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Rice, Canty, three others listed as doubtful against Texans on Sunday

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Rice, Canty, three others listed as doubtful against Texans on Sunday

Posted on 20 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s appearing very likely that the Ravens will be without their Pro Bowl running back against the Houston Texans as Ray Rice was listed as doubtful on the final injury report of the week on Friday.

Recovering from a left hip flexor strain sustained in the Ravens’ 14-6 win over Cleveland in Week 2, Rice missed three straight days of practice and is in danger of missing his first game since his 2008 rookie season when he was sidelined for three contests. Coach John Harbaugh typically likes to see players practice — at least on a limited basis — on Friday to prove they are ready to play in the game but had stated on Monday that Rice wouldn’t need to practice this week in order to play against the Texans.

Defensive end Chris Canty (groin) and rookie linebacker Arthur Brown (pectoral strain) were also listed as doubtful after missing practice for the third straight day of practice. Canty suggested on Thursday that he was optimistic and could still potentially play in the game without practicing all week after suffering a groin injury late in the first half of the Browns game.

“There’s really nothing new to report,” Harbaugh said prior to the release of Friday’s report. “If I had something different with a guy, I’d share it with you, but they are all working hard to get back. They’re all kind of in the same neighborhood as far as getting back, particularly [Canty] and Ray Rice and those guys who were injured last week. It will be a game-time decision for those guys, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed although we’re prepared for it to go either way.”

With Rice likely to miss Sunday’s game, backup running back Bernard Pierce would be making his first career start. When Rice exited last Sunday’s game in the fourth quarter, Pierce picked up a bigger portion of the workload, gaining 57 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries for the afternoon.

The second-year back said the key to being ready to start is preparing mentally in the same way he normally does and treating it like any other game in which he’s played at the NFL level. Signed just last week, former Chiefs running back Shaun Draughn would serve as Pierce’s backup if Rice is sidelined.

“In my mind, I was never a No. 2 back,” Pierce said. “It was just me and Ray rotating all through the game. I’ll have the same mentality. I’m just out here trying to win.”

Canty will likely be replaced in the starting lineup by veteran Marcus Spears, with Arthur Jones sliding to Canty’s 5-technique defensive end spot and Spears occupying the 3-technique defensive tackle position in the Ravens’ 3-4 base defense.

Wide receiver Deonte Thompson (foot) was also listed as doubtful after missing the final two days of practice this week after initially returning to the field on Wednesday. He hasn’t played since the Ravens’ preseason opener on Aug. 8.

Cornerback Chykie Brown (knee) and defensive tackle Brandon Williams (toe) were both present and working during Friday’s practice. They worked as limited participants this week, but Brown is listed as questionable while Williams is doubtful since he hasn’t played since the preseason finale on Aug. 29.

Wide receiver Jacoby Jones (knee) and offensive lineman Ryan Jensen (foot) will not play against the Texans after missing practice all week. Jones was officially ruled out on Wednesday while Jensen was ruled out Friday and still hasn’t practiced since breaking his foot in the first week of training camp.

For Houston, safety Ed Reed (hip) and starting left tackle Duane Brown (toe) are both listed as questionable while wide receiver Andre Johnson is probable after sustaining a concussion last Sunday.

Here is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: WR Jacoby Jones (knee), WR Ryan Jensen (foot)
DOUBTFUL: LB Arthur Brown (chest), DE Chris Canty (thigh), RB Ray Rice (hip), DT Brandon Williams (toe), WR Deonte Thompson (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Chykie Brown (knee)

HOUSTON
QUESTIONABLE: LT Duane Brown (toe), TE Garrett Graham (hip/groin), FS Ed Reed (hip)
PROBABLE: LB Brian Cushing (knee), TE Owen Daniels (rest – NIR), RB Arian Foster (calf/chest/thumb), WR Andre Johnson (concussion/back), CB Jonathan Joseph (rest – NIR), LB Joe Mays (quad), CB Brice McCain (knee), C Chris Meyers (back), RT Derek Newton (knee/calf/elbow), WR DeVier Posey (achilles/foot), LB Darryl Sharpton (hip), LG Wade Smith (knee), RB Ben Tate (shoulder)

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Rice absent from practice for second straight day

Posted on 19 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after six players missed practice, the Ravens didn’t receive much better news on Thursday as Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice was absent once again while continuing to recover from a hip flexor strain.

Coach John Harbaugh said Monday that Rice would not need to practice to potentially play in Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans, but his continued absence makes it apparent that backup Bernard Pierce will play a bigger role in the offense even if Rice is available. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell acknowledged this reality prior to Thursday’s practice after Pierce carried the ball 19 times for 57 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland last Sunday.

“He’s been a guy that’s run extremely hard,” Caldwell said. “In particular, when you look at our situation right now, he’s going to have to carry a little bit more of a load, but we fully expect him to be able to step up and do the job.”

Defensive end Chris Canty (groin), linebacker Arthur Brown (pectoral strain), offensive lineman Ryan Jensen (foot), and wide receiver Jacoby Jones (knee) all missed practice for a second straight day. Jones has already been ruled out of Sunday’s game as he continues to recover from an MCL sprain suffered in the season opener two weeks ago.

Expressing optimism that he’d be able to play on Sunday prior to missing Thursday’s practice, Canty acknowledged the possibility of still being able to play on Sunday without practicing all week. The ninth-year defensive lineman exited the Week 2 win against the Browns early in the second half and didn’t return, but magnetic resonance imaging returned no indication of structural damage earlier this week.

“It feels pretty good,” Canty said. “We’ll continue to go about the process and hopefully be able to participate on Sunday. As a veteran football player, you think you can be ready. I’ve been in this situation before. I’m just trying to get in the best physical condition I can, so I can have an opportunity to help my football team win.”

Wide receiver Deonte Thompson (foot) was not present during the portion of practice open to the media, which is concerning after the second-year wideout took part in Wednesday’s workout on a limited basis. He has not played in a game since injuring his foot in the preseason opener on Aug. 9.

The good news on the injury front came in the return of cornerback Chykie Brown to the practice field after an MRI earlier this week indicated there was no structural damage to the knee he strained against Cleveland. The third-year defensive back did not participate in Wednesday’s practice.

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams (toe) was practicing for the second consecutive day after working on a limited basis on Wednesday.

For Houston, free safety Ed Reed (hip) and wide receiver Andre Johnson (concussion) were limited participants as both appear to be good candidates to play on Sunday. Left tackle Duane Brown continues to be sidelined with a turf toe injury, leaving his status in doubt for Week 3.

Here is Thursday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
OUT: WR Jacoby Jones (knee)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Deonte Thompson (foot), LB Arthur Brown (chest), DE Chris Canty (thigh), C Ryan Jensen (foot), RB Ray Rice (hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Chykie Brown (knee), DT Brandon Williams (toe)

HOUSTON
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LT Duane Brown (toe), TE Garrett Graham (hip/groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Andre Johnson (concussion), TE Owen Daniels (rest – NIR), FS Ed Reed (hip), LG Wade Smith (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Jonathan Joseph (rest – NIR), LB Brian Cushing (knee), RB Arian Foster (calf/chest), LB Joe Mays (quad), CB Brice McCain (knee), C Chris Meyers (back), RT Derek Newton (knee/calf), WR DeVier Posey (Achilles/foot), LB Darryl Sharpton (hip), RB Ben Tate (shoulder)

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Rice misses Wednesday’s practice, J. Jones already ruled out for Sunday

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Rice misses Wednesday’s practice, J. Jones already ruled out for Sunday

Posted on 18 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were missing a number of players from the practice field on Wednesday with running back Ray Rice topping the list of absentees.

The sixth-year back was not present for the portion of practice open to media after he sustained a hip flexor strain in Sunday’s 14-6 win over the Cleveland Browns. Coach John Harbaugh indicated on Monday that Rice would not need to practice at all this week in order to play in Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans, meaning his absence for the first practice of the week shouldn’t be interpreted as a strong indicator of his status for Week 3.

Harbaugh wasn’t in the mood to offer any further update on Rice’s health prior to Wednesday’s practice.

“How he feels? No, I haven’t had a chance to say [much to him],” Harbaugh said. “I said, ‘How are you doing, Ray?’ He said, ‘Good.’ So, there’s your update.”

As expected, wide receiver Jacoby Jones (knee) wasn’t working on Wednesday and has already been ruled out for Sunday’s game as he continues to recover from a sprained MCL.

Defensive end Chris Canty (groin), linebacker Arthur Brown (pectoral strain), and cornerback Chykie Brown (knee) were also missing from the opening part of practice after each underwent a magnetic imaging resonance test for their respective injuries sustained against the Browns. However, Harbaugh passed along the good news that none of their MRIs indicated long-term concern for their ailments.

Where each player stands for Sunday’s game remained up in the air.

“With the rest of it, we’ll just stand on the injury report with that,” Harbaugh said. “There was nothing of a long-term nature [on the MRIs].”

The Ravens did see two players return to the practice field as wide receiver Deonte Thompson (foot) and defensive tackle Brandon Williams were working on a limited basis. Each player worse shorts while others were in full pads, but their attendance was a step in the right direction.

Thompson hadn’t practiced since injuring his foot in the preseason opener on Aug. 9 while Williams injured his toe in the preseason finale on Aug. 29. The rookie defensive tackle expressed optimism to finally be out of a walking boot and to have the ability to move around normally again.

“It’s just one more step to being closer to the field,” Williams said prior to Wednesday’s workout. “It’s frustrating because you want to be out there. It’s good to finally be in a regular pair of shoes. It feels good and increases your positivity.”

Offensive lineman Ryan Jensen (foot) was not practicing on Wednesday and is not expected to play against the Texans.

For Houston, free safety Ed Reed (hip) practiced on a limited basis while starting left tackle Duane Brown (toe) and wide receiver Andre Johnson (concussion) did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. The overall opinion in Houston is that Brown will miss Sunday’s game while recovering from a significant case of turf toe, but Johnson is expected to be cleared in time for Sunday’s game in Baltimore.

Here is Wednesday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
OUT: WR Jacoby Jones (knee)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Arthur Brown (chest), CB Chykie Brown (knee), DE Chris Canty (thigh), C Ryan Jensen (foot), RB Ray Rice (hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Deonte Thompson (foot), DT Brandon Williams (toe)

HOUSTON
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LT Duane Brown (toe), WR Andre Johnson (concussion)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Owen Daniels (rest – NIR), CB Jonathan Joseph (rest – NIR), FS Ed Reed (hip), LG Wade Smith (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Brian Cushing (knee), RB Arian Foster (calf/chest), TE Garrett Graham (hip/groin), LB Joe Mays (quad), CB Brice McCain (knee), C Chris Meyers (back), RT Derek Newton (knee/calf), WR DeVier Posey (Achilles/foot), LB Darryl Sharpton (hip)

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Rice won’t need to practice to play against Texans on Sunday

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Rice won’t need to practice to play against Texans on Sunday

Posted on 16 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens continued to present a positive outlook for running back Ray Rice’s status following the left hip flexor strain he suffered in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over Cleveland.

Rice did not return to the game, but the sixth-year back did not undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test, a good sign that the injury isn’t considered a long-term concern. The Ravens were held 99 yards on 36 carries with Rice carrying 13 times for 36 yards before exiting the game, but coach John Harbaugh was optimistic once again about Rice’s prognosis moving forward.

“That’s the indication, that it’s not anything that’s really serious,” Harbaugh said. “They would be looking at it if they thought it was. We’ll just be day to day with him.”

With the Ravens struggling to run the ball in each of their first two games of the regular season, Rice’s availability will be crucial with the Houston Texans coming to Baltimore on Sunday. However, the injury reports for practices this week probably won’t provide a strong indication of Rice’s progress and you’d assume his hip ailment will lead to more opportunities than normal for backup Bernard Pierce on Sunday.

Pierce gained 57 yards on 19 carries, including a 5-yard touchdown to put the Ravens in front of Cleveland for the first time with 5:13 remaining in the third quarter. Through two weeks, the Ravens rank 22nd in the NFL with 78.5 rushing yards per game and their 2.8 yards per carry average is 28th in the league.

“Ray’s a guy I’d probably lean toward resting him this week [during practices] and then seeing how he looks this weekend,” Harbaugh said. “He’s not going to need the practice to play in the game, but if he feels great, we’ll put him out there. If he doesn’t, we’ll probably rest him and get him ready to go on Sunday if possible.”

Harbaugh did not have any significant updates on the Ravens’ other injuries from Sunday’s game aside from defensive end Chris Canty undergoing an MRI for his injured groin. Cornerback Chykie Brown (knee) and linebacker Arthur Brown (pectoral strain) both underwent MRIs on Monday, but the latter took part in Monday’s walk-through, which could be an indication that his pectoral injury isn’t too serious.

Ready for Reed’s return

Former Ravens safety Ed Reed has yet to make his debut with the Houston Texans due to offseason hip surgery, but Harbaugh and the Ravens fully expect to see the future Hall of Famer lurking in the secondary in his return to Baltimore on Sunday.

Texans head coach Gary Kubiak was optimistic on Monday when asked about Reed’s status after the safety appeared to be close to playing in Houston’s Week 2 win over Tennessee before being ruled inactive. Reed has taken his time in rehabbing his surgically-repaired hip, but you know he had the Week 3 meeting with the Ravens circled on his calendar as a game in which he desperately wanted to play.

“We’ll have to assume that he is going to play,” Harbaugh said. “We’d be surprised if he didn’t play in this game, and we’ll have to assume he’s going to play the way he’s played in the past.”

The Ravens are clearly familiar with Reed’s skill set and mental prowess in the secondary, but there is some level of unknown in how he’ll fit in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ system. Harbaugh acknowledged the Texans’ 3-4 system has similar elements to what the Ravens run in Baltimore, but quarterback Joe Flacco will now face the 35-year-old defensive back for the first time in a non-practice setting.

Harbaugh acknowledged that it will be strange seeing No. 20 on the enemy sideline after his 11 years spent in Baltimore.

“It’s going to be like it was for other teams game planning against us in the past, I suppose,” Harbaugh said. “It will be a different feeling. I’ll let you know afterwards. It’s a little tougher because we haven’t seen him on tape, so we really don’t know how he fits in their defense.”

Lewis entering Ring of Honor

In addition to Reed, the Ravens will also induct future Hall of Fame linebacker into their Ring of Honor on Sunday, adding to what will already be a special day and a meaningful game against one of the best teams in the AFC.

Lewis will speak to the media through a national conference call on Tuesday afternoon before being honored during halftime of Sunday’s game.

The Ravens might even ask for an extra lift from the 38-year-old, who is now making a name for himself off the field as an NFL analyst on ESPN.

“We’ll be emotional about the game, and we’ll feel great about Ray being here for that,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a great honor. It’s something that we’ll all take pride in. Maybe Ray will be ready to give us a little [pep] talk? We’ll be looking for that as well.”

Flacco spends day with family

With his wife Dana giving birth to the couple’s second son on Sunday, Flacco left M&T Bank Stadium immediately after the 14-6 win over the Browns and was given the day off Monday to spend time with baby Daniel.

“We did give Joe some time today to stay up [in New Jersey], because of getting up there so late last night,” Harbaugh said. “I just talked to him through texts, and he seems pretty happy.”

Players will have their regular day off on Tuesday before returning to their Owings Mills facility on Wednesday to continue preparations for Houston.

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Rice’s hip injury headlines list of health concerns from win over Cleveland

Posted on 15 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — The Ravens came away with a 14-6 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, but with it came a new list of health concerns topped by the status of running back Ray Rice.

Rice went down with a left hip injury in the fourth quarter on a non-contact play and was immediately taken to the locker room where he was diagnosed with a hip flexor strain, according to coach John Harbaugh. Backup Bernard Pierce handled the workload the rest of the way to help the Ravens improve to 1-1 on the season.

Baltimore was optimistic after the game about Rice, who wasn’t scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging as of Sunday afternoon. However, it had to be a scary scene for Harbaugh and the Ravens to see one of their best offensive players go down in pain without being touched.

“I don’t have the ‘scary gauge’ on me right now,” said Harbaugh when asked to express how he felt upon seeing the injury occur. “He might’ve gone down to protect himself, too. That’s just something that we’ll have to see. We’re confident and optimistic right now. We’ll have to see tomorrow how he responds to that.”

The Ravens also suffered several injuries on the defensive side of the ball as linebacker Arthur Brown (pectoral strain) and cornerback Chykie Brown (knee strain) both left the game with injuries and are each expected to undergo an MRI on Monday. There was some fear in the post-game locker room that the second-round linebacker’s pectoral injury could be significant, but Harbaugh expressed optimism that Chykie Brown’s knee injury didn’t appear to be serious.

Defensive end Chris Canty left the game after the opening series of the second half with a groin injury and didn’t return as he received treatment on the bench but wasn’t taken to the locker room at any point.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith had his helmet knocked off after a violent collision with safety James Ihedigbo in the second half and was taken to the locker room for a concussion evaluation but returned to action soon thereafter. The 2011 first-round pick also started at corner over Corey Graham in the base defense, which was a change from Week 1.

“Jimmy has been practicing really well,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a really good player.”

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Ravens defense desperate to bounce back from Week 1 embarrassment

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Ravens defense desperate to bounce back from Week 1 embarrassment

Posted on 12 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense has heard the snickering and the mocking over the last week since their 49-27 loss to the Denver Broncos.

As if setting team records for points allowed and touchdown passes surrendered in their first game without future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed wasn’t enough, the Ravens also witnessed former teammate Anquan Boldin catch 13 passes for 208 yards. Of course, it was general manager Ozzie Newsome who famously said in a Sports Illustrated interview this summer that the veteran receiver’s $6 million salary for 2013 was used to bolster the Baltimore defense.

Surrendering 510 yards of total offense to quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense clearly wasn’t part of the plan for a defense many expected to be markedly better than last year’s unit.

“It was definitely tough being the punch line for a lot of jokes on the countdown shows and the morning shows opening weekend in the NFL,” said defensive end Chris Canty, who collected a sack and three quarterback hits in his Baltimore debut. “We’re definitely excited about having the opportunity to change the perception of what people think about us.”

No one wore his emotion on his sleeve more than defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who met with the local media for more than 13 minutes on Thursday. The frustration was apparent in his voice, reflecting that his expectations were much higher than the end result in Week 1.

It’s easy to forget after the 35-point second-half debacle, but the defense held the Broncos to a respectable 14 points and 174 yards in the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Of the 510 yards Pees’ unit surrendered, 307 came on the nine plays of 20 yards or more given up — six of which came in the second half.

“This has been a hard week, because I’m disappointed in the outcome,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I’m disappointed in the statistics, which look terrible. I’m not disappointed in the total defensive effort that we gave. I’m disappointed in nine plays.”

So, what exactly did the Week 1 performance mean aside from contributing to the first season-opening loss of the John Harbaugh era? Was the early hype surrounding the new-look defense undeserved with apparent vulnerability in the secondary?

Is enough credit being given to Manning and a Broncos team that treated the opener like their Super Bowl following January’s heartbreaking divisional round defeat at the hands of the eventual world champion Ravens? As much as we discussed the potential of Pees’ unit in 2013, the Ravens featured six new starters from last year and such change doesn’t always come together as quickly as you expect on paper.

The Ravens should view their first-half performance and the 59 defensive snaps in which they held Denver to 203 yards as positives on which to build, but those nine plays were critical in transforming a competitive game into one of the worst defeats in the Harbaugh era.

You can’t sugarcoat the reality of what happened.

“Big plays in this business will kill you,” Canty said. “Offenses are too good. You’ve got to limit the opportunities to drive the ball down the football field. Dean talks a lot about making people go the long, hard way [to score]. We just didn’t do that enough last Thursday and we paid the price for it.”

Much of the frustration expressed by Pees on Thursday stemmed from the fact that he felt so many of the mishaps were either avoidable and correctable. From missed tackles to blown coverages, there wasn’t much to like with the pass defense as Manning threw five touchdowns in the second half.

Should it be chalked up to miscommunications, the infamous Denver altitude, or simply the brilliance of Manning and his ability to exploit any imperfection in technique or positioning?

“Your guess is just as good as mine,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “Not every week [do] you get to practice or play against a team that’s explosive like they were. They were a good football team, but that was last week. We’re here to focus on the Cleveland Browns.”

As much as fans and media continue to dwell on last week, the Ravens have turned the page in focusing on Cleveland and an offense lacking the explosiveness of their Week 1 opponent. Second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden is a far cry from Manning and the Browns lack the array of receiving weapons on display in Denver.

The Browns make no secret about their desire to pound the football with bruising running back Trent Richardson, which should play right into the Ravens’ hands. While there were some questions about a secondary featuring new starting safeties Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo entering the season, most agree the strength of the Baltimore defense is its front seven, which didn’t play poorly against the Broncos.

Even with the catastrophic breakdowns in the secondary, the Ravens held the pass-happy Broncos to 2.9 yards per carry on 23 attempts while collecting three sacks and hitting Manning seven times. Much of that came with Baltimore using an extra defensive back, leaving the box more vulnerable against the run. You’d expect the Ravens to play more of their base defense on Sunday, with Courtney Upshaw seeing more than the 37 snaps he played against Denver and defensive tackle Arthur Jones possibly returning to action after a three-week layoff due to an irregular heartbeat.

“To ask our line to play a six-man box all game against their running game and hold them to [65] yards?” Pees said. “Best we’ve ever done. To hit Manning that many times? [That’s the] best we’ve ever done. But it all negates because of the other. That’s why it is personal. It bothers me, and the only thing that’s going to take the stink off of it is you know what.”

The most intriguing aspect of Sunday’s game might be potential adjustments made in the secondary from Week 1. After Corey Graham struggled playing the nickel against veteran slot receiver Wes Welker, Pees moved Lardarius Webb to the inside when the Ravens used three cornerbacks.

As he did prior to last year’s ACL injury, Webb can lock down the slot receiver while serving a more active role in stopping the run, which wouldn’t be a bad idea with the Browns more committed to the ground attack than most teams. However, it will be interesting to see how Pees handles the nickel this year considering neither Webb nor Graham has the size of former cornerback Cary Williams to play on the outside opposite Jimmy Smith in the nickel package, leaving the secondary potentially vulnerable against taller wideouts.

Cleveland offensive coordinator Norv Turner is surely aware of the Ravens’ struggles against Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, who caught five passes for 110 yards and two touchdown while abusing linebackers and safeties. Browns tight end Jordan Cameron was one of the lone highlights of his team’s Week 1 loss to Miami as he caught nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.

Rookie inside linebacker Arthur Brown saw only six defensive snaps and could be an option to spell Josh Bynes in the nickel package — as he did through much of the preseason — and first-round safety Matt Elam could be called upon if either Huff or Ihedigbo falter in pass coverage. Elam replaced Huff late in the game in Denver and figures to be a major factor defensively sooner rather than later.

Even with potential personnel and scheme adjustments made by Pees moving forward, the most improvement will need to come from within as the Ravens are convinced the season opener was more aberration than reality against one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Lewis and Reed may no longer be in the defensive huddle, but their high defensive standard still remains as holdovers and newcomers always reference it.

But talking about it and actually showing it are two different things, a lesson the Ravens learned in embarrassing fashion last week.

“We know we have some things we need to work on, so this week, we go back to work, because we want to be better,” Webb said. “[It was] kind of an embarrassment. Raven football, we don’t play that way.”

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Ravens defense aiming to make expectations reality in post-Lewis era

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Ravens defense aiming to make expectations reality in post-Lewis era

Posted on 03 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens heard the questions, the concerns, and the doubts about their once-proud defense in the weeks and months that followed their win in Super Bowl XLVII.

How would they survive without the retiring Ray Lewis, arguably the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history and unquestionably the leader and face of the franchise for their entire 17-year existence? What would they do to replace future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed’s presence in the defensive backfield as well as in the locker room? And how could they afford to lose younger talents such as Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Bernard Pollard, and Cary Williams in a quest to rebuild an aging and frequently-ineffective defense?

Those who downplayed Lewis’ departure because of his declining play over the final seasons of his career couldn’t overlook the colossal void in leadership and identity that needed to be addressed for an organization that both empowered and depended upon his presence. And after years of watching former Baltimore defensive players escape Lewis’ shadow before finding that the grass wasn’t greener elsewhere, the Ravens themselves will now see how they fare without him.

“In the spring, everybody was hitting the panic button on us because of the guys we lost,” Pro Bowl linebacker and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs said. “Even though we were very sad to see those guys go, the show must go on.”

The time for change was right as general manager Ozzie Newsome remembered what some had seemingly forgotten while basking in the image of confetti dropping in New Orleans in a storybook ending for the 2012 Ravens. Though praised for a “bend but don’t break” style that was good enough to complement quarterback Joe Flacco’s incredible postseason performance, the Baltimore defense finished 17th in total defense, tied for 12th in points allowed, 20th against the run, 17th against the pass, and tied for 15th in sacks.

Frankly, the defensive numbers and overall performance were un-Raven-like as Baltimore was weak along the defensive line as well as at safety, prompting Newsome to trade wide receiver Anquan Boldin and his $6 million base salary in 2013 to clear just enough salary cap space to rebuild the defense in terms of both talent and leadership. Defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears would provide improved depth upfront while free safety Michael Huff seemed like a good bet to, at worst, match the declining play of Reed for a fraction of the cost that the Houston Texans paid for the longtime Raven’s services in free agency.

The prize of the group, however, was Denver Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who was released due to a contract-restructuring snafu made by his former agent and joined the Ravens after signing a five-year deal worth a maximum value of $35 million. It appeared to be a bargain for a three-time Pro Bowl selection whose work ethic and leadership have been praised by everyone in the organization from the moment he stepped foot in Owings Mills in the spring.

“I think [it comes with] the way you play on the field and how you lead by example,” Dumervil said. “Leadership doesn’t come with talking or speech — it’s just how you carry yourself. I’ve always been a leader. That’s just natural for me, and I think I’ve learned how to follow before I can lead.”

After drafting four defensive players in the first four rounds of April’s draft, Newsome had one more trick up his sleeve in signing longtime Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith to a one-year deal on the same day the Super Bowl champs visited President Barack Obama at the White House. The 31-year-old has stepped in to play Lewis’ Mike linebacker position while looking like the team’s best player in the preseason, recording 14 tackles and a sack while showing steady ability in pass coverage.

Initially perceived as little more than an insurance policy for injured inside linebacker Jameel McClain, Smith has been praised by everyone in the organization, ranging from his new defensive teammates to quarterback Joe Flacco. Smith’s personality couldn’t be more different from Lewis, which might be a positive while handling such an unenviable task of replacing a legend.

“He doesn’t say a lot, because he’s just about business, and then you sit down and talk to him and realize the depth of his character and personality,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a great family man, he’s a mature guy, he’s a man. And he’s also – I really believe – one of the most underrated defensive players in football over the last eight [or] nine years. We feel pretty fortunate that he’s here right now.”

The common threads among the five veteran newcomers were the leadership qualities they displayed with their former teams. It was clear the Ravens weren’t simply placing the defensive leadership crown on the heads of Suggs and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata alone.

There was no replacing Lewis or Reed, but the Ravens appear to be pleased with their by-committee approach as they enter Thursday night’s opener against the Denver Broncos. On paper and in the controlled environment of spring and summer practices, the transition has appeared organic and seamless.

Suggs will be viewed as the new figurehead, but the 30-year-old has acknowledged repeatedly that he’s not looking to be the next Lewis and has appeared more subdued than in past seasons. Overall, it’s a Baltimore defense that lacks the bravado of past units without the camera-friendly Lewis out in front, but the quiet confidence veteran newcomers and young players alike have expressed seems appropriate in a new era.

“It’s different like in any organization when you lose guys that have been there for so long that they kind of assume those roles,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think everybody else kind of sat back and just said, ‘Well, that’s really kind of not my role. That’s kind of Ed [Reed] and Ray’s [Lewis] role.’ Now those guys are stepping up, and I don’t think it’s any one particular guy who’s saying, ‘OK, I’m going to be the new Ray Lewis.’ It’s just a bunch of guys collectively stepping up and showing some leadership.”

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Mixed bag to be expected in Ravens’ preseason opener

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Mixed bag to be expected in Ravens’ preseason opener

Posted on 08 August 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

The Ravens’ preseason-opening 44-16 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers provided much of what you’d you expect to see in the first exhibition game of the summer.

Some good, some bad, and much unanswered from the starting units with almost a month of preparation remaining until the start of the regular season. We did learn that the Baltimore backups were far superior to the Buccaneers’ reserves, but that’s not the type of information that will offer much for the Ravens’ aspirations to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

A revamped defense showed versatility and strong play from veteran newcomers such as inside linebacker Daryl Smith (five tackles) and defensive end Chris Canty (a sack on the opening series) but also featured communication breakdowns in the secondary that led to a few big plays surrendered in the passing game, including a 61-yard completion to tight end Tom Crabtree to end the first quarter. With so many new pieces in place, it will take time to for Dean Pees’ unit to get on the same page, but the front seven looks quite formidable on paper, especially with healthier versions of Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata in the mix.

The addition of Smith has eased concerns over the status of Jameel McClain as the former Jacksonville Jaguar carried over a strong start in training camp to Thursday night, showing a good nose for the ball and solid ability in pass coverage. He cemented his status as the overwhelming favorite to call the signals for the Baltimore defense in Denver on Sept. 5.

Canty played exactly how the Ravens hope he will this season as a 5-technique defensive end, holding his ground against the running game and showing a good burst as a pass rusher on the opening series of the game when he sacked Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman on third down.

Offensively, the pass protection held up well enough aside from blitzing linebacker Lavonte David coming untouched to sack quarterback Joe Flacco on the Ravens’ first offensive series. Two plays later, Flacco forced a pass attempt to wide receiver Jacoby Jones that was picked off by former Baltimore defensive back Danny Gorrer.

Center Gino Gradkowski made the start over former Indianapolis Colt A.Q. Shipley and appeared to play solidly with a starting offensive line sans Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, who continues to work his way back from offseason shoulder surgery.

It wasn’t an impressive debut for the wide receivers as Flacco turned to running backs Ray Rice, Vonta Leach, and Bernard Pierce more frequently in his two series of work. Torrey Smith was the only wide receiver to register a catch — making two receptions for 16 yards — with the starting quarterback in the game. Jones, Tandon Doss, and Deonte Thompson were targeted five times Thursday night and recorded just one combined reception with a couple drops mixed in there as well.

While those three have received the most attention in the much-discussed battle for the second and third receiver spots, the standout receiver of the night was LaQuan Williams, who made a tough 21-yard touchdown catch early in the second half after recovering two fumbles as a special-teams performer in the second quarter, one of them in the end zone for a touchdown late in the first half. A forgotten man after finishing last season on injured reserve, Williams may have earned himself a few more reps with the starting offense after Thursday’s outing and was in the mix as a wide receiver as a rookie in 2011.

Needless to say, the voids left behind by Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin were apparent, but the Ravens are fully aware that Flacco will need time to develop chemistry with a new batch of targets. And that doesn’t mean a veteran addition won’t become a reality at some point between now and September.

Above all, the special teams shined as Justin Tucker connected on all three of his field goal tries, Brynden Trawick blocked the punt recovered by Williams in the end zone, and Bobby Rainey had a 58-yard kickoff return. With only a handful of spots on the 53-man roster realistically up for grabs, this is where coach John Harbaugh wants to see younger players excel and Jerry Rosburg’s units did not disappoint.

Truthfully, the final score doesn’t offer an accurate picture of how the starters performed as the Ravens trailed 6-0 early in the second quarter when most key starters had already begun exiting the game. Flacco finished his night 7-for-9 for 57 yards and an interception as he couldn’t find open receivers down the field and the defense did plenty of bending without breaking after giving up some big plays in the first half.

It’s important not to overreact to any one player’s performance in one practice game, but backups such as Williams, outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton (a sack and an additional quarterback hit), and cornerback Asa Jackson (an interception) made strong statements for roster consideration with their performances Thursday night. Often criticized by portions of the fan base for not being good enough to be the backup quarterback, Tyrod Taylor threw two touchdown passes and showed an increased willingness to stay in the pocket, attempting 23 passes and just five runs in his extended period of work.

A preseason win is better than a preseason loss, of course, but we knew no questions would be resolved following Thursday’s tilt with the Buccaneers.

The wide receiver position remains a mystery, which would have been the case regardless of how Jones, Doss, and Thompson performed.

Gradkowski appears to be the current favorite to be the starting center, but Shipley will still receive his opportunities.

The inside linebacker position appears to be looking clearer with the strong play of the veteran Smith, but Josh Bynes and Arthur Brown will continue to fight it out for the starting weakside inside linebacker spot next to Smith.

Rookie Matt Elam is still chasing veteran James Ihedigbo for the starting strong safety spot but showed the same physicality that impressed scouts and coaches after watching his tape from his days at the University of Florida.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway from Thursday’s game was the aftermath of Moe Lee’s fourth-quarter interception in which the rookie foolishly tried to lateral the ball as he was going to the ground. Though former Ravens safety Ed Reed may have been smiling somewhere if he caught a glimpse of that play, the coaching staff certainly wasn’t amused.

However, it wasn’t Harbaugh or his assistants who ran to correct the rookie defensive back as the veteran Suggs calmly walked onto the field and explained to Lee why that wasn’t a smart play. It was the kind of defensive leadership the Ravens need following the retirement of Ray Lewis and the free-agent departure of Reed.

Yes, it was only one example of what you’re hoping to see from the 30-year-old linebacker and longest-tenured Raven, but a snapshot is all a preseason game is really worth in the scope of the entire summer.

And looking into the photo that was Thursday night, there was good and bad to take back to the practice field over the next week and beyond.

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Ravens-Buccaneers preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Buccaneers preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 07 August 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

After undergoing more change than any Super Bowl champion in recent memory, the Ravens will offer a glimpse of their revamped roster in their preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday.

The contest will offer little more than a cameo appearance for players expected to make the biggest impact in the 2013 season but will also provide welcome change for a group of players tired of working against one another after two weeks of practices in Owings Mills. Sunday’s practice at the Naval Academy in Annapolis provided a much-needed change of scenery, but a trip to Tampa will bring live-game action to a team with high expectations but also a number of veteran newcomers and rookies expected to contribute immediately.

The outcome of the preseason opener won’t determine answers for any of a number of questions facing the Ravens on both sides of the football, but the game will sharpen the focus of preparation for both coaches and players after facing competition in another uniform.

“They really are tired of seeing each other,” said coach John Harbaugh about the monotony of the first couple weeks of camp. “You can’t tackle to the ground, and you have to take care of one another. The game is a little bit different. The game is the game, and we’ll learn a lot. We’ll have a chance to move forward from there because there will be some things we’re expecting to see that we’ll see. But there will be other things that we’ll be surprised about – good and bad – and we’ll have to build off those things.”

Thursday will mark the first preseason meeting between Baltimore and Tampa Bay, but the teams have split the regular-season series, 2-2. Their last meeting came at M&T Bank Stadium in 2010 when the Ravens won 17-10 en route to a 12-4 season that resulted in the third straight trip to the playoffs for a Harbaugh-coached team. The Ravens haven’t played a game at Raymond James Stadium since the 2006 season opener and, of course, won the first of their two Super Bowl titles in Tampa on Jan. 28, 2001.

The Ravens are 40-27 all-time in the preseason and 13-7 in the Harbaugh era. Baltimore has also won 12 of its last 16 preseason games and is 19-14 in preseason road games.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will be in question. This list, of course, will not include any veterans who may be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference. Cornerback Lardarius Webb is not expected to play as he continues to be held out of most 11-on-11 sessions during practices while working his way back to 100 percent following last October’s ACL injury.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: TE Ed Dickson (hamstring), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), LB Jameel McClain (neck), OL Ryan Jensen (foot), DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee), TE Dennis Pitta (hip)
DOUBTFUL: WR David Reed (groin), CB Lardarius Webb (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: OL Ramon Harewood (knee), S Omar Brown (undisclosed), CB Chris Johnson (undisclosed)
PROBABLE: RB Ray Rice (ankle), S James Ihedigbo (neck), DT Terrence Cody (hip/elbow)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. WR Deonte Thompson

I’ve been as skeptical as anyone about the offseason praise bestowed on the second-year Florida product, but Thompson has looked increasingly comfortable working in the Ravens’ starting offense over the last week, whether it’s lining up in the slot or on the outside while Tandon Doss works inside in certain three-wide sets. Quarterback Joe Flacco complimented Thompson’s ability to work inside while also possessing unique speed for the slot position.

It will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell uses Thompson in the slot as he provides a speed element that neither Anquan Boldin nor Dennis Pitta possessed, but the biggest questions will be whether the former rookie free agent can catch the football consistently — the knock on him during his collegiate career — and whether he’s strong enough to create separation against press coverage. However, Thompson has performed well enough in the spring and summer to warrant extended looks in the preseason.

2. DE Chris Canty

The signings of pash-rush specialist Elvis Dumervil and free safety Michael Huff garnered more attention in the offseason, but Canty will provide the Ravens with a prototypical 5-technique defensive end (lining up over the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle), an asset they sorely lacked last season following the free-agent departure of Cory Redding. Arthur Jones was better suited to play inside and Pernell McPhee battled injuries throughout the year, forcing a banged-up Haloti Ngata to move away from his ideal spot and play outside more often. As a result, the defensive line suffered mightily against the run and getting after the quarterback.

Canty’s unique combination of size, power, and arm length — he’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 317 pounds — is exactly what you’re looking for to hold up against offensive tackles at the point of attack in the running game as well as to get after the quarterback a bit and put hands up to disrupt passing lanes. If Canty can remain healthy, his dirty work upfront won’t always show up in the box score but will be as valuable as Dumervil’s ability to bring down the quarterback and Huff’s work in the secondary.

3. LB Josh Bynes

Veteran Daryl Smith appears to be the overwhelming favorite to man the Mike inside linebacker position, but Bynes is battling Albert McClellan and second-round rookie Arthur Brown for the Will spot with most attention being paid to the Kansas State product for obvious reasons. However, Bynes has taken a large majority of the reps with the starting defense while Brown has primarily worked in sub packages and with the second-team unit.

Bynes missed nearly all of last year’s training camp with a back injury but eventually worked his way back to become a valuable special-teams contributor and filled in admirably after a number of injuries at the inside linebacker position late in the season. He has been complimented by coaches for having a good mind for the game and is strong against the run, making him the early favorite to start over the undersized and inexperienced Brown, who will likely replacing Bynes in passing situations to utilize his pass-coverage ability.

4. C A.Q. Shipley

Shipley’s 6-foot-1, 308-pound frame doesn’t impress you, but his work at the center position has earned him plenty of reps with the starting offense in a close battle with 2012 fourth-round pick Gino Gradkowski. I’ve maintained all spring and summer that Gradkowski was the favorite, but it appears that Shipley has closed the gap over the first couple weeks of training camp.

The Penn State product graded out well in his first real opportunity to play in the NFL last year with Indianapolis, but neither Shipley nor Gradkowski has great size, making you wonder if either will hold up physically against bigger opposing defensive tackles during the regular season. This might be the closest position battle of any for the Ravens this summer.

5. WR Marlon Brown

If you’re looking for this year’s rookie free agent to come out of nowhere in the way that past individuals such as Thompson or LaQuan Williams or Dannell Ellerbe did, Brown is an intriguing candidate because of his 6-foot-4 frame. His final season at the University of Georgia was cut short due to a torn ACL, which limited his ability to work out for teams during the draft process and contributed to him going undrafted.

Brown doesn’t possess overwhelming speed, but he’s shown a consistent ability to catch the football in practices unlike 2012 sixth-round pick and fellow big target Tommy Streeter, who is clearly behind Brown and seventh-round rookie Aaron Mellette on the depth chart. If Brown can shine while working with Tyrod Taylor and the second-team offense over the first couple preseason games, he could find himself at least in the conversation for a roster spot, especially with the Ravens desperately looking for red-zone targets in the passing game following the season-ending injury to Pitta.

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Ravens wrapping up preparations for first preseason test

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Ravens wrapping up preparations for first preseason test

Posted on 06 August 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens concluded their final open practice before their preseason opener with what amounted to little more than an extended walk-through Tuesday, but how much work their starters will receive Thursday night remains to be seen.

Taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first of four preseason games this month, the Ravens are expected to handle playing time for their starters in a manner similar to past seasons, but coach John Harbaugh chose not to tip his hand with too many specifics following Tuesday’s practice. Based on previews years, key veterans such as Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata will likely see just a series or two of action before giving way to backups.

“We’re not going to play the starters the whole game,” Harbaugh said. “How much we play them remains to be seen. We’ve got a plan.”

Based on past seasons, it’s possible some veterans will be held out entirely as former players such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were occasionally rested until the second preseason game, but Harbaugh could view this year differently with significant changes on each side of the ball.

The coach downplayed the possibility of holding out key starters entirely but left himself wiggle room to do so at Raymond James Stadium Thursday night. In last year’s preseason opener in Atlanta, Flacco and the starting offense played into the second quarter after going three-and-out three straight times in the opening period at the Georgia Dome.

“We’ll see. Right now, we’re planning on playing guys,” Harbaugh said. “We need to play, but we’ll see.”

With the Ravens trying to overcome the losses of wide receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta as well as the recent hamstring injury to tight end Ed Dickson, Flacco will search for new options on which he can trust that include young receivers such as Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson as well as newly-signed veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

The quarterback has credited the work of these new targets in practice but downplayed the significance of the first preseason game in trying to answer question marks in the passing attack, acknowledging that he doesn’t expect to see extensive action against Tampa Bay.

“You get used to being back out there and being in and getting hit,” Flacco said. “I haven’t been hit since Feb. 3, so my neck will be sore for a little bit after I get hit for the first time. It always gets you going when you get hit for that first time. It reminds you that you play football.”

Thursday will also mark the first live-game look at a revamped defense that has shown plenty of versatility in practices and looks to have the potential to be better than last year’s unit that finished 17th in yards allowed and tied for 12th in points allowed.

The starting defense could feature up to six new starters, meaning the preseason will be the opportune time to iron out miscommunication as well as build cohesiveness. Flacco was complimentary of the defense on Tuesday, labeling them as “pretty darn good” and complimenting veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith for the way he’s run the defense in practices since being added in early June.

“It’s starting to gel, but we haven’t played in a football game yet,” defensive end Chris Canty said. “We need to go out there and compete against another football team. Play at game speed [and] at game tempo and go through that process. I think we’ve had enough of hitting each other around here. We’re ready to go hit somebody else.”

Of course, Thursday will represent only one snapshot of the work put in during the offseason and the first two weeks of camp, but it provides an early litmus test for veterans as well as an opportunity for others to improve their chances to land starting spots or put themselves on the radar for 53-man roster consideration.

Ultimately, it’s the next significant step in moving closer to games that actually count in less than a month.

“The first preseason game is really just to get out there [in a game setting],” Flacco said. “Hopefully have a couple good series and be very polished and prove to yourself that the practice is paying off.”

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