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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

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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Attendance down for Ravens’ second week of OTA workouts

Posted on 30 May 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With this week’s organized team activities remaining voluntary for Ravens players, it was only natural to see fewer attendees after such a strong showing during last week’s workouts.

Of the seven players missing from last week’s practices, only veteran center Matt Birk was back in Owings Mills for the second week of practices. Linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon surgery), safety Ed Reed, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, running back Ray Rice (unsigned franchise tag designation), and rookie cornerback Asa Jackson (school in session) were once again absent this week.

After attending workouts last week, guard Marshal Yanda, offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, safety Bernard Pollard, fullback Vonta Leach, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, and wide receiver Anquan Boldin elected not to be present for this week’s practices.

A veteran choosing to skip voluntary workouts is hardly surprising — even though it draws the ire of some fans — but a number of young players were also absent on Wednesday. Offensive lineman Jah Reid, cornerback Jimmy Smith, defensive end Pernell McPhee, wide receiver Rodney Bradley, linebacker Cody Glenn, and defensive tackle Bryan Hall were not on the field during Wednesday’s workout.

Since Reid is competing with rookie Kelechi Osemele for the left guard position and Smith and McPhee are looking for more playing time on the defensive side of the football, their absences were less expected than experienced players like the 17-year veteran Lewis, who is essentially going through the motions during OTAs.

It’s important to stress these workouts are voluntary, but coaches certainly make mental notes of players not attending these practices — even though they generally won’t admit it.

“Any time that they can be here is always a benefit for them,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees when asked about Smith and McPhee not being present. “It’s a benefit for us too. It gives us a chance to evaluate them further. It’s also good for them because they pick up whatever we’re doing scheme-wise, because we’re adding a lot all the time. The whole part about OTAs is to try to get the whole package in — even sometimes when it doesn’t look good.”

Cornerback Cary Williams (hip surgery), wide receiver and return specialist David Reed (ACL surgery), and offensive lineman Howard Barbieri (unspecified) were present but not working during Wednesday’s practice. Williams will have another doctor appointment later this week to see how his surgically-repaired hip is progressing and hopes to increase his level of participation during next month’s minicamp.

The fifth-year cornerback is expected to be 100 percent by the time training camp begins in late July. He has been working on conditioning on the side field during OTAs.

“I’ll be out there doing individual drills, running around, doing a lot more cutting, doing a lot more jumping around, catching the balls,” said Williams about his goals for mandatory minicamp. “I might even do one-on-one’s; it just depends on how well it goes. I see the doctor on Friday, so hopefully we’ll come back with some good news.”

Osemele left the field during the early portion of Wednesday’s practice and returned wearing street clothes in the final minutes of the workout. The 333-pound lineman did not appear to be favoring any particular body part as he jogged off the field.

When asked about the rookie’s status following practice, coach John Harbaugh was in mid-season form by not revealing any specifics.

“Like all these guys, they’ve got little bumps and bruises and stuff like that for this time of year,” Harbaugh said. “I’m really not going to get into injuries in May, but he’s fine.”

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from John Harbaugh, Cary Williams, Cam Cameron, Dean Pees, Jerry Rosbury, and rookie kicker Justin Tucker right here.

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Without Suggs, challenging road to Super Bowl becomes longer for Ravens

Posted on 03 May 2012 by Luke Jones

Only time will tell whether Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs will be able to return to the field at some point during the 2012 season.

But there’s no disputing Baltimore’s Super Bowl aspirations took a significant blow on Thursday with the news of the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year suffering a torn Achilles tendon in Arizona last weekend. Suggs insists he’ll be ready to play by midseason, but the severity of the injury suggests just how ambitious that proclamation might be.

Plain and simple, the Ravens must prepare for the 2012 season under the assumption that they won’t have their best defensive player for the entire year.

What looked more like a luxury pick six days ago when general manager Ozzie Newsome selected Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw with the 35th overall pick of the NFL Draft now looks like a foretelling gift from a higher power as the rookie becomes the most logical candidate to assume Suggs’ spot at the rush linebacker position.

Most view Upshaw as a promising addition to the vaunted Baltimore defense, but the Ravens and their fans know the unforgiving truth.

There’s simply no replacing Suggs, who collected a career-best 14 sacks and earned an invitation to his fifth Pro Bowl a season ago. His subtraction alone transforms an elite defense into one without the dominant pass-rusher required in this pass-happy era of the NFL.

Ray Lewis is still the heart of the defense and Ed Reed the soul, but Suggs was the one-man wrecking crew that propelled the defense to an AFC-leading 48 sacks and the third overall defensive ranking in 2011. In addition to the sacks, forced fumbles, and tackles, Suggs’ impact on the defense goes beyond what you see on the stat sheet.

Even if Upshaw is ready to contribute immediately at the position, the trickle-down effect of Suggs’ absence will be felt in all aspects of the defense. His ability to consistently beat offensive tackles allows the Ravens to play more four-man fronts and rely on fewer blitzes in passing situations. Opponents game-plan specifically for the rush linebacker, having to account for him on every play while defensive teammates often reap the benefits along the way.

With so little cap room – less than $2 million — at their disposal and the draft and primary wave of free agency already in the rear-view mirror, the Ravens won’t have the luxury of making dynamic changes to their makeup on either side of the football. They have little choice but to depend on those already on the roster to make the game-changing plays Suggs provided in past seasons.

Replacing Suggs’ production and impact cannot simply fall on the shoulders of the rookie Upshaw.

Third-year linebacker Paul Kruger, who looked like he had found himself in a competition with the Alabama rookie, will presumably take the reins of the strong-side backer position left behind by veteran Jarret Johnson. In addition to setting the edge and becoming an every-down player, Kruger will need to provide a larger presence as a pass-rusher after collecting 5 1/2 sacks last season.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees may now be forced to take more chances upfront by using defensive end Pernell McPhee more often than he anticipated since projected starter Arthur Jones doesn’t offer as much in the pass rush as he does defending the run. This would leave the Ravens lighter along the defensive line and vulnerable against the run in certain situations.

Young reserves such as Albert McClellan, Sergio Kindle, and Michael McAdoo will now find themselves a spot higher on the depth chart and only an injury or two away from potentially being forced into action.

However, the component of the defense facing the most pressure without Suggs is the Baltimore secondary, which surprisingly ranked fourth in the league in pass defense a year ago. Taking nothing away from the breakout seasons enjoyed by Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams, there’s no arguing how much the secondary benefited from Suggs’ ability to pressure the quarterback.

Webb, Williams, and 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith – with Reed still patrolling in center field – will need to take additional steps forward as opposing quarterbacks won’t have No. 55 chasing them around in the pocket — at least for the first half of the season. After signing a new long-term contract and proclaiming his unit the best secondary in the NFL a few weeks ago, Webb and his teammates in the defensive backfield will need to prove just that to prevent the defense from taking a substantial step back in 2012.

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Big picture takes priority in draft over immediate needs for Ravens

Posted on 23 April 2012 by Luke Jones

In summing up the phenomenon that has become the NFL Draft over the years, former Ravens coach Brian Billick’s introductory mantra for teams drafting a quarterback is more than fitting in describing the entire event.

Nobody knows anything.

Of course, the phrase is hyperbole when considering the individuals — such as the ones residing at 1 Winning Drive in Owings Mills — who have proven time and time again they mostly know what they’re doing. Still, other organizations over the years — the franchise down the road in Landover comes to mind — have either used their picks as blind shots at a dartboard or, even worse, sold them away for deteriorating veteran pieces for the short term that often leave their franchises in football purgatory.

While everyone hopes to discover the winning Powerball ticket, there is just as much anxiety about uncovering the kind of skunk that can get the head coach, general manager, and scouting department fired. After four months of mock drafts, 40 times, pro days, and the assembling of draft boards, we’ll finally get our first look at the hand each of the 32 teams is holding this weekend.

And, even then, the same will hold true for everyone after the 253rd pick is turned in Saturday evening: we won’t really know for a few more years.

For the Ravens, we all know the philosophy and can recite it by heart. It’s all about the “best player available” and staying true to their draft board. However, they arguably have their most glaring need — the left guard position — since drafting Joe Flacco as their badly-needed franchise quarterback in 2008.

Whether you believe second-year tackle Jah Reid can successfully make the transition to left guard or not, it doesn’t take a fortune-teller to predict loud concern among fans should the Ravens walk away without an interior lineman in the first couple rounds of the draft. Even if that scenario plays out, a look at recent history reminds us how essential it is to allow the results to play out.

In 2008, the second-round selection of Rutgers running back Ray Rice appeared curious after the Ravens had just forked over multiple draft picks and a hefty contract to Willis McGahee the year before. Of course, Rice soon became a Pro Bowl running back while McGahee drifted to a backup role before ultimately being shown the door last year.

And with the benefit of hindsight and the surprising emergence of Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams last season, would the Ravens have still selected cornerback Jimmy Smith with the 27th overall pick in 2011 or perhaps traded out of the spot to address another area?

Could the Ravens pass on selecting a guard and watch Reid blossom into an above-average guard?

You never know what the future holds, making it even more critical to choose the player you envision to be the best over the next four or five years and not just one who can help immediately in 2012.

The consensus choice among experts’ mock drafts is Wisconsin center Peter Konz, who makes perfect sense on paper because of the perceived ability of Konz to shift over to left guard for a season before taking over for veteran Matt Birk, whose three-year contract is essentially structured to be a one-year deal. Konz would certainly address the Ravens’ most immediate need, but will he ultimately be the best player available when thinking about the next four or five seasons?

The Ravens have lacked a tall, impact receiver since the early years of the franchise, making it difficult to pass on a raw talent with major upside such as Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill at the end of the first round. As WNST.net’s Glenn Clark pointed out, there is value at wide receiver in the second and third rounds, but does make you turn away from Hill and toward another position, even if you’re confident he becomes a premier receiver over the next five years?

Other than perhaps quarterback and cornerback, the Ravens could stand to benefit from adding premium talent at any position. In the unlikely scenario that a left tackle prospect such as Riley Reiff of Iowa or Stanford’s Jonathan Martin becomes available — and assuming the Ravens’ brass grade out the given player as favorably as the experts do — Baltimore shouldn’t think twice about drafting its left tackle of the future, even if it means he sits on the bench for a year behind Bryant McKinnie and is unable to spend a cameo season at guard. The same holds true if Alabama’s Mark Barron slides down the draft board, even though the Ravens appear set at safety this season with Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard under contract.

The NFL Draft is about building franchises for the long haul, not plugging holes for that coming fall. You weigh the merits of perceived “safer” picks such as Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler who might have a lower ceiling against the potential rewards of drafting an upside player like Hill who possesses a higher bust rate.

If you’re confident that safe pick will blossom into a Pro Bowl player, you take him like the Ravens did with Ben Grubbs in 2007. But there are other times where rolling the dice — within reason — is the best move if you’ve done your homework and are confident in your coaching staff and the young man in which you’re investing.

The good news is Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta, and Joe Hortiz know these lessons as well as any talent evaluators in the league.

Whether their first-round selection falls in line with an immediate need such as guard or wide receiver or is more of a long-term consideration like left tackle, inside linebacker, or safety, the Ravens are looking beyond next season when they turn in their card on Thursday night. It’s not just about 2012 and trying to move the Ravens one step further than they went last year; it’s finding the player who will put them in the best position to win over the next five years.

You never truly know whether it’s going to work out or not, but keeping the big picture in focus will keep you pointed in the right direction.

It’s not always what the fans want and it may leave them scratching their heads and groaning about the results on draft day, but you’re ultimately making the choice based on the cheers you expect to hear over the next several years.

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Cary Williams Skipping Workouts Because of Injury, Not Contract

Posted on 17 April 2012 by WNST Audio

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Ravens linebacker Ellerbe to report to facility on Tuesday

Posted on 16 April 2012 by Luke Jones

Though fellow restricted free agent Cary Williams is not expected to report for the Ravens’ offseason training program for a few more weeks, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe will not waste any time in signing his second-round tender.

The 26-year-old linebacker told WNST.net he will report to the team’s Owings Mills facility on Tuesday and sign his second-round tender, which is worth $1.92 million for the 2012 season.

Ellerbe is projected to be the Ravens’ top reserve at the inside linebacker position and was offered the second-round tender amount before starting inside linebacker Jameel McClain re-signed with Baltimore. The former Georgia product missed seven games in an injury-plagued 2011 season.

Williams is not expected to report for offseason workouts until at least early May as his representation tries to work out a long-term contract with the Ravens.

 

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Ravens ink five exclusive rights free agents as offseason workouts begin

Posted on 16 April 2012 by Luke Jones

In what was nothing more than a formality, the Ravens announced they have signed five exclusive rights free agents as they opened the doors to their Owings Mills facility for offseason workouts on Monday.

Long snapper Morgan Cox, cornerback Danny Gorrer, linebackers Sergio Kindle and Josh Bynes, and offensive lineman Justin Boren signed contracts as players began reporting for voluntary workouts.

Exclusive rights players have two or fewer accrued seasons in the NFL and do not have any negotiating rights.

Quarterback Joe Flacco also reported to the team’s facility on Monday as the Ravens continue to discuss a long-term contract with his agent Joe Linta. As expected, running back Ray Rice did not report for offseason workouts on Monday and remains nowhere close to a long-term agreement.

Tight end Kris Wilson, center Andre Gurode, and linebacker Edgar Jones are the only remaining unrestricted free agents from last year’s team who remain on the open market. Cornerback Cary Williams and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe have yet to sign the second-round tenders the Ravens extended to them as restricted free agents.

Williams is not expected to sign his tender for a few more weeks, and the Ravens remain in long-term contraction negotiations with the starting defensive back.

In other news from Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars have reached an agreement with former Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans on a one-year contract. In an injury-plagued lone season in Baltimore, Evans made just four receptions after the Ravens traded a fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills last August.

 

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Ravens expected to be without two key contributors for start of offseason program

Posted on 13 April 2012 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will officially open their Owings Mills facility for the start of their offseason workout program on Monday, but they shouldn’t expect to see two key starters waiting at the door.

Running back Ray Rice and starting cornerback Cary Williams are not expected to attend the voluntary workouts that will begin on Monday. Many veterans are typically absent at the start of the workouts, but the absences of both Rice and Williams stem from the status of their respective contracts.

After receiving the franchise tag in early March, Rice and agent Todd France have gotten nowhere with the Ravens in long-term contract negotiations and is not expected to attend organized team activities without a new contract. The two-time Pro Bowl back is currently scheduled to play with the $7.7 million franchise tender should the sides fail to reach an agreement on a new contract by July 15, and it’s possible he would decide to hold out during training camp without a new deal in place.

Meanwhile, Williams was given a second-round tender as a restricted free agent, which would pay him a $1.92 million salary for the 2012 season. Williams’ agent Marc Lillibridge also represents Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb, who signed a six-year, $50 million contract last week, so it’s interesting to speculate how that might have impacted the sides’ negotiations regarding a new deal for Williams.

Attempts to reach Lillibridge for comment were unsuccessful.

Williams is not expected to sign his restricted tender for a few more weeks, according to the NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora. However, the 6-foot-1 corner would probably not benefit from holding out considering the Ravens drafted Jimmy Smith in the first round of last year’s draft. Restricted free agents have until June 15 to sign the offered tender or the team may reduce the tendered amount to 110 percent of last year’s salary while still retaining the rights to the player.

Neither Rice nor Williams is required to report for voluntary workouts and are currently not under contract.

The Ravens have not yet announced the dates for their mandatory minicamp.

In other news, La Canfora reported the Ravens have made a “conservative” one-year offer to center-guard Jason Brown, who played in Baltimore from 2005 to 2008. Most recently with the St. Louis Rams, Brown was released earlier this offseason and was benched at one point last season due to ineffective play.

The Ravens are an estimated $1.9 million under the salary cap, meaning any offer to Brown or another veteran interior lineman would likely barely exceed the league minimum for veterans.

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Ravens agree to six-year deal with cornerback Lardarius Webb

Posted on 05 April 2012 by Luke Jones

A day after general manager Ozzie Newsome confirmed they were negotiating a long-term extension, the Ravens announced they have agreed to a six-year, $50 million contract with cornerback Lardarius Webb.

The fourth-year defensive back was a restricted free agent set to receive the first-round tender ($2.74 million) for the 2012 season before the two sides completed a contract to keep the former Nicholls State product in Baltimore beyond next year.

The deal reportedly includes a $10 million signing bonus and $20 million guaranteed.

A third-round pick in the 2009 draft, Webb emerged as the Ravens’ top cornerback in his first year as a full-time starter. He led the team with five interceptions and added three more in the postseason in 2011.

The 26-year-old also did not allow a touchdown pass as opposing quarterbacks held a 55.6 quarterback rating when throwing against him.

“Lardarius is an important player for the Ravens, and we’re very happy he will be with us for a long time,” Newsome told the team’s official site.

Webb also served as the primary punt returner last season, though coach John Harbaugh said on Wednesday that the Ravens would prefer to use a backup in that role in a perfect world. Webb returned a punt for a touchdown in a win at Cleveland in early December.

The Ravens entered the 2011 season with uncertainty at the cornerback position before Webb and Cary Williams emerged as starters to contribute the fourth-ranked pass defense in the NFL. Their play relegated 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith to nickel duty in his rookie season, though he’s expected to compete with Williams for the Ravens’ other starting spot this summer.

Speculation persisted earlier this offseason that other teams might pursue Webb as a restricted free agent and be willing to surrender a first-round pick to Baltimore in order to sign him, but Thursday’s announcement removes any doubt about Webb’s future with the Ravens.

Newsome confirmed on Wednesday that the team was also in negotiations with Williams, who shares the same representation as Webb.

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