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Ranking the Ravens’ biggest defensive needs

Posted on 15 February 2012 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to begin on March 13 and the draft to follow in late April, the Ravens continue to evaluate their needs in all three phases of the game.

After evaluating the biggest offensive needs on Monday, I offer my thoughts on the defensive side of the football by ranking the biggest positions of need entering the offseason.

1. Outside linebacker

For a team as rich as any at the linebacker position over the last 15 years, it’s unusual to see the Ravens with such glaring needs within the unit. Veteran Jarret Johnson is an unrestricted free agent and will be 31 by the start of the 2012 season, suggesting he would be a necessary casualty when addressing a list of 13 unrestricted free agents.

However, there isn’t a single option on the roster with which the Ravens would feel comfortable as a starting strongside linebacker. Paul Kruger shows ability as a pass rusher but has not shown the necessary ability in pass coverage or run defense to consider him an option as a three-down player at this point.

After appearing in only two games this past season, former second-round pick Sergio Kindle is probably more likely to be cut than to find himself in the starting lineup next season. The former Texas product has struggled to learn the Baltimore defense and still feels effects of a fractured skull suffered just days before what would have been his first training camp in 2010, but the 24-year-old will benefit from a full offseason at the team’s Owings Mills facility. Along the same lines as Kindle, Michael McAdoo — who spent the 2011 season on injured reserve — is an intriguing name to monitor but shouldn’t be in the discussion for a starting position at this point.

With that in mind, the Ravens might be more inclined to re-sign Johnson than many would think. Much like they did with Ray Lewis in the winter of 2009, the Ravens will allow the veteran linebacker to explore his value in the open market and see if they can come to an agreement that makes sense for both sides. Of course, new Indianapolis head coach and former Ravens defense coordinator Chuck Pagano could try to overpay for Johnson to bring a Baltimore flavor to the Colts defense. One factor working against the Ravens is a relatively-thin market for outside linebackers, which would not only drive up the price for Johnson but also mean they’d still have to pay handsomely for a replacement.

The Ravens would love to find a young outside backer who can play the run as effectively as Johnson while showing more ability in pass coverage. They could look to a draft prospect such as North Carolina’s Zach Brown, Oklahoma’s Ronnell Lewis, or Utah State’s Bobby Wagner in the early rounds, but the Ravens have rarely shown enough confidence in rookies to step into a starting job at the linebacker position.

The dream scenario would be to find an outside linebacker with enough pass-rushing ability to alleviate attention from Terrell Suggs on the opposite side, but Kruger did an adequate job in getting after the quarterback in passing situations.

2. Inside linebacker

The talk has only grown louder regarding the need to find the heir apparent to future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, but the Ravens first need to figure out who will be playing next to him in 2012.

Jameel McClain is an unrestricted free agent and while the Ravens have to be pleased with his development after signing him as a rookie free agent in 2008, the 26-year-old will likely command more money than Baltimore is willing to pay to retain his services. This would leave Dannell Ellerbe, Albert McClellan, and Josh Bynes as potential replacements. Ellerbe is an restricted free agent while the latter two are exclusive rights players, meaning all three are very likely to return.

Veteran Brendon Ayanbadejo is also a free agent, meaning the Ravens could be in danger of losing arguably their best linebacker in terms of pass coverage.

Ellerbe has shown impressive potential in limited doses, but his work ethic has come into question on a number of occasions to draw the ire of coach John Harbaugh. The Ravens might be content with plugging Ellerbe into the other inside linebacker spot for now, but he’s far from a safe bet to be an answer beyond the 2012 season.

The Ravens face a difficult proposition in how to handle Lewis, who still plays the run effectively but is a liability in pass coverage. The prudent answer would be to limit the veteran to action on first and second down, but explaining that to one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history is easier said than done. You also need to have a viable replacement before you tell the defensive leader he comes off the field in passing situations.

While there has been plenty of talk over the last year or two to find Lewis’ eventual replacement, this year’s draft appears to be a critical time to find an up-and-coming inside linebacker. The Ravens have been linked to both Dont’a Hightower of Alabama and Vontaze Burfict of Arizona State in various mock drafts. The problem is Hightower may be off the board by the time the 29th pick rolls around and Burfict’s character has come into question with a reputation for delivering cheap shots and reportedly sucker-punching a teammate in practice last August.

3. Safety*

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RicePats

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Sizing up the Ravens’ 2012 free-agent class

Posted on 26 January 2012 by Luke Jones

In the aftermath of the Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship on Sunday, the finality of the season coming to an abrupt end was accompanied by the all-too-familiar feeling knowing that same team will never be together again.

The reality of the NFL’s offseason brings substantial change to all 32 teams — some more than others — and forces players to say goodbye to others for the final time as teammates.

“It’s tough to really think about that,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “You know it’s going to happen, but you don’t know which guys it’s going to be, so it’s tough to be in our shoes and go through that. You finally just take it for what it is, and before you know it, you hope you had a good relationship with everybody on the team and said as much as you could say to that guy. We hope we can bring as many people back as we can.”

While other moves will be made — cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr and wide receiver Lee Evans are the strongest candidates to be cut despite being under contract for the 2012 season — the Ravens have 13 unrestricted free agents, four restricted free agents, and four exclusive-rights free agents entering the offseason. I’ve included the entire list with a brief thought on each player’s potential future in Baltimore.

Two dates to keep in mind as the offseason begins are the March 5 deadline to designate a franchise player and the start of free agency on March 13 at 4:00 p.m.

Unrestricted free agents

RB Ray Rice
2011 stats: 16 starts, 2,068 yards from scrimmage, 15 touchdowns
Skinny: Rice isn’t going anywhere as the Ravens will either use their franchise tag on the Pro Bowl back or sign him to a long-term deal, though the latter would certainly create more cap space for 2012.

G Ben Grubbs
2011 stats: 10 starts, first Pro Bowl selection
Skinny: The Ravens clearly would like to bring the left guard back, but with Marshal Yanda receiving a sizable deal a few months ago, can the organization afford to invest so much money in the guard position?

C Matt Birk
2011 stats: 16 starts
Skinny: After 14 seasons in the league, Birk may decide to retire, but the Ravens could elect to go with the slightly-younger Andre Gurode or look to the draft for the center position.

LB Jarret Johnson
2011 stats: 16 starts, 56 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks
Skinny: With Johnson on the wrong side of 30, it might be time to part ways with the veteran linebacker, but the Ravens lack a logical replacement on the current roster with the disappointing development of 2010 second-round pick Sergio Kindle and the limitations of pass rusher Paul Kruger.

LB Jameel McClain
2011 stats: 16 starts, 81 tackles, one sack, one interception
Skinny: The former undrafted free agent credits Ray Lewis for his growth, so you have to wonder if McClain becomes the next Baltimore linebacker to receive an inflated contract elsewhere.

DE Cory Redding
2011 stats: 15 games (11 starts), 43 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks
Skinny: Before an ankle injury slowed Redding over the final month of 2011, he was having his best season in years, but the Ravens could elect to go with younger — and cheaper — defensive lineman Arthur Jones at this position.

LB Brendon Ayanbadejo
2011 stats: 16 games, 27 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, nine special teams tackles
Skinny: The 35-year-old intends to play in 2012 and expects to be back with the Ravens, but the nickel linebacker may not be on the same page as Baltimore in terms of a contract to make his return feasible.

S Tom Zbikowski
2011 stats: 14 games (four starts), 16 tackles, one sack
Skinny: Largely a forgotten man after Bernard Pollard wrestled away the strong safety job early in the season, it appears Zbikowski will likely try to find a new home where he can start.

S Haruki Nakamura
2011 stats: 15 games, three tackles, nine special-teams tackles
Skinny: In a similar position to Zbikowski, the Ravens will likely make a harder push to keep Nakamura due to his exceptional ability as as special teams player.

OL Andre Gurode
2011 stats: 13 games (five starts)
Skinny: Signed as an insurance policy behind Matt Birk, the 10-year veteran wound up being needed at left guard for an injured Grubbs and could be the short-term replacement at center next season.

DT Brandon McKinney
2011 stats: 12 games, 14 tackles
Skinny: A regular part of the rotation along the defensive line, it’s hard to envision teams beating down McKinney’s door, but the Ravens may try to go younger and cheaper than the six-year veteran.

TE Kris Wilson
2011 stats: 15 games, four special teams tackles
Skinny: His touchdown catch in the divisional round was his claim to fame, but the veteran’s competent special teams ability may not be enough to keep him in Baltimore next season.

LB Edgar Jones
2011 stats: nine games, three special teams tackles
Skinny: Though he was active all nine games after being signed in early November, there’s a reason why Jones was unemployed when the Ravens were looking for special-teams depth.

Restricted free agents
(The Ravens can offer a tender attached to a draft pick and then have the right to match any offer from an opposing team and would receive that team’s draft pick if they choose not to match it.)

CB Lardarius Webb
2011 stats: 16 games (15 starts), 68 tackles, five interceptions, sack
Skinny: With another season like he had in 2011, Webb will be looking for a large payday and deservedly so.

CB Cary Williams
2011 stats: 16 starts, 77 tackles, two forced fumbles
Skinny: Easily the most pleasant surprise on the Baltimore defense, Williams will battle 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith for a starting corner job in training camp.

LB Dannell Ellerbe
2011 stats: nine games (three starts), 17 tackles
Skinny: The third-year linebacker always leaves you wanting more but could find himself in position to compete for a starting role depending on how the Ravens address the inside linebacker position this offseason.

RB Matt Lawrence
2011 stats: Did not play (injured reserve)
Skinny: Though a competent special-teams player when he’s been healthy in his three-year career, you have to think the Ravens are ready to cut ties with the injury-plagued back.

Exclusive-rights free agents
(These are players with two or fewer accrued seasons and own no negotiating rights.)

LS Morgan Cox
2011 stats: 16 games
Skinny: There’s no reason to think the Ravens are displeased with Cox’s performance as the long snapper.

CB Danny Gorrer
2011 stats: 11 games, three tackles, four pass breakups
Skinny: Considering he was pushing Chris Carr for the No. 4 corner spot by season’s end and was strong on special teams, Gorrer should have no reason to think the Ravens won’t bring him back.

LB Sergio Kindle
2011 stats: two games
Skinny: The Ravens will bring Kindle back, but he’ll need to make major strides in the offseason and training camp to make the 53-man roster again.

LB Albert McClellan
2011 stats: 16 games (one start), seven tackles, 12 special teams tackles
Skinny: He drew a start for the injured Ray Lewis on Thanksgiving night and is one of the best special teams players on the team, making his return a certainty.

 

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Chuck Pagano, Terrell Suggs

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Ravens’ Pagano to become next head coach of Colts

Posted on 25 January 2012 by Luke Jones

In what’s easily been the most frustrating week in the history of the franchise, the Ravens will now need to look for a new defensive coordinator as Chuck Pagano has been hired as the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

Leading the Ravens to the No. 3 overall defensive ranking in his first season as coordinator, Pagano interviewed with Indianapolis on Tuesday before being offered the job on Wednesday. The 51-year-old spent three seasons as the Baltimore secondary coach before being promoted to replace former defensive coordinator Greg Mattison last offseason.

“It’s difficult to leave the Ravens but I couldn’t pass up on this great opportunity,” Pagano said to the Ravens’ official website. “I’m just thrilled and so excited.”

Pagano was extremely popular with his defensive players and brought a more aggressive play-calling style than Mattison, helping the Ravens improve from a franchise-low 27 sacks in 2010 to an AFC-best 48 this season.

“He just had an inkling for [making the right calls],” linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo told AM 1570 WNST on Wednesday afternoon. “More than anything, he wasn’t going to rely on just going vanilla and saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to beat everybody just going vanilla.’ That’s what coach Mattison liked to do.”

The Ravens sent four defensive starters to the Pro Bowl this year, including linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and free safety Ed Reed.

Pagano will be introduced to the Indianapolis media in a press conference on Thursday afternoon. The Colts fired general manager Bill Polian and head coach Jim Caldwell following a disastrous 2-14 season without quarterback Peyton Manning.

“We are so happy for Chuck, [his wife] Tina and their daughters,” coach John Harbaugh said in an official statement. “We are proud of him. Like me, Chuck grew up in the game and loves it. We will miss him and thank him for all he did for the Ravens.”

The 51-year-old will likely usher in a new era with Indianapolis primed to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in April’s draft. Ayanbadejo said the Colts will immediately take to Pagano’s infectious personality.

“He was one of those guys [where] it was like he was out on the field of battle with you and you’d never want to let him down, because he’s such a good guy,” Ayanbadejo said. “He’s also a family guy and a great person. You really felt like you knew him, and more than anything, you just didn’t want to let him down.”

Pagano had previous stints as a defensive assistant with the Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders and also coached at several colleges, including most recently at the University of North Carolina before being hired by Harbaugh in 2008.

The Ravens will also wonder what impact Pagano’s departure might have on their list of defensive players with expiring contracts. Linebackers Jarret Johnson, Jameel McClain, and Ayanbadejo, defensive end Cory Redding, safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, and defensive tackle Brandon McKinney are all set to become unrestricted free agents and could now view Indianapolis as a viable alternative to the Ravens, who will not have a great deal of salary cap space.

After former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was hired as the head coach of the New York Jets in 2009, linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard joined him in the Big Apple as free-agent signings.

Baltimore will now have its fourth defensive coordinator in five years after Rex Ryan, Mattison, and Pagano all held the job under Harbaugh. The most logical in-house candidate to fill the role would be linebackers coach Dean Pees, who was the defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots from 2006 to 2009 before moving on to Baltimore.

“I don’t think you’ll see any letdown if Dean Pees takes over,” said Ayanbadejo, who described Pees’ relationship with players as one based more on respect than the emotional Pagano. “You might even see a better defense if Dean Pees takes over because he likes things done a certain way, and he’s really particular about the way he does things.”

Pagano becomes the fourth defensive coordinator in the history of the franchise to depart for a head coaching position elsewhere, joining Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, and Ryan.

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Baltimore Ravens Training Camp August 21, 2009

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Yanda doubtful for Bengals game despite practicing Friday

Posted on 30 December 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The optimism created with the return to the practice field of Marshal Yanda Friday quickly dissipated when the Ravens listed the Pro Bowl guard as doubtful for this weekend’s clash with the Cincinnati Bengals.

After working on a limited basis in the week’s final practice, Yanda told reporters he was feeling better, but the lineman wasn’t ready to disclose his chances of suiting up against the Bengals. If Yanda is unable to go, either veteran Andre Gurode or rookie Jah Reid would start at the right guard position.

“We’ve got 48 hours yet, but we’ll see what happens,” Yanda said. “I felt OK out there today, so we’ll see what happens come Sunday. Still don’t know yet.”

Yanda took a knee to the ribcage during last week’s win over Cleveland and was the victim of a leg whip a few plays later, causing a thigh contusion.

“The ribs are tough because they obviously hurt like hell on Sunday, and I really couldn’t breathe well,” Yanda said. “My breathing’s getting better, but I still feel them. I’m still dealing with them right now, so we’ll see.”

The most surprising news from Friday was the return of wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the practice field only eight days after undergoing surgery on a partially-torn meniscus in his knee. The 31-year-old worked on a limited basis on Friday and was upgraded to “doubtful” on the injury report, though he is still not expected to play.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is doubtful as he continues to deal with concussion-like symptoms.

“I would say the guys are progressing,” said coach John Harbaugh, who did not disclose any new information on injuries. “Obviously, we had some guys get out here and do a little bit of work. Anquan was out here earlier. Marshal got out here early and did some things. We’ll have to see how that progresses. These guys had some pretty serious things. We’ll just have to see.”

Cornerback Cary Williams, defensive end Cory Redding, and kicker Billy Cundiff are all questionable to play against the Bengals after practicing on a limited basis all week. Williams had yet to be cleared for contact as of early Friday afternoon; however, the Ravens remain optimistic that he will be available in a secondary that will try to slow rookie phenom A.J. Green.

“Cary’s actually done very well,” Harbaugh said. “Cary’s been limited participation. He looks pretty good right now. He has not been cleared as of yet. It is a concussion.”

The Ravens have not made a decision regarding who will handle kicking duties on Sunday. Cundiff practiced on a limited basis all week long and says he is feeling much better than any other time he’s tried to come back to play over the last three weeks. However, Baltimore could elect to go with Shayne Graham an extra week to ensure Cundiff’s calf is as close to 100 percent as possible for the postseason.

Graham was successful on both field goal attempts he had against Cleveland on Christmas Eve.

“I guess at this point it’s all up to whether how he feels and what their decision is,” Graham said. “I’m not really sure exactly where. I plan on being ready if asked. I’m sure he wants to get back in. I’m sure they’ll figure it out. It’s not in my control anymore, so if I do get to play, I look forward to it. If he plays, I hope he’s rested enough. I hope he does well. You guys literally know as much as I do.”

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: WR Anquan Boldin (knee), LB Dannell Ellerbe (head), G Marshal Yanda (chest)
QUESTIONABLE: K Billy Cundiff (left calf), DE Cory Redding (ankle), CB Cary Williams (head)

CINCINNATI
DOUBTFUL: S Taylor Mays (hamstring), LB Dontay Moch (illness)
QUESTIONABLE: DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring)
PROBABLE: T Anthony Collins (non-injury related), S Chris Crocker (knee), CB Brandon Ghee (toe), WR AJ Green (shoulder), DE Frostee Rucker (neck), T Andrew Whitworth (knee)

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Yanda returns to work in Ravens’ final practice of week

Posted on 30 December 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As the Ravens made final preparations to play one of the most important regular-season games in franchise history, they received an encouraging sign with the return of Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda to the practice field on Friday.

Yanda sustained rib and thigh contusions in the 20-14 win over Cleveland on Christmas Eve and had been sidelined all week, missing practices on Wednesday and Thursday. The fifth-year lineman did not appear to be taking part in much activity during the open portion of practice, but Friday workouts are typically lighter ones anyway.

Safety Bernard Pollard also returned to practice a day after being out of action with an illness, joining defensive lineman Arthur Jones as Ravens players dealing with sickness this week.

And though he’s been ruled out for Sunday’s game in Cincinnati, wide receiver Anquan Boldin (knee) was on the field, playing catch and doing some light running only eight days after undergoing surgery to repair a partially-torn meniscus. At the day of the procedure, coach John Harbaugh offered a two-week prognosis for Boldin’s recovery time, so to see him on the field during practice on Friday was very encouraging.

A bye week would be even more helpful for the veteran receiver, however.

Cornerback Cary Williams (concussion), defensive end Cory Redding (ankle), and kicker Billy Cundiff (left calf) were all practicing for the third straight day. All three worked on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday and are considered likely candidates — with Cundiff likely being the biggest question mark — to play on Sunday.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe was not present during the portion of practice open to the media. He has missed the entire week of practice while still feeling the effects of a concussion suffered last Saturday.

Referee Tony Corrente and his crew will officiate Sunday’s game between the Ravens and Bengals in Cincinnati. Corrente has been undergoing cancer treatment, but he called last Saturday’s game between the Redskins and Vikings.

Sunday’s forecast in Cincinnati calls for a temperature right around 50 degrees with a 40 percent chance of precipitation at Paul Brown Stadium.

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Ravens without Yanda for Thursday’s practice

Posted on 29 December 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The prospects for right guard Marshal Yanda being available against the Cincinnati Bengals are growing dimmer as the Ravens’ Pro Bowl offensive lineman missed his second straight day of practice on Thursday.

Yanda is dealing with rib and chest contusions that forced him to miss the second half of the Ravens’ 20-14 win over Cleveland on Saturday. The fifth-year guard was named to his first Pro Bowl on Tuesday and has graded out with a “winning performance or better” in every game this season, according to the Baltimore coaching staff.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe was also missing from practice for the second straight day as he continues to deal with a concussion suffered against the Browns.

Safety Bernard Pollard was a new addition to the injury report as he missed practice with an illness. In contrast, defensive tackle Arthur Jones returned to work as a full participant a day after dealing with a stomach bug. Pollard’s absence might suggest the bug is moving through the locker room, so the Ravens will need to keep their fingers crossed over the next few days.

Billy Cundiff practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day, an encouraging sign that the Pro Bowl kicker may return to action in Cincinnati. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said fill-in kicker Shayne Graham’s experience kicking at Paul Brown Stadium after seven years with the Bengals would not factor into the decision of who kicks on Sunday, instead declaring the decision will be based on Cundiff’s health.

“He’s had two good practices,” Rosburg said. “We’ll see what the trainers say [Friday].”

Cornerback Cary Williams and defensive end Cory Redding were limited participants for the second straight day as both appear on track to play against the Bengals. There have been conflicting reports whether Williams has been cleared for contact, but the Ravens are confident that he will pass his concussion test in time to play on Sunday.

BALTIMORE
OUT: WR Anquan Boldin (knee)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Dannell Ellerbe (head), S Bernard Pollard (illness) , G Marshal Yanda (chest)
LIMITED: K Billy Cundiff (left calf), DE Cory Redding (ankle), CB Cary Williams (head)
FULL: DT Arthur Jones (illness)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring), S Taylor Mays (hamstring), LB Dontay Moch (illness)
LIMITED: WR AJ Green (shoulder), DE Frostee Rucker (neck), T Andrew Whitworth (knee), S Chris Crocker (knee)

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Cundiff back at practice, hoping to return on Sunday

Posted on 28 December 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Though veteran Shayne Graham would love the opportunity to kick against his old team in Cincinnati, Billy Cundiff returned to practice on Wednesday in hopes of making his return against the Bengals in the regular-season finale.

Cundiff had not practiced since Dec. 7 and was limited in games against Indianapolis and San Diego before fully resting his injured left calf last week. The 2010 Pro Bowl kicker now appears confident in wanting to get back on the field.

“It’s come a long way,” Cundiff said. “Obviously, I needed the rest. I couldn’t even make it through the game, so now this is just a matter of trying to progress it and see if I can make it through practice. If we can do that, then hopefully we’ll be able to play on Sunday.”

Right guard Marshal Yanda, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, and defensive tackle Arthur Jones did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. Speculation persists about the severity of the rib and thigh contusions that forced Yanda out of Saturday’s game. Ellerbe is still waiting to be cleared to play after suffering a concussion against Cleveland.

Defensive end Cory Redding and cornerback Cary Williams returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday. Williams has been cleared for practice after being concussed on Christmas Eve.

Unsurprisingly, wide receiver Anquan Boldin has already been ruled out after undergoing knee surgery last Thursday.

For Cincinnati, wide receiver A.J. Green and defensive end Carlos Dunlap both practiced on a limited basis. The rookie Green has been dealing with a shoulder injury, but Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said he was “doing fine” in his teleconference with the Baltimore media.

BALTIMORE
OUT: WR Anquan Boldin (knee)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Dannell Ellerbe (head), DT Arthur Jones (illness), G Marshal Yanda (chest)
LIMITED: K Billy Cundiff (left calf), DE Cory Redding (ankle), CB Cary Williams (head)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Chris Crocker (knee), S Taylor Mays (hamstring), LB Dontay Moch (illness)
LIMITED: DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring), WR AJ Green (shoulder), DE Frostee Rucker (neck), T Andrew Whitworth (knee)

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Yanda missing from practice while three injured Ravens return to work

Posted on 28 December 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing for arguably the most important regular-season game in the history of the franchise, the Ravens returned to the practice field with several ailing players at their disposal.

Right guard Marshal Yanda (rib and thigh contusions) was not one of them as the Pro Bowl lineman was absent from the portion of practice open to the media, joining linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (concussion), defensive lineman Arthur Jones (undisclosed), and wide receiver Anquan Boldin (knee surgery) as absentees.

With Boldin already expected to miss Sunday’s game in Cincinnati, Yanda’s injury is the most concerning as the Ravens are faced with the possibility of using veteran Andre Gurode or rookie Jah Reid at right guard, which is neither player’s primary position. Gurode did play right guard early in his career with the Dallas Cowboys but earned five trips to the Pro Bowl at the center position.

Meanwhile, cornerback Cary Williams has been cleared for contact and return to the practice field after sustaining a concussion in last Saturday’s win, a positive development considering how equipped the Cincinnati Bengals are at the wide receiver position with A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson.

Defensive end Cory Redding (ankle) and kicker Billy Cundiff (left call) also returned to the practice field after both were sidelined in the 20-14 win over the Cleveland Browns on Christmas Eve. Redding emphatically told reporters prior to Wednesday’s practice that he plans to play on Sunday — the veteran made a similar statement last week — while Cundiff revealed he would try kicking in Wednesday’s practice.

“I want to get out there as soon as I possibly can,” Cundiff said. “That’s probably what led to more of the problems is that I played when I probably shouldn’t have. But hindsight’s 20/20. Right now, I’m going to [practice] today, see how it responds, and then base all of our judgments off of that. Instead of trying to add in some forecast of what it might be, let’s just kind of go off and see how it responds.”

Veteran Shayne Graham made both of his field goal attempts against the Browns, connecting from 48 and 43 yards, while taking Cundiff’s place.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh provided no new updates on injuries prior to Wednesday’s workout, simply saying everyone is “progressing” and receiving treatment for their various ailments.

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Wounded Ravens hoping to heal in time for Cincinnati showdown

Posted on 26 December 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Six days before playing one of the most important regular-season games in the 16-year history of the franchise, the Ravens face the frightening possibility of playing at far less than full strength.

Playing the Cincinnati Bengals — who will clinch the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs with a win — is challenging enough, but the Ravens may have to do it without starting right guard Marshal Yanda, who has graded out as the team’s best offensive lineman this season. Yanda sustained separate contusions to the rib cage and thigh in Saturday’s 20-14 win over the Cleveland Browns and told reporters he had difficulty breathing following the game.

If Yanda is unable to play, veteran Andre Gurode would start at right guard, a position he played early in his 10-year career with the Dallas Cowboys. Gurode made five starts at left guard in place of Ben Grubbs earlier this season.

The Ravens can only hope Yanda makes enough improvement during the week to be available against the Bengals’ sixth-ranked run defense. Baltimore has had much success running to the right side of the offensive line behind Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher.

“We’ll just have to see how he does on that,” Harbaugh said. “They’re good bruises, so we’ll see where that goes.”

With the term “contusion” a vague one, the possibility exists that Yanda’s rib injury might be more severe, but the treatment for cracked or broken ribs wouldn’t be any different than a contusion, leading us to simply wait and see how the fifth-year lineman progresses until Sunday.

Headaches

The Ravens also lost a pair of key defensive contributors in starting cornerback Cary Williams and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who both sustained concussions in the win over Cleveland and did not return. Rookie Jimmy Smith filled in for Williams at cornerback while Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo saw an increased workload in the inside linebacker rotation with Ellerbe sidelined.

With the recent developments in Cleveland with concussed quarterback Colt McCoy and the controversy that ensued, it’s not surprising to hear coaches treading lightly in declaring a prognosis.

“Both are looking pretty decent today,” Harbaugh said. “With concussions, you never really know, so we’ll just have to see when and if they get cleared. We’ll keep our fingers crossed on that.”

Reed’s season over

The Ravens announced early Monday afternoon they had placed kick returner David Reed on injured reserve with a knee injury, and Harbaugh confirmed the second-year receiver tore the anterior cruciate ligament in the second half of Saturday’s win.

Reed will undergo surgery in the near future to repair the ligament, Harbaugh confirmed. The injury was isolated to the ACL and no other structural damage took place.

The ironic part of the injury is that Harbaugh believed Reed was on his way to a touchdown to begin the second half before the knee gave out on the return.

“He had two guys out in front of him, and I didn’t see anybody between him and the end zone there,” Harbaugh said. “That was going to the house, and then the leg buckles. A lot of things are unpredictable in football. That’s certainly not one we would have predicted. We’ll just have to move forward.”

Safety Tom Zbikowski will assume kickoff duties as he did in place of Reed when he was benched during the loss to the Seattle Seahawks in mid-November after fumbling two kickoffs.

On the mend

The Ravens were without three key players entering Saturday’s game against the Browns, but Harbaugh provided positive news on the trio of Billy Cundiff, Cory Redding, and Anquan Boldin on Monday.

Cundiff was replaced by veteran Shayne Graham, who made field goals of 48 and 42 yards against the Browns. Harbaugh said the Ravens do not anticipate keep Graham on the 53-man roster wants Cundiff proves healthy enough to return to the lineup.

The Baltimore coach hopes the return could be in time to play Cincinnati.

“We’ll have to see about this week,” Harbaugh said. “Like I told you, I want to see him practice. We’ll know more Wednesday [or] Thursday.”

Harbaugh also provided a positive update on Redding, who missed Saturday’s game after tweaking his sore ankle during pre-game warmups after going through a series of lateral movement drills. Second-year lineman Arthur Jones took Redding’s place in the starting lineup.

Boldin responded well to surgery to repair a partially-torn meniscus in his knee. The Ravens expect Boldin to be ready for the start of the postseason, but a first-round bye would alleviate concerns with having to rush him back too soon.

“He’s doing very, very well,” Harbaugh said. “The swelling’s out of the knee, so things are looking good there. Nothing’s changed as far as when he’ll be back, time-wise.”

 

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 24 December 2011 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Needing victories in their final two games to win the AFC North and gain a first-round bye in the playoffs, the Ravens can move a step closer to realizing those goals as they welcome the struggling Cleveland Browns to town on Christmas Eve.

Baltimore can complete an 8-0 home record with a win over the Browns, which would be the first time the Ravens have accomplished the feat in the 16-year history of the franchise. The Ravens have won 17 of their last 18 games at M&T Bank Stadium, including a franchise-record nine straight. Baltimore is 26-5 at home in the John Harbaugh era.

Those numbers make it pretty clear why the Ravens desperately want as many home playoff games as possible, don’t they?

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Of course, the Ravens saw the Browns in Cleveland three weeks ago when they ran a franchise-record 55 times and collected 290 rushing yards in a 24-10 victory. The Ravens have won seven straight over the Browns and own a 9-3 record against the city from which they originally came.

The Browns will wear white jerseys with white pants while the Ravens are dressed in their purple home jerseys and black pants.

All eyes will be on veteran kicker Shayne Graham, who will be filling in for the injured Billy Cundiff after being signed earlier in the week. Many wonder how much range Graham will have as his last couple seasons in Cincinnati didn’t feature much success beyond the 46 or 47 yards.

The Ravens will also be without top receiver Anquan Boldin, who underwent knee surgery to repair a partially-torn meniscus on Thursday. He is out for the rest of the regular season, and Harbaugh projects him to return in two weeks. However, the coach acknowledged it would be challenging for Boldin to be ready for a first-round playoff game, creating even more urgency for a first-round bye in the Ravens’ minds.

Without Boldin sidelined, quarterback Joe Flacco will likely rely heavily on tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, but it will be critical for the Ravens to make veteran Lee Evans more of a factor. With a trip to Cincinnati next week against a good Bengals run defense, the passing game will need to produce and someone will need to divert some attention from rookie Torrey Smith.

The Ravens have also decided to activate rookie Tandon Doss over LaQuan Williams. Despite having not been active since Oct. 30, Doss’ skill-set is more in line with what Boldin normally brings to the passing game.

Defensive end Cory Redding had been expected to play today, but he was noticeably limping going through pre-game work with defensive line coach Clarence Brooks. The Ravens have decided to deactivate Redding and will start second-year lineman Arthur Jones at the other defensive end spot in coordinator Chuck Pagano’s base 3-4.

For Cleveland, veteran backup Seneca Wallace will start at quarterback for the injured Colt McCoy, who was ruled out on Friday as he continues to feel the effects of a concussion sustained against Pittsburgh two weeks ago.

Here are today’s inactives…

Baltimore
WR Anquan Boldin
K Billy Cundiff
DE Cory Redding
WR LaQuan Williams
RB Anthony Allen
LB Sergio Kindle
CB Danny Gorrer

Cleveland
QB Colt McCoy
WR Jordan Norwood
DB James Dockery
OL Steve Vallos
DL Kiante Tripp
OL Oniel Cousins
WR Rod Windsor

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