paid any attention to the New England area and the fallout of the Patriots’ 21-17 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.
It started with this scathing piece from Boston Globe writer Eric Wilbur in which all-world quarterback Tom Brady was labeled an “embarrassment” after the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl for the second time in five years. And the vocal simpletons (see the comments section) have followed suit, declaring Brady as washed up and even going as far as suggesting the Patriots trade him for whatever value they can get and begin the next era of New England football.
Yes, a small portion of New England fans are suggesting they run one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history out of town. The same man who led the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles in four years and threw for 39 touchdown passes and over 5,000 yards this season on his way to leading the Patriots to a 14-4 record and an AFC championship despite a woeful defense.
It certainly puts the extreme Flacco criticism into context, doesn’t it?
More than anything, the venomous thoughts toward a future Hall of Fame quarterback only prove this type of vocal minority of extreme detractors exist in every sports city in America. A certain segment of fans will never be satisfied no matter how successful their teams might be, as is evident in Boston where seven championships from the four major sports have been won over the last 11 years.
We all know someone (multiple people?) who refuses to be happy with his or her life no matter how many blessings they might have when they stop to think.
Why would the population of sports fans be any different?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to place my order for a Ryan Mallett Patriots jersey.
Retire, Ricky, retire
Though running back Ricky Williams’ retirement announcement was mildly surprising after proclaiming his enthusiasm for the 2012 season in the days following the AFC championship game, the Ravens shouldn’t — and won’t — be worked up by the veteran backup’s departure.
There are always at least five or six running backs of Williams’ ability at this stage of his career available in the free-agent market. Williams will be 35 years old by the start of the 2012 season, and there’s no guarantee he would have been able to duplicate his steady average of 4.1 yards per carry that he owned this past season. Anthony Allen will likely see an increased role, or at least an increased opportunity, to earn that role in training camp.
Whether it’s signing a veteran in the open market or looking to April’s draft, the Ravens will improve their depth at the running back position behind Ray Rice. Owner Steve Bisciotti has already said Rice will not be going anywhere despite the Pro Bowl back being set to become an unrestricted free agent in March.
It’s hard to imagine Williams’ retirement having any impact whatsoever on contract negotiations with Rice’s representation, and the Ravens will simply use the franchise tag on their feature back should they be unable to reach a long-term agreement by March 5.
However, Williams calling it a career does open the door for a farfetched but intriguing scenario to potentially play out with Rice. Let’s assume the two sides are unable to reach a long-term deal, Rice plays with the franchise tag in 2012, and the Ravens look to bolster their depth at running back in the middle rounds of the draft.
What would the Ravens do if they found a diamond in the rough with that draft pick, much in the same way they saw such potential in Rice after selecting him in the second round of the 2008 draft? Knowing the limited shelf life for running backs in the NFL, would they consider allowing Rice to walk the following season if this unnamed running back appeared capable of handling the starting job?
Again, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that happening, but Williams’ decision to walk away from the game forces the Ravens to explore other options at the position, and you never know what they might discover in the process.
Posted on 04 February 2012 by WNSTV
Posted on 30 January 2012 by Glenn Clark
I had handled it much better than I ever did in the past.
Unlike the last three seasons, I wasn’t on hand to see the Baltimore Ravens’ season come to an end last Sunday in the AFC Championship Game. Instead of making the trip to Foxborough, I stayed in studio at 1550 Hart Rd. in Towson for “The Nasty Purple Pregame Show” and “The Nasty Purple Postgame Show.” I watched the game only with my producer Ryan Chell and I IMMEDIATELY hit the airwaves after Billy Cundiff’s kick sailed wide-not allowing me much time to stew over the dramatic end.
After fighting with a caller who labeled quarterback Joe Flacco as “a bum” following the crushing loss to the New England Patriots, I genuinely felt as though I had moved on. It only took about 30 minutes. No eight hour drive home with other miserable Ravens fans for me, just a 25 minute drive home to Monkton where playing with my dog quickly made me feel better about a tough loss.
On Sunday afternoon the WNST crew (Drew Forrester, Nestor Aparicio, Luke Jones and myself) touched down in Indianapolis for week-long coverage of Super Bowl XLVI festivities at Radio Row. We do it every year, no matter when/where the Ravens’ season comes to a close. Immediately upon landing at Indianapolis International Airport, we were greeted by vendors selling Eli Manning and Tom Brady t-shirts. Everywhere we turned in Indy for the first 12 hours was remarkably similar.
New York Giants stuff here. New England Patriots stuff there. Live NFL Network video of Bill Belichick getting off the plane. Quotes filling up my GMail inbox from Tom Brady and Jerod Mayo as transcribed by the National Football League staff here on site. A replay of Super Bowl XLII following Australian Open coverage on ESPN2.
It all hit me like a ton of bricks. This was SO close to being the Ravens. Perhaps a Cundiff kick, perhaps a Lee Evans catch, perhaps a John Harbaugh timeout, perhaps Joe Flacco not throwing an interception to Brandon Spikes.
We could have gotten off the plane in Indy and been greeted by Ray Lewis t-shirts instead of seeing Alex Flanagan try to get Lewis to change his mind about retirement on the sideline during NBC’s coverage of the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. We could have been covering the first media gathering of the week for the AFC champs instead of sitting in the hot tub at the J.W. Marriott or celebrating Forrester’s birthday at Buca di Beppo. (Both of these things were nice…but we’d rather not be there.)
It wasn’t as painful to arrive for Super Bowl coverage the last couple of years as there was really no argument that the Ravens may have been the best team in the AFC. Two years ago they were clobbered by the Colts here at LucasOil Stadium. Last year there was the feeling they let one go against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, but at least the loss didn’t come with a Super Bowl trip on the line.
This time there was a REAL feeling that we should be spending Media Day tomorrow chatting up Terrell Suggs instead of trying to track down Matt Birk for five minutes later in the week when he comes to promote the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
It wasn’t the only wound re-opened however.
As you can read about in Monday’s Indianapolis Star, there’s already a bit of a “friendly” back and forth going on between us and some of the folks in “The Friendly Heart of the Midwest.” While most of our comments have been made in jest, there is no doubt that seeing horseshoes everywhere I look and staring at a sign for the “Jim Irsay Collection” at the Indiana State Museum across the street have left a bad taste in my mouth.
The team my father fell in love with is now the reason why a city hundreds of miles from Charm City is experiencing a financial boon. The likes of Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore and Art Donovan left sweat and blood on the field at Memorial Stadium, the value of which has allowed governor Mitch Daniels to make millions of dollars-which will in no way benefit the city of Baltimore.
We don’t REALLY want the Colts back in Baltimore as I joked with the Indy Star reporter. We want an entire civic injustice reversed. We know it’s impossible.
The wounds are fully re-opened here. We’ll make it through (covering a Super Bowl in Indianapolis is STILL better than having to cover the Baltimore Orioles), but there will be a number of times this week where I’ll look over and say “damn.”
Posted on 29 January 2012 by Peter Dilutis
What an incredibly awful week!
I still cannot really believe what I witnessed in Foxborough a week ago today. Perhaps the most intense football game that I’ve witnessed in person throughout my relatively young life ended in extreme disappointment.
There was so much on the line for everyone.
The fans, who have now spent four consecutive years loading up on purple gear, spending big money on tickets, trips, hotels, etc in anticipation of another Super Bowl run.
The players, who I’ve gotten to know a bit over the past couple of years, who spend 365 days a year preparing for the final moments of a game like that.
The coaches, executives, team employees, trainers…this has sucked for everyone. There’s no way around it.
Personally, I’ve had so many thoughts over the past week but I’ve just had no desire to write about them. It is absolutely sickening that what we all wanted so badly was right in their grasp, literally, and we let it get away.
As bad as it was for all of us (imagine how much we at WNST had on the line regarding promotions, Super Bowl trips, etc), and as much time as some of us have needed to get over the loss, we cannot let the heartbreak that we all feel cloud our perspective.
Yes, it is incredibly hard for a team to get back to where the Ravens just were. There are no guarantees in sports. However, the Baltimore Ravens have built their organization up to where annual contention is not a goal but an expectation.
When Steve Bisciotti fired Brian Billick after the 2007 season, he talked about wanting to avoid the valleys that the team endured under Billick. Billick had tremendous success in Baltimore. He brought back a winning culture to Baltimore and that culture has carried over into this era of Ravens football.
However, there were some years under Billick, specifically 2005 and 2007, when the Ravens were basically out of contention by the second half of the season. Much of that had to do with not having a legitimate quarterback, but the bottom line is that under Billick, the Ravens, at times, underachieved.
That has not happened with John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco at the helm. The Baltimore Ravens have transformed into an elite franchise in the NFL. Period.
Posted on 25 January 2012 by Nestor Aparicio
As much as the loss to the Patriots stung me and everyone else in the Baltimore purple tribe, believe it or not I left the stadium with some sort of inner peace that hasn’t allowed me to cry, bellyache or bemoan the efforts of this year’s team.
All of you know I’m in the locker room, asking questions, posting videos, texting and Tweeting and Facebooking all sorts of insights, observations, jokes and information from Baltimore Ravens’ games.
This was the last thing on my video reel after the game — before Drew Forrester and Luke Jones joined me on the field to recap the game and the missed Billy Cundiff field goal reenactment by our morning show host.
As Luke and I walked out of Gillette Stadium and through the purple confetti our final words were: “If Ray Lewis can find peace with this game 15 minutes after it’s over then maybe we should find a way as well.”
Watch this video. I think it might change your mood…it certainly changed ours!