Tag Archive | "Cam Cameron"

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Defensive coordinator Pees tired of Kruger being compared to Suggs

Posted on 07 September 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ever since the revelation in early May of linebacker Terrell Suggs suffering a partial tear of his Achilles tendon, the Ravens have been peppered with questions about what it means for their pass rush and overall defense in 2012.

On the Friday before the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, it appeared defensive coordinator Dean Pees had heard enough when asked how critical it would be for linebacker Paul Kruger to accumulate more sacks with Suggs expected to be out of the lineup until at least November. Pees reiterated the common theme of multiple players needing to step up in the star pass-rusher’s absence.

Only he didn’t sound nearly as cordial in expressing that this time in comparison to previous statements.

“It has nothing to do with Sizzle. It has to do with playing outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens,” Pees said. “You guys keep comparing; you can never compare two people. It has nothing to do with another guy. There’s no comparison; I never compare them.

“It’s playing outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Period. Whether it’s the Sam, the rush, the Mike, the Will, when Ray [Lewis] was out, it has nothing to do with a guy having to take another guy’s position. It has to do with that guy playing his position.”

The Ravens’ pass rush will receive its first test against a Cincinnati offensive line with three new starters inside, meaning defensive end Pernell McPhee and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata may have opportunities to pressure second-year quarterback Andy Dalton.

Uncertainty remains at both outside linebacker positions with Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan both unproven as three-down players, so Pees will need to be more creative in generating heat on the passer until the Ravens can accurately assess where they’re at in that department. Baltimore is still hoping rookie Courtney Upshaw can also provide a bigger impact than what he showed in an injury-plagued preseason.

No one player has the ability to replace Suggs, but the Ravens hope a combination of rushers along with a deep group of cornerbacks will minimize the damage in the Pro Bowl linebacker’s absence.

“Terrell is a big part of our team, a big part of what we do, and guys are going to have to step up,” safety Ed Reed said. “Not just one player, every guy that’s on offense, defense, and special teams. We’ve all got to pick up that slack, because we know what Terrell brings to the table.”

Suggs was held to one sack in two games against Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, which could mean Kruger and McClellan will have their hands full generating any pressure on Dalton. The question is nothing new as the loss of the Pro Bowl linebacker may knock the Ravens defense from the elite status it enjoys annually.

Pees is right that Kruger shouldn’t be held in comparison to Suggs, but asking whether the sum of the parts can not only match the 14 sacks accumulated by Suggs a season ago but also force teams to game-plan and account for pressure in the same way they’ve done in the past is a relevant and fair query.

“I don’t want to come across stirred up about it,” Pees said. “I’m not, it’s just when you compare players, you take everything so far out of context. It’s not about that; it’s about how he fits in the defense, how does he do his part. He’s one of 11 of this defense and so is Sizzle when he’s in there — he’s one of 11. Whether you game plan certain ways or whatever, that’s what they are. They all have one-eleventh stock in this defense.”

Needless to say, if the Ravens are unable to make Dalton uncomfortable in the pocket Monday, the questions and concerns will only grow louder.

Cameron confident in tight ends getting up to speed

With Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta practicing fully on Thursday and Friday, any notion of the tight ends being game-time decisions was clearly gamesmanship on the part of coach John Harbaugh.

However, with Pitta missing nearly all of training camp and Dickson injuring his shoulder in the first preseason game, it remains to be seen how quickly the pair can become acclimated in a Baltimore offense that focused exclusively on the no-huddle attack this summer. The Ravens relied on both tight ends heavily last season and you’d expect to see the same in 2012, but it will be interesting to gauge how the coaching staff handles their workload after the offense primarily went with three-wide sets in August.

“Both guys – it’s a tribute to both of them – even though they’ve missed practices, they’re not missing meetings, they’re not missing any walk-throughs, they’re not missing any rehab or strength and conditioning,” Cameron said. “[Quarterback Joe Flacco] has such a great rapport with those guys. Not only are they together on the field, they’re around Joe all the time. So I’m thrilled to have them back, and I think they’ll pick up right where they left off with no concerns at all.”

The Ravens used plenty of single-back looks in August, which makes you think we could see Dickson lining up at tight end with Pitta moving to a slot position on a semi-regular basis, but the offense also wants to have more speed on the outside with Jacoby Jones as the No. 3 receiver and possession wideout Anquan Boldin sliding to the slot.

Regardless of how the rotation plays out this season, Monday might be too soon to draw conclusions based on how the playing time is split up against the Bengals as the tight ends are still working their way back into football shape.

Tucker letting it rip on kickoffs

One question asked by fans throughout the preseason has been about rookie kicker Justin Tucker’s unimpressive performance on kickoffs.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg reminded everyone Thursday that the rookie was directed not to send kickoffs as far as he could in order for the staff to evaluate its the kickoff coverage, which struggled a year ago. Tucker was only allowed to take five steps in approaching the ball instead of the ability to take a longer approach to the tee.

With the regular season now upon us, Tucker will be allowed to put his full foot — with full steps included — into each and every kickoff in hopes that the rest of the unit won’t receive as many opportunities to cover.

“He’s certainly going to try,” said Rosburg in describing how Tucker will simply boot it as far as he can. “That is the way we kick off; we try to kick it as far as we can, and we’ll give him that opportunity. You may have seen in the St. Louis game, I believe he did it twice if I’m not mistaken, and one they brought out [of the end zone] and the other one was [kicked] out of the end zone.”

Organization supports Ayanbadejo’s stance on marriage equality

The bizarre story of Maryland House of Delegates member Emmett C. Burns Jr. writing a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti stating his opposition to linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo’s public support of marriage equality created quite a stir this week.

But the Ravens are standing by the veteran’s side.

Ayanbadejo has spoken openly in support of gay marriage countless times, which promoted Burns to write a letter expressing how “appalled and aghast” he was over the public stance and imploring Bisciotti to silence his player. In response, team president Dick Cass issued a statement supporting Ayanbadejo’s right to free speech and even delivered a message directly to the player regarding the matter.

“He said, ‘We’re in support of you, and it’s good that you’re able to voice your opinion and say how you feel,’” Ayanbadejo said. “But Dick personally told me that we’re not an organization that discriminates and he was telling me how he was on Pro Football Talk and he was reading all the comments that people have said and he was overwhelmingly surprised and happy to see that football fans were supporting me and what I said. He told me that I should go there and I should read it.”

Ayanbadejo believes we’ve seen a dramatic shift in support over the last four or five years, with more people beginning to support marriage equality. Cass also offered him a take on the state of NFL locker rooms as it relates to the issue of equality.

“He believes the culture in locker rooms is changing as well,” Ayanbadejo said. “He believes there are gay players in the NFL — they’re just not publicly gay. He thinks that, for the most part, players just want to play with good players. They don’t care who your mother, your father, who you are, what color or creed you are as long as you can play football at this level.”

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Young players to see extensive action in preseason finale

Posted on 28 August 2012 by Luke Jones

While the third preseason game is viewed as the dress rehearsal for the regular season, the preseason finale fails to register a pulse in terms of excitement for most observers.

But don’t tell the Ravens it holds no significance, even if most starters aren’t expected to play against the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night. Of the 75 players remaining on the preseason roster, upwards of 20 players are legitimately fighting for roughly 10 spots on the 53-man roster.

For those individuals, an otherwise innocuous preseason game becomes the most significant contest of their lives.

“This is really an important game to the majority of the team, not the minority of the team, because this is a chance for everybody to really get extended time playing — playing very competitively,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “It’s going to be on film for everybody to see, and it’s down to crunch time where everybody is making their team and making their final cuts and their final roster decisions.”

The Ravens haven’t revealed their plans for the first units on Thursday, but history suggests most starters will be standing on the sideline the entire night. Quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t played in a preseason finale since his rookie season in 2008, and coach John Harbaugh has only played a few starters here and there in the fourth preseason game over the last few years.

Their absence leaves 60 minutes for rookies and fringe players to show the coaching staff why they should be part of the 2012 Ravens.

Entering the preseason as unknowns, rookie free agents such as wide receiver Deonte Thompson, running back Bobby Rainey, and safety Omar Brown have earned consideration for roster spots with strong performances this month. Bubble players will have one more opportunity to leave an impression, which could help them land with the Ravens or one of the other 31 NFL teams when final cuts are made by 9 p.m. on Friday night.

Many debate the number of players teams will keep at each position, but the Ravens don’t construct their roster with the idea of having a set number of receivers, offensive linemen, or cornerbacks. Instead, they are examining how individuals can help them in as many ways as possible.

“Numbers? I’ve never gotten caught up in the numbers game,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “We believe you just keep your best 53. You [also] have to see how you are going to carve out your [eight-man] practice squad.”

A critical factor in awarding the final spots on the roster is identifying players with a unique ability to play special teams. While Thompson and Rainey have stood out at their respective positions, their ability to contribute in the return game and other special teams units has transformed them from strictly bubble players to ones all but assured to earn spots on Friday.

Players with similar abilities at their regular positions who fail to distinguish themselves on special teams often find themselves on the outside looking in if they don’t earn a starting job.

“I think it’s always the case in any team where you get to the point where you are picking your final 53 and you’re not necessarily picking your starters,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “Special teams must always factor in that, because you want to be strong up and down your lineup.”

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Flacco happy to have louder voice in Ravens offense

Posted on 24 August 2012 by Luke Jones

Joe Flacco has made no secret about his enthusiasm for the Ravens running the no-huddle offensive extensively this preseason.

The fifth-year quarterback was masterful in the Ravens’ third preseason game as he completed 27 of 36 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. While it remains to be seen just how much Baltimore uses the high-tempo attack without the benefit of a huddle, it’s clear the Ravens are poised to run it more often than they have at any point under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in the John Harbaugh era.

The addition of quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell — who oversaw Peyton Manning running a similar attack for years in Indianapolis — has not only influenced the implementation of the no-huddle offense but has provided a sounding board for Flacco to have a louder voice in the offense.

“I would say I kind of feel like things that I’m saying are kind of being taken a little bit better,” Flacco said. “I think Jim is a great communicator, so if I say something, he does a great job of getting it across to the rest of the offensive coaches and the rest of the team. Me and John have great talks, and I think that helps, too. You talk to the head coach and you both are on the same page, it definitely facilitates your voice getting across.”

It’s interesting that Flacco mentioned his new position coach and Harbaugh as individuals with which he communicates positively but made no mention of Cameron. While it may have been an innocent oversight, it’s no secret that the pair haven’t been on the same page at different points during their four-plus years together.

Regardless of who’s getting the credit for Flacco’s improvement during training camp and the preseason, Harbaugh still takes enjoyment from seeing performances from Flacco like the one he witnessed Thursday.

“You never take it for granted,” Harbaugh said. “I think Joe looked good, and I think the whole offense looked really good. Credit goes to Cam. [The coaches have] done a great job throughout training camp, but we have a long way to go. It’s the third preseason game. None of them count yet. So, we have a lot of work to do, and we need to get back to work on Saturday.”

Harbaugh’s point is a valid one. As much as we’ve seen the no-huddle attack at work, it remains unknown how often the Ravens will use it during the regular season.

Scoring points against Jacksonville in a game that doesn’t count is fun, but implementing that offensive style in hostile road environments on a consistent basis is a different challenge to overcome. However, Flacco sees the positives outweighing the potential risks as he grows more comfortable in his command of the offense in his fifth season.

“Besides being successful, completing passes, scoring touchdowns and doing it quickly, the no-huddle puts a lot of pressure on the defense in the sense that it can wear them out,” Flacco said. “When you’re rushing upfield after the passer every single snap, come the third and fourth quarter, it’s going to be tough to continue to rush the passer, and it’s going to be tough to stop the run. So, I think we have a lot of things working in our favor.”

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As you’d expect, Ravens still very much a work in progress

Posted on 18 August 2012 by Luke Jones

As was the case in the Ravens’ preseason-opening win over the Atlanta Falcons, you can’t take anything away from the final score after the Detroit Lions won by a 27-12 margin at M&T Bank Stadium Friday night.

On the surface, the first-team units struggled once again as the offense twice drove inside the Detroit 30-yard-line — one taking them all the way to the 7 — before settling for field goals and the defense was unable to stop a high-octane passing attack for the second straight week. However, what’s lost in the scrutiny and excitement of this particular preseason is that the Ravens are reinventing themselves on both sides of the football.

And that remains a major work in progress with 23 days remaining before the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 10.

“I thought we played well early,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We just need to finish the drives [offensively], finish the drives on defense and get off the field on third downs.”

Offensively, quarterback Joe Flacco and the starting offense once again utilized a no-huddle attack for their three series of work. Unlike the preseason opener in which they went three-and-out three straight times, the Ravens developed a decent rhythm early as they used three-wide sets of Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones, and LaQuan Williams — Torrey Smith sat out with a lingering ankle injury — and dropped back to pass on 16 of the 26 play-calls the first offense ran.

It remains to be seen how committed the Ravens are to executing the no-huddle offense when the regular season begins, but it’s becoming clear that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is taking a page from new quarterback coach and former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell in trying to make the high-speed attack a proficient option they can use in larger doses than in the past. The Ravens are facing the challenge of being without top tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta for the remainder of the preseason, but they’re utilizing a third receiver instead of having Pitta work in the slot as he did late last season.

Success with the no-huddle is contingent upon timing and sustaining drives in order to bring your own defense adequate rest.

However, the same problems we’ve seen in the past crept up when the Ravens were moving the ball well. On their second drive, Flacco guided Baltimore inside the 10 before Williams could not bring it what would have been a touchdown and left tackle Michael Oher committed a holding penalty that pushed the Ravens back to the 17. They settled for a 33-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.

A drive later, they moved the ball to the Detroit 29 before reserve running back Anthony Allen whiffed picking up a blitzer for the second straight week and Flacco was sacked on a third-and-1 situation, leading to a 50-yard field goal by rookie Justin Tucker.

At that point, you could close the book on the starting offense’s night, with the same lack of efficiency — in terms of scoring touchdowns, anyway — inside the 30 hanging over their heads.

“That’s why when you do get those two chances, that’s why it’s all about finishing off, finishing off,” Flacco said. “The biggest thing with that is if we’re going to be the offense that we want to be, in order to put up 30-some points every week, you have to score touchdowns. You don’t want to get in the business of just not converting and kicking.”

The most positive news to take away from the offensive side Friday was the improvement of the offensive line. With veteran Matt Birk back at center, the Ravens once again used Oher at left tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele at right tackle while Bryant McKinnie stood on the sideline. Run blocking had mixed results as the bulk of their rushing yards came courtesy of a 35-yard run by Jones, but the Ravens did a much better job protecting Flacco than they did in Atlanta when the quarterback was repeatedly running for his life.

“We’re definitely starting to come together,” offensive tackle Michael Oher said. “We’re still learning and guys are still getting used to some things, but we’re getting better every day.”

Once again, McKinnie did not work with the starting offensive line as you wonder more and more if the Ravens are serious about going with the more athletic combination of Oher and Osemele and how that might be a better fit for their ability to utilize the no-huddle offense. The mammoth veteran tackle blocked well against second-team defenders, but the assumption that he would eventually regain his starting left tackle job appears more uncertain after he wasn’t even rotated in for some work with the first unit.

Watching the Baltimore defense Friday, the most definitive conclusion I took away is that the Ravens are fortunate only to have to play Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in a game that matters once every four years. The best pass-catcher on the planet torched the Ravens in the second quarter with a 57-yard reception matched up against Cary Williams and an 18-yard touchdown over a well-positioned Jimmy Smith.

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Ravens facing interesting decisions at wide receiver

Posted on 15 August 2012 by Luke Jones

The impressive performance of rookie wide receiver Deonte Thompson during training camp has raised questions about how the Ravens will handle roster decisions at what’s considered to be a deep position.

The top of the depth chart is essentially set with starters Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith and veteran Jacoby Jones locked into the No. 3 spot, but the questions begin after that. Second-year wideout LaQuan Williams appears to have a strong hold on the No. 4 overall spot on the depth chart after an impressive camp while 2011 fourth-round pick Tandon Doss has dealt with a hamstring injury.

Despite being sidelined for much of the summer, Doss’ pedigree and offseason work suggest he’s still a safe bet to make the 53-man roster, pushing the Ravens’ total to five receivers before you consider the surprising Thompson or 2012 sixth-round draft choice Tommy Streeter. Thompson has performed at a higher level overall with his exceptional speed and better-than-advertised hands in practices, but Streeter’s 6-foot-5 height and straight-line speed make him the player with the higher upside despite his limited route-running ability and inconsistent hands.

However, the question of whether the Ravens can keep six — or even seven — receivers involves much more than the passing tree and reining in passes from quarterback Joe Flacco. Many will try to project a number of players at each position that are ultimately kept on the 53-man roster, but those decisions are determined by versatility and what type of contributions players can make on special teams. In that sense, a wide receiver is suddenly viewed as an all-around football player and not an individual with a specific skill set at a given position.

“The best players will be kept on the roster,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. “And you may be heavy at a position, but I know John [Harbaugh] believes that, and Ozzie [Newsome] believes that we are going to keep our best players, and if you have a bunch of receivers that are your best players, that will dictate that. If you have receivers that aren’t, than you probably will not have a lot. I’m confident that we have a really good group of receivers on this offense. How many? We are probably going to have more than maybe we can keep, so we’ll see.”

Thompson may gain the edge over Streeter when it comes to his ability on special teams where he’s working in a number of areas. Though only listed as the fourth kick returner on the team’s most recent depth chart, Thompson has also worked as a gunner on the punt team and is learning multiple jobs on the special teams units.

It can only help his cause when the Ravens trim their roster to 53 on Aug. 31 for the regular season.

“He’s working at a variety of different positions,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “He’s one of those guys that we like to cross-train, and we have this expression: ‘The more you can do.’ So, for example, on kickoff coverage, he’s worked as an inside player, he’s worked as an outside player. And on punt return team, we’ve had him work at the end where he’s rushing punts. We’ve had him work at the vice, where he’s holding up gunners. And so, he’s got enough skill where he can play a variety of positions, so we’re trying to expose him to all those different opportunities.

“Depending on how the roster all works out, and depending on where the opening is, we can insert him there and see what he can do. So yes, his speed and his agility – and he’s a football player – you watch him play offense and you can see that, because he has the ability to get open. He’s got good hands, he’s got good spatial awareness and a football sense, and it shows up in special teams as well.”

Even if Thompson or Streeter — or neither — find their way onto the 53-man roster, both would be ideal candidates for the eight-man practice squad.

Whether they’d make it that far before being snatched up by any of the other 31 NFL teams, however, remains in doubt.

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Ravens training camp mailbag

Posted on 05 August 2012 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Ravens wide receiver Streeter long on confidence despite lacking polish

Posted on 30 April 2012 by Luke Jones

Doubts about his route-running ability caused University of Miami wide receiver Tommy Streeter to fall to the sixth round before the Ravens finally took a chance on the 6-foot-5 specimen with the 198th overall pick.

But what he lacks in refinement he makes up for with confidence, showing the same swagger made famous by countless former Hurricanes over the last 25 years. Running the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.40 seconds in addition to his impressive height, the raw Streeter views himself as a dynamic playmaker instead of a sixth-round pick without a guarantee of a roster spot in the fall.

“I feel like I’m one of those guys who can create a mismatch anywhere on the field with my size and speed,” Streeter told AM 1570 WNST on Saturday. “I consider myself to be a deep-threat receiver, a guy that can take the lid off of the defense.”

Streeter caught 46 passes for 811 yards and eight touchdowns in his redshirt-junior season after recording just six receptions for 156 yards in his first two seasons at Miami. The improvement prompted him to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the 2012 NFL Draft, where he initially expected to be taken in the second or third round.

His measurables suggest a receiver with immense potential, but his limited body of work at Miami and lack of quickness getting out of breaks caused teams to pass on Streeter in search of more polished products. Averaging 17.6 yards per catch to lead the ACC among players with at least 45 receptions, Streeter vows not to forget the feeling of falling down the board as he tries to make an immediate impact for the Ravens.

“Over the course of just watching the draft, there were many teams that passed up on me and I thank God that the Baltimore Ravens saw something in me,” Streeter said. “They gave me the opportunity. Everything that I can do to make plays and help this organization, that’s what I’m going to do and I’m just ready to go out there and prove myself.”

General manager Ozzie Newsome made it no secret the organization was looking to add depth at the receiver position, but the Ravens elected to pass on such prospects as Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill and LSU’s Rueben Randle in the early rounds.

Baltimore wide receivers not named Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith combined for just eight receptions and 110 yards in 2011, with former No. 3 target Lee Evans making only four catches in an injury-plagued season before being released in March. The Ravens hope Streeter can eventually emerge as the tall target to which quarterback Joe Flacco can look inside the 20-yard line.

With Boldin and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta working the short and intermediate parts of the field, the Ravens have dreamed about a 6-foot-5 target being able to stretch the field for years. Streeter thinks he can be that guy for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

“Having Torrey Smith, it’s going to be a scary [having] two guys that present that big play, [an] ability to take the top off the defense,” Streeter said. “At the same time, I feel like in the red zone, I just create a mismatch all day down there.”

While the Ravens’ history of drafting defensive players from Miami is known around the NFL, they have rarely counted on offensive standouts from the Florida school, with former running back Willis McGahee the only Hurricane of note contributing on the opposite side of the ball. McGahee was acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills in 2007 and spent four seasons in Baltimore.

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Ravens pass on Boller, sign former Indianapolis quarterback Painter

Posted on 19 April 2012 by Luke Jones

After creating a stir by working out former starting quarterback Kyle Boller on Thursday, the Ravens have instead signed free-agent quarterback Curtis Painter to a one-year deal.

Painter will reunite with Jim Caldwell, who became the Baltimore quarterbacks coach after being fired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts following a 2-14 season in 2011. Former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon also worked out on Thursday before the Ravens decided on Painter.

Painter played in nine games and made eight starts in place of the injured Peyton Manning last season, throwing for 1,541 yards with six touchdowns and nine interceptions. The former Purdue quarterback spent three seasons in Indianapolis.

He will have the opportunity to compete with second-year quarterback Tyrod Taylor for the primary backup job behind quarterback Joe Flacco, but this will not guarantee a roster spot for Painter. The Ravens only carried two quarterbacks on their 2011 roster, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would like to create more opportunities to utilize Taylor’s athleticism in the offense.

At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, the former sixth-round pick of the 2009 draft brings good size but went winless in his eight starts before being benched in favor of Dan Orlovsky, who led the Colts to their only two wins of 2011.

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Ranking the Ravens’ biggest special teams needs

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.

1. Kicker

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.

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tom brady

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Flacco bashing by vocal minority of Ravens fans comes into perspective

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.

Caldwell effect

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