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Even with flaws, Ravens in good position at quarter pole of season

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Even with flaws, Ravens in good position at quarter pole of season

Posted on 28 September 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It was far from the convincing win most anticipated as the Ravens narrowly defeated the Cleveland Browns in a sloppy 23-16 final at M&T Bank Stadium.

Both teams appeared sluggish for extended stretches of play, likely a result of the NFL’s insistence on playing a weekly game on a day most players identify as the point in the week when their bodies are finally recovered from the previous weekend’s contest.

The offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Joe Flacco, allowing four sacks after only surrendering five total in their first three games. An interception and critical penalties netted zero points on two different trips inside the red zone.

The defense once again struggled to consistently pressure the quarterback as rookie Brandon Weeden threw for 320 yards on 52 pass attempts, and the unit continued its early-season tendency of surrendering big plays, allowing six plays of 20 or more yards to a Cleveland offense that entered the night ranked 26th in the league. However, the Ravens made a stop when it needed to as Weeden’s final pass from the Baltimore 18 sailed out of the end zone on the final play of the game.

No matter how many talk-show callers and fans on social media express panic because they didn’t blow out the lowly Cleveland Browns, the Ravens won the game and that’s all that really matters when the new season is still taking shape in September.

“I’ve been in this business long enough, I don’t care about playing perfect,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “I like wins. Because I’ve been home before [after a loss], giving up four field goals and [hearing], ‘Oh, the defense played great, but we lost.’ Forget that, let’s find a way to win.”

As ugly as it appeared at times against the only winless team in the AFC, the Ravens improved their record to 3-1 and finished a challenging stretch of four games played in an 18-day span. Yes, critical questions remain about this team that make you wonder just how legitimate a contender they can be, but their record speaks for itself.

The Baltimore defense still appears incomplete without Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs — and to a lesser extent, Jarret Johnson — as defensive coordinator Dean Pees continues to search for the right combination among Paul Kruger, Courtney Upshaw, and Albert McClellan at the outside linebacker positions. Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones haven’t made anyone forget veteran Cory Redding, who was stout against the run and had the ability to provide moderate pressure on opposing quarterbacks from time to time.

Those questions upfront have left the secondary in a vulnerable position, with cornerback Cary Williams facing the brunt of the criticism after struggling mightily against quarterbacks Michael Vick and Tom Brady in previous weeks. However, it was Williams who provided the eventual game-winning score as he stepped in front of a Weeden pass intended for Travis Benjamin on an out route and galloped 63 yards in the opposite direction for a touchdown to make it a 23-10 Ravens lead late in the third quarter.

Also rising to the occasion despite the pass-rush struggles was Kruger, who picked up the Ravens’ only sack, pressured Weeden at other points, and looked more comfortable when asked to drop into pass coverage by recording two breakups.

Only baby steps for the two struggling players, but the Ravens hope they’re signs of more improvement to come.

“One thing about this league is that it’s hard to win games here,” said Williams, who drew the ire of fans and media alike over his struggles in the first quarter of the season. “It’s hard to play at a high level each and every week. Sometimes, you’re going to get balls caught on you. What you’ve got to do is bounce back and learn from those mistakes you made in the game and just continue to fight.”

Offensively, the Ravens looked unstoppable for brief stretches and couldn’t get out of their own way in others, but Flacco shook off a first-half interception in the red zone to throw for 356 yards, which included an 18-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith. Despite being under duress for much of the night and hobbling from a turned ankle late in the game, Flacco showed once again that the offense is centered around him after the Browns showed a strong commitment to stack the box in an effort to slow running back Ray Rice (18 carries for 49 yards) on the ground.

The poor play by the offensive line resurrected questions about the unit after a strong performance against New England had all but silenced the talk about the younger alignment that includes Ramon Harewood and rookie Kelechi Osemele and a return of Michael Oher to left tackle.

“You go in there and you expect to go out there and score every time you have the ball and you move the ball smoothly,” Flacco said. “Obviously, that’s not the case. You have to go out there and you can’t blink. You go out there and do your best, play-by-play and move the ball.”

Just as we suspected throughout the offseason after the injury to Suggs and the departure of veteran free agents, the Ravens remain an unfinished product, especially on the defensive side of the football. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has more closely resembled a mad scientist in recent weeks as he mixes coverage and pressure packages in trying to throw out variables and identify the best ways for defenders to get to the quarterback.

The reputation of dominating defense built over the last 14 years in Baltimore is now just that — a reputation without the same substance. The Ravens defense in 2012 is vulnerable, bending often but not always breaking by finding ways to make plays in critical situations such as Williams’ defensive score after the Browns had moved into Baltimore territory while trailing by only six late in the third quarter.

Though it wasn’t impressive to allow a winless team to hang around late in the game, the Ravens find themselves sitting pretty atop the AFC North. The issues facing a team in September can still be resolved to some extent or another before they become fatal flaws to seal a season’s fate.

And a 3-1 record says the Ravens are in excellent position after completing the first quarter of the season, even if they didn’t beat up on Cleveland like most expected them to.

“That’s how it is. It’s not college football,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Every team in this league is really, really good. If you understand that, I think you have a chance to find a way to win. We’re a very good team too. When you understand that, you have a chance to find a way to win games against everybody. If you don’t understand that, you have no chance in this league.”

Yes, the Ravens have found a way to win three of their first four games despite their defensive shortcomings and the offense still searching for its true identity that most prominently includes a comfort level with the offensive line.

They must continue to find ways — ideally, by finding answers to their current problems — to keep the promising start rolling.

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Our Ravens/Browns “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens/Browns “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 28 September 2012 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Nasty Purple Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches each.

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 23-16 win over the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium…

Glenn Clark’s Pats…

5. Tandon Doss

4. Haloti Ngata

3. Lardarius Webb

2. Torrey Smith

1. Joe Flacco (Pat on Both Cheeks)

(Ryan’s Pats on Page 2…)

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Our Ravens/Eagles Slaps to the Head

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Our Ravens/Eagles Slaps to the Head

Posted on 16 September 2012 by Glenn Clark

After Baltimore Ravens victories, Ryan Chell and I award players who made positive contributions with “Pats on the Ass” during the “Nasty Purple Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net.

The Ravens fell to the Eagles 24-23 Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, meaning there were no Pats to be awarded.

So instead of offering “Pats on the Ass”, Ryan and I again offered “Slaps to the Head” postgame. A slap on the side of the head from a coach tends to come along with them saying something along the lines of “you’ve gotta do better than that.”

Same rules as there were with Pats. Two offensive players, two defensive players, and a Wild Card (Special Teams player, coach, or another Offensive or Defensive player). One player gets “two slaps” (or a slap on both sides of the head), it’s the opposite of a “Player of the Game” honor.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches after each game.

Here are our five Ravens that have “gotta do better than that.”

Glenn Clark’s Slaps…

5. Arthur Jones

4. Matt Birk

3. Cary Williams

2. John Harbaugh

1. Joe Flacco (two slaps)

(Ryan’s slaps on Page 2…)

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“Chaos” rules day in Philly with scab officiating, Ravens tightrope loss

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“Chaos” rules day in Philly with scab officiating, Ravens tightrope loss

Posted on 16 September 2012 by Nestor Aparicio

Today I did something I’ve never done as a journalist in 28 years of covering sports. Today, I walked into the Baltimore Ravens locker room and the story really wasn’t as much the razor-thin outcome as the ways and means that the purple guys suffered a 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

At every end of the Ravens locker room – from veterans who I’ve never heard utter a bad word about the officials to the coaches who will be mortified when they go back and watch this film – the officiating was the central story of the bitter loss.

A late, reversed call on a phantom pass from Michael Vick that was receovered by the Ravens in the red zone?

A “no yellow flag” pass interference call on Jacoby Jones that took six points off the board for the Ravens? Joe Flacco said the official “threw a beanie.”

Multiple instances where the officials didn’t know what down it was or where to spot the ball?

And, most egregiously, the obvious punching match between DeSean Jackson and Cary Williams that any neophyte NFL fan knows calls for an immediate ejection must make anyone in the league office cringe because that’s a no-brainer and set the tone to allow four more melees to break out at different points in the game.

Several veteran Ravens players chatted with me off the record – as you know the NFL fines anyone who states the obvious about this sham going on with the zebras – and said the biggest issues are the calls being made down the field when the ball goes in the air.

No one knows where the line is for a pass interference call. No one can assess what will be called holding and what won’t. Then there’s the inherent chippiness and ability to bully and further confuse and befuddle these already confused men in black and white.

And as Joe Flacco pointed out, “I think you’re not too smart if you’re not trying to get away with that. See if you can get a call?”

Harbaugh and the Ravens have a chance each week to send notes to New York to the league offices to review plays. Clearly, with this sham today in Philadelphia, he might not even bother filing out a report.

“The challenge for us right now is figuring out what constitutes what. What constitutes illegal contact? What constitutes P.I.?” Harbaugh said in the post game.

No one in the purple locker room came out and said: “We lost the game because of the officials.” Let’s make that clear. Many just said, “It’s a shame.” Flacco says the integrity of the game is being compromised. Ray Lewis had to be pulled away by the Ravens’ PR staff before he said something that would get him fined.

But he did have a litany of interesting things to say and didn’t mince words:

Strange days for the league. Strange days for the officials. And “chaotic,” as it was called by John Harbaugh, seems to reign right now not just for the Ravens but for all teams trying to get a grip on the officiating.

Where is Roger Goodell to answer these questions?

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“The Five Plays That Determined The Game” – Ravens/Bengals

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“The Five Plays That Determined The Game” – Ravens/Bengals

Posted on 11 September 2012 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 44-13 Monday Night Football win over the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s plays:

5. Bernard Pollard deflects Andy Dalton pass intended for Jermaine Gresham (1st quarter)

4. Mike Nugent kicks 18 yard field on 4th and goal from Ravens’ 1 yard line (3rd quarter)

3. Andrew Hawkins tackled by Ray Lewis at Cincinnati 26 for 6 yard gain (3rd quarter)

2. Dennis Pitta 10 yard TD catch from Joe Flacco (3rd quarter)

1. Ed Reed 34 yard INT return TD (3rd quarter)

(Ryan’s plays on Page 2…)

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Our Ravens-Lions “Slaps to the Head”

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Our Ravens-Lions “Slaps to the Head”

Posted on 18 August 2012 by Glenn Clark

After Baltimore Ravens victories, Ryan Chell and I award players who made positive contributions with “Pats on the Ass” during the “Nasty Purple Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net.

The Ravens fell to the Lions 27-12 in their second preseason game Friday night at M&T Bank Stadium, meaning there were no Pats to be awarded.

So instead of offering “Pats on the Ass”, Ryan and I again offered “Slaps to the Head” postgame. A slap on the side of the head from a coach tends to come along with them saying something along the lines of “you’ve gotta do better than that.”

Same rules as there were with Pats. Two offensive players, two defensive players, and a Wild Card (Special Teams player, coach, or another Offensive or Defensive player). One player gets “two slaps” (or a slap on both sides of the head), it’s the opposite of a “Player of the Game” honor.” Ryan and I select five different players after each game.

Here are our five Ravens that have “gotta do better than that.”

Glenn Clark’s Slaps…

5. Tyrod Taylor

4. Billy Bajema

3. Jacoby Jones

2. Jimmy Smith

1. Nigel Carr (Two slaps)

(Ryan’s slaps on Page 2…) 

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Ravens secondary faces another challenge against Detroit

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Ravens secondary faces another challenge against Detroit

Posted on 15 August 2012 by Luke Jones

Last week it was wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White and this week it’s Calvin Johnson, but the Ravens secondary isn’t backing down despite a rough start in the preseason opener.

In fact, the unit is embracing the early challenges against some of the best receivers in football. Against the Detroit Lions on Friday night, the Ravens will arguably see the best receiver in the NFL as the 6-foot-5 Johnson comes off an incredible 2011 season in which he caught 96 passes for 1,681 and 16 touchdowns.

“I am looking to go against anyone,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “It’s not that it’s just ‘Megatron.’ But, it’s going to be a nice challenge going against one of the best receivers in the league. Why not start it off in preseason going against him? Getting your confidence up, getting back used to the game, like I said.”

The Baltimore defense is hoping to avoid a repeat of last week when Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Jones burned the secondary repeatedly, with cornerback Cary Williams receiving most of the attention. Jones caught six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter as the Ravens allowed 191 total yards in the first 15 minutes of play.

However, defensive coordinator Dean Pees credited Ryan’s pinpoint accuracy on several passes and reminded everyone how the front seven was unable to get consistent pressure on the Atlanta quarterback. The Ravens hope to generate more heat on Stafford to aid defensive backs in the battle against Johnson.

A three-and-out as opposed to the touchdown the Ravens allowed on the Falcons’ opening drive would be a fine way to erase the ugly beginning to the preseason.

“We need to get off to a fast start,” Pees said. “That’s the thing that disappointed us Thursday is we got off to a slow start, and we don’t want to let anybody ever drive the ball on us, let alone go down and score on the first possession – certainly not a way you want to start the game. Now, that being said, I’ve played in enough games in 40 years of football that they have scored on the first drive, and we won the game 41-7. You have to also let that go and it’s over with and done. You make corrections on the sideline, you come back and win the game.”

Webb and the Baltimore secondary aren’t panicking over the poor showing against Atlanta after finishing with the fourth-ranked pass defense in the league last season. Pressure will be on the secondary to play at an even higher level after the loss of linebacker Terrell Suggs and how his absence will likely leave a major void in the pass rush.

Webb is expecting Friday’s performance to look much more like the unit that played at an exceptional level last season.

“When you come into the first game, you get a little anxious,” Webb said. “You want to get the interception here, you want to jump here, but it’s all about feeling the game out, feeling the team out. We kind of jumped the gun, tried to jump too much stuff. This game, I think, we are just going to let it come to us – just play football and let the defense open up to us.”

Increased workload for starters?

Starters will see more action in the second preseason game of the summer, but after last week’s nine-play, nine-yard first quarter, the Ravens will shy away from specifying a concrete amount of time the starters will play against the Lions.

As is always the case, certain veteran starters such as linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed will likely be lifted earlier than the rest of their starting mates.

“We will play it by ear right now,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It could be as much as a half, it might not be. We’ll just play it by ear, see how it’s going, and see how many reps we get. Again, it will be more individual. There will be some guys staying longer than other guys. Starters, I think there are categories in there as well.”

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg expressed his preference for Billy Cundiff and Justin Tucker to receive more opportunities on Friday as the Ravens try to decide who will be their place kicker. As was the case last week, Cundiff is expected to start the game before Tucker receives his chance later in the night.

It remains to be seen whether recently-injured players such as Torrey Smith, Jimmy Smith, and Courtney Upshaw will play on Friday, and Harbaugh wasn’t tipping his hand about the status of any players when he spoke to reporters on Wednesday.

“We’ll see,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t really want to mention anyone particularly right now. We will just see how it goes.”

Fight like a Raven


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Ed Reed misses practice; Yanda, J. Jones exit early

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Ed Reed misses practice; Yanda, J. Jones exit early

Posted on 06 August 2012 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 6:35 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Returning to the practice field for the first time since their public workout at M&T Bank Stadium over the weekend, the Ravens were without safety Ed Reed during the opening portion of practice Monday afternoon.

Midway through Saturday’s practice, the veteran appeared to bang his left leg but finished the workout without any apparent concerns. Reed walked out to the field to watch the latter portion of practice while sporting a sleeve on his left leg. Reed received the day off last Monday along with linebacker Ray Lewis but has practiced every other day since reporting to training camp on July 25.

In addition to the laundry list of players missing at the start of practice, right guard Marshal Yanda, wide receiver Jacoby Jones, defensive end Pernell McPhee, and running back Anthony Allen did not finish Monday’s practice. Yanda left the field at the conclusion of the opening special teams period and showed no visible discomfort, but he never returned over the course of a practice that lasted over two hours.

“Jacoby, I pulled him out about midway through,” Harbaugh said. “I just felt like he’d done enough. Marshal, I pulled him out early in the practice and just felt like he’d had enough. And Pernell, I’m not sure about. That wasn’t me, so we’ll have to find out about that one.”

Wide receiver Tandon Doss (hamstring), cornerback Cary Williams, and tight end Ed Dickson returned to the practice field on Monday. Doss had been sidelined since the first week of camp while Williams missed workouts on Friday and Saturday but told reporters the absence wasn’t related to his surgically-repaired hip and he was simply resting. Dickson was poked in the eye during the stadium practice, but the third-year tight end told reporters he would be fine.

In addition to Reed, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and defensive tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu were new absences on Monday. However, each player missed one practice last week.

Others absent included cornerback Jimmy Smith (back), offensive linemen Matt Birk (back) and Jah Reid (calf), linebackers Courtney Upshaw (shoulder), Josh Bynes, and Darryl Blackstock (groin), defensive lineman Arthur Jones (hip), running back Bernard Pierce (hamstring), wide receiver Patrick Williams (leg), and tight end Dennis Pitta (hand).

Upshaw has now missed seven straight practices and hasn’t worked since July 28 after suffering a sprained shoulder in a collision with Pierce. While the Ravens are eager to see him return to the practice field, Harbaugh reminded everyone there are plenty of reps remaining in the preseason and the team is not deviating from its plan to replace linebacker Terrell Suggs.

“He got lots of reps in the offseason program earlier,” Harbaugh said. “We just need to get him out there participating. Obviously, Sergio’s a big part of that. Albert’s gotten a lot of reps. Paul Kruger’s been out there the whole time. Courtney’s a piece that we need to evaluate and develop, and he’ll be in there soon enough.”

Suggs remains on the non-football injury list while wide receiver David Reed is on the physically unabe to perform list, and both are expected to miss the entire preseason.

The Ravens will practice again on Tuesday before traveling to Atlanta for their preseason opener on Thursday night.


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Healthy Boldin poised for best season with Ravens

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Healthy Boldin poised for best season with Ravens

Posted on 30 July 2012 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camp highlights

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

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

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

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

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

Fighting words

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

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

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


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Early impressions from Ravens training camp

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Early impressions from Ravens training camp

Posted on 29 July 2012 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue >>>

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