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New G Williams, Ravens brought together by familiarity

Posted on 29 July 2012 by Ryan Chell

The Ravens have made it a habit over the years to grab veteran offensive lineman late in free agency or training camp to not only bring experience, but to also have that key backup in case an injury should occur to solidify that same offensive line.

Last year, it was Andre Gurode, who started several games for the injured Ben Grubbs. In 2008, it was Willie Anderson who saw action at right tackle.

This season, with the team reeling from the loss of Grubbs at the left guard position to free agency-as well as Gurode’s dismissal, the Ravens felt like they needed to keep up with that tradition.

And they did just that at the beginning of June, signing former Bengals and Eagles guard Bobbie Williams to a two-year contract.

Williams is adjusting to the atmosphere in Owings Mills, but he’s confident that he’ll fit right in with training camp the first opportunity to do so.

“I’m just taking it all in,” Williams said after practice Saturday. “I’ve been rolling for a week. I came in when the young guys came in, and it was good that I did that so I could get that advantage and get things going. We’re just hitting all cylinders now.”

Williams had spent the last eight seasons with the Bengals, and the 35-year old has started 130 games in his 12-year NFL career.

The Ravens certainly felt like they made the right decision by bringing in a stable and dependable Williams in with the early shuffling of their offensive line in camp.

When he was signed on June 8th, Williams was at first expected to battle for the left guard position with Ravens 2nd round pick Kelechi Osemele and second-year man Jah Reid.

However, both started off training camp with back and calf injuries respectively, and Williams was told to line up and clear the way for newly-paid running back Ray Rice.

Coach Harbaugh earlier in the week said that Williams has already made them forget about Ben Grubbs, and Harbaugh attributed that to his tremendous work ethic.

Those were strong words according to Williams.

“I’m just appreciative that they respect me on that level. I don’t plan on letting anyone down, including myself, and the good Lord.”

Williams said that when he came in, he was told that a spot wasn’t going to be given to him. And despite it looking that way, he still wants to prove himself to Coach John Harbaugh and the coaching staff.

“I came in with the attitude to work-period. And it ain’t going to leave. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it ain’t going to leave till February…let’s just put it that way.”

Williams remembers Coach Harbaugh from Harbaugh’s time as a special teams coach with the Eagles-who drafted Williams in the 2nd round of 2000 NFL Draft-and said that he has always been “a player’s coach.”

And the way Williams talks about offensive line Coach Andy Moeller-you would think they have been around each other for a lifetime-not two months.

“I’m used to the coaching staff and the guys around me. It’s a great group and I’m not just saying that.” And Coach Moeller man-I think the world of him. He’s a real teacher of the game. I truly respect him and his knowledge of the game. And that’s very key.”

He may have that familiarity with his coaches, but many are certain that the Ravens brought Williams in given his time with their AFC North rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals.

That kind of insight into an opposing locker room’s scheme could do wonders for a defensive coordinator, and the fact that he knows the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers blitz packages from seeing them 4 times a year the past eight seasons, that can only be added bonus.

“That might have played a little part of it knowing the division,” Williams laughed.”

But Williams said it could also be the exact opposite. The Ravens knew who he was from having to get past him to sack Carson Palmer or Andy Dalton for nearly a decade, and they wanted that kind of “lunch pail” attitude on their line.

To “Play like a Raven”, as the theme points out.

“I also know what kind of team this is, Williams said. “I know that the Baltimore Ravens are a tough, blue collar, hard-working team and they felt I could contribute to that and that I have some of those same qualities. They said, ‘Hey, we know this guy can play here’.”

And with a newly-paid running back in Ray Rice in the backfield and with an offense that lives and dies by his yardage, Williams says he’s the perfect guy to clear those holes for Rice.

“It’s what I’ve always been known to do. I’ve always been that hard-nosed, dependable guy that will get down and dirty and likes contact. I like to be physical. I like to get my hands on people.”

He said all it takes for him to get to that level is getting comfortable with the guys lining up next to him at left tackle and center.

“I’ve got to get familiar with my center. And then my left tackle. I’ve been leaning heavily on Matt Birk and Michael Oher. I sit next to Marshal Yanda in meetings and I’ve asked him some things.”

But obviously, with left tackle Bryant McKinnie not in camp so far-but yet announcing he would report Monday for his first practice-he may have to start all over again with that level of comfort with those playing next to him.

But Williams says that’s no problem at all. McKinnie’s addition to this offensive line finally-much like his own signing by the Ravens-only improves their chances of success.

“Whatever we have, we’re working with that and we’re doing a pretty good job. If another piece is added like I was added, it makes us even better.”

And even if things remain as they are, Williams is still confident that this team can do some special things this season. It’s one of the reasons he signed with the Ravens in the first place.

“That’s just the nature of the game. You learn the ropes and you learn to make do with what you had. You learn to make that work. And you go out there and solidify that.”

And the chance to win a ring? Any way I can help with that, I’m there.”

Thanks to Bobbie Williams for chatting with me after practice today! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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McKinnie “issue” casts even darker cloud over offensive line

Posted on 26 July 2012 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 9:20 a.m.)

At first glance, the absence of Bryant McKinnie from the Ravens’ first full-squad practice on Thursday was concerning but hardly surprising.

The left tackle was held out of the team’s mandatory minicamp last month due to conditioning reasons, leaving many to wonder if the 32-year-old would be able to get down to 345 pounds by the start of training camp as the Ravens requested. McKinnie said he weighed 354 pounds in mid-June and vowed to silence his doubters when training camp began.

Instead, his status in Baltimore is up in the air with no clear timetable for a resolution.

Though a team official indicated earlier in the day that McKinnie had failed the required conditioning test, coach John Harbaugh revealed information that presented an even higher level of concern for the state of the offensive line entering training camp. The 11-year veteran not only failed to practice on Thursday, but he hasn’t even reported to the team’s facility in Owings Mills, creating even bigger questions for an aging offensive line already trying to replace Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs.

“He contacted us through a representative,” Harbaugh said. “He is dealing with an issue right now. I don’t really want to speak for him on that. Just let him speak for himself on that when the time comes.”

McKinnie has been placed on the reserve-did not report list, which opens a spot on the 90-man preseason roster but puts the 6-foot-8, 354-pound tackle’s future in doubt.

While most assume the absence is tied solely to the veteran lineman’s weight and conditioning, Harbaugh’s word choice makes you wonder if there are other factors at work with whatever “issue” McKinnie has that’s keeping him away from the training facility in Owings Mills.

When the Ravens signed him last August, they knew they were welcoming a talented tackle with plenty of baggage stemming from nine up-and-down years with the Minnesota Vikings that ended when he was jettisoned at the start of last year’s training camp. However, McKinnie was a model citizen in his first season with the Ravens and was paid a $500,000 roster bonus in March.

His financial problems became public knowledge earlier this offseason as he’s reportedly dealing with a $4.5 million lawsuit stemming from a loan he took out during last year’s lockout. McKinnie was reportedly sued for failing to repay the amount and is slated to make a $3.2 million base salary — after reaching a $1.2 million salary escalator last season — in the final year of his contract with the Ravens.

A regular Twitter user – with updates often tracking his activity late at night — McKinnie hasn’t posted anything on his account since July 22.

Attempts to reach McKinnie for comment have been unsuccessful.

When he’s expected back in Owings Mills is anyone’s guess, including that of his head coach.

“In all honesty, I really don’t know,” said Harbaugh when asked about a timetable for McKinnie’s return. “We should know more here soon.”

McKinnie’s absence puts the offensive line in an even more uncomfortable position as right tackle Michael Oher will now shift back to the left side, where he started full-time with mixed reviews in 2010. Many have wondered whether Oher has the ability to play at a high level on the left side, but the Ravens have no choice but to move the 2009 first-round pick back to his natural position for now.

“We’ve always believed Michael Oher is a left tackle here,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to put the five best linemen out there, and last year, to do that, Michael was a right tackle. I am very comfortable with Michael at left tackle. Until further notice, he is the left tackle.”

Where that leaves the Ravens at right tackle is a far less desirable question to answer.

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Ravens adding another veteran to left guard mix?

Posted on 24 July 2012 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens set to hold their first training camp practice for rookies, quarterbacks, and injured veterans on Tuesday, they may be adding another veteran to their highly-contested left guard competition.

Former Bengals and Browns guard Eric Steinbach will work out for the Ravens on Tuesday as first reported by CBS Sports. The Ravens opened a spot on their training camp roster Monday by releasing guard Howard Barbieri.

The 32-year-old Steinbach missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing back surgery and was due to make $6 million this season before he was released by Cleveland in March. While questions remain about his health at this stage in his career, Steinbach played in all but three games over his first eight years in the NFL with Cincinnati and Cleveland before last season’s back injury.

“Eric’s a great player,” said Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda about his fellow Iowa alum. “If he’s healthy, you never know. We’ll see what happens.”

If Steinbach’s workout goes well, he could join veteran Bobbie Williams and younger offensive linemen Kelechi Osemele and Jah Reid in a competition for the left guard position. The Ravens lost Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs in free agency and were unable to sign Philadelphia free-agent guard Evan Mathis earlier this offseason.

Upon signing a two-year contract in early June, Williams became the favorite to start on the Ravens’ aging offensive line, but a healthy Steinbach would certainly add another viable option to the mix. Steinbach has reportedly garnered interested from other teams besides the Ravens.

A second-round selection of Cincinnati in the 2003 draft, Steinbach signed a seven-year, $49.5 million contract with the Browns prior to the 2007 season. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate for the 2007 season.

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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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