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Ravens-Panthers preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Panthers preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 21 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 witnessing disappointing performances in each of the Ravens’ first two preseason games, all eyes will be on the starting offense in the all-important third summer contest treated as the “dress rehearsal” for the season opener.

Most starters are expected to play the entire first half with some being pulled a little earlier and others receiving action in the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers in a nationally-televised contest on Thursday night. Much attention will be paid to the wide receiver position where the Ravens have been unable to find trustworthy options beyond third-year wideout Torrey Smith to this point in the summer.

The Ravens also hope to gain further clarity in the competition for the starting center position between Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley after each started a game with the first-team unit in the first two weeks.

“This is going to be important. It’s going to be important the way we play,”  said coach John Harbaugh, who labeled last week’s first-half performance as being as poor as any he had seen in his six years in Baltimore. “We want to win every game, and I really am proud of the way our guys have found ways to win. But we also want to play well, and that means every little thing we look at, whether it’s run blocking or run defense or the way we make checks and adjustments, the decisions we make at quarterback. We want to play good, solid football.”

Thursday marks the sixth time the Ravens and Carolina have met in a preseason contest with Baltimore holding a 4-1 advantage. However, the Panthers enjoy a 3-1 edge in regular-season meetings despite the Ravens winning the last meeting between these teams in 2010.

The Ravens will see three familiar faces on the Panthers roster as safety Haruki Nakamura, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, and quarterback Derek Anderson all spent time in Baltimore to begin their respective careers.

Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 15-7 in the preseason and have won 14 of their last 18 exhibition contests. Baltimore is 42-27 in all-time preseason play, winning eight of its last nine played at M&T Bank Stadium.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to produce 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. Cornerback Lardarius Webb and right guard Marshal Yanda have begun practicing on a full basis in recent days as Harbaugh described each as having a good chance to play in the third preseason game of the summer, but no decision had been made as of the final day of media availability this week.

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

OUT: TE Ed Dickson (hamstring), WR Deonte Thompson (foot), LB Jameel McClain (neck), OL Ryan Jensen (foot), DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee), TE Dennis Pitta (hip)
DOUBTFUL: LB Adrian Hamilton (wrist)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), CB Lardarius Webb (knee)
PROBABLE: OL Ramon Harewood (knee), LB Bryan Hall (hamstring), RB Bernard Pierce (knee), WR Marlon Brown (knee), RB Anthony Allen (undisclosed)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. S Matt Elam

The first-round pick has chased veteran James Ihedigbo in the battle at strong safety all summer, but Elam appeared to close the gap last week, receiving some extensive time with the starting unit in addition to playing in sub packages. The hard-hitting safety finished with six tackles, including one for a loss, and has shown an impressive nose for the football throughout the summer.

Secondary coach Teryl Austin acknowledged Elam is still learning the finer intricacies of the Baltimore defense, but the Ravens aren’t at all unhappy with the 32nd overall pick of April’s draft. He may not start Week 1, but that’s probably a bigger credit to the play of Ihedigbo than an indictment on Elam’s development so far.

2. WR Aaron Mellette

The rookie from Elon has two touchdown catches on two targets in the preseason and is slowly climbing the depth chart to the point where he’s received extensive reps with the first-team offense over the last week of practices, which is both a compliment to him and a commentary on the alarming state of the wide receiver unit. At 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, Mellette certainly has the size to play in the NFL and he’s shown more toughness in recent weeks to make catches in traffic in both practices and games.

He doesn’t fit the profile of a receiver who will line up in the slot, but Mellette is certainly putting himself in prime position to grab a spot on the 53-man roster. If he can be productive working with Joe Flacco and the starters on Thursday night, the Ravens might be looking at Mellette as a real contributor sooner rather than later.

3. C Gino Gradkowski

Gradkowski appeared to gain some separation last week after a disappointing outing from Shipley with the starting offensive line, but this battle is still a little too close to predict who will definitely be lining up with the first team against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 5. It appears that Gradkowski received more reps with the starters this week, which could be an indication of who the Ravens are leaning toward right now.

Neither player has risen significantly above the other, but Gradkowski has been steadier in the first two preseason games and was a fourth-round pick a year ago with the sole thought of becoming the heir apparent to the retiring Matt Birk. The biggest question is whether Gradkowski or Shipley is big enough to hold up against the beefier defensive tackles in the league, but the impressive guard combination of Yanda and Kelechi Osemele certainly quell concerns in that department.

4. FB Kyle Juszczyk

The Harvard product got off to a slow start during camp and virtually became a forgotten man after the return of Vonta Leach, but the Ravens have been using Juszczyk in more creative ways over the last week or two of practice, occasionally lining him up at tight end and even putting him in the slot. He’s shown consistent hands and could be viewed as a third tight end and H-back if offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is willing to be creative with the fourth-round selection.

Juszczyk’s work on special teams might be his best opportunity to see playing time in his rookie season and the Ravens are using him in all phases of Jerry Rosburg’s units. He is also working as the lead blocker on the kickoff return team, which could spell trouble for Anthony Allen’s security on the 53-man roster if the Ravens prefer newcomer Delone Carter or Bobby Rainey for the No. 3 running back job.

5. TE Dallas Clark

The 34-year-old tight end has caught nearly everything thrown his way in practice and has looked much like the player who used to torment the Ravens as a member of the Indianapolis Colts years ago, but we’ve yet to see him in live-game action. Clark looks smaller than his listed 6-foot-3 height and 252-pound weight — but with apologies to Ed Dickson, who is more of a straight-line route runner — he might be the best option the Ravens have in trying to replicate Dennis Pitta’s role in the offense.

The Ravens plan to use Clark and veteran slot receiver Brandon Stokley extensively in Thursday’s preseason game to see if they can be the elixir for their woes in the passing game. If not, concerns will only grow with the regular-season opener just two weeks away.

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Concerns rising over Ravens’ lack of options in passing game

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Concerns rising over Ravens’ lack of options in passing game

Posted on 16 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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

BALTIMORE — Unless you’re heavily invested in the futures of such Ravens players as Tyrod Taylor, Aaron Mellette, and Asa Jackson, there wasn’t much to like Thursday night despite a 27-23 comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Head coach John Harbaugh said it all as the first half ended with the Ravens trailing 20-7 after the offense was held to just 131 total yards, the defense had surrendered 255 yards, and the team had committed five penalties for 42 yards. The effort was sloppy, out of rhythm, and unlike anything the sixth-year coach could remember in his tenure in Baltimore — even if it was only the second preseason game of the summer.

“That first half was about as poorly as we could play,” Harbaugh said at halftime. “I can’t remember us playing worse since we came here.”

Speaking with more perspective after a 21-point fourth quarter that propelled the Ravens to a 2-0 start in the preseason, the coach acknowledged that many of the first-half mistakes were correctable and he was right. As shaky as the defensive effort was, Dean Pees’ unit has several new pieces that need to gel over these next three weeks prior to the regular-season opener. The secondary will be aided by the return of top cornerback Lardarius Webb, and most players on which the Ravens are counting have track records that create a certain comfort level.

The penalties are a concern when you recall the Ravens being plagued by them last year — ranking 31st in the NFL — but they weren’t of the variety causing you to lose too much sleep.

Of course, the area raising the most concern for the second week in a row is the stagnant performance of the offense as the Ravens couldn’t run nor throw the ball with any level of consistency in the first 30 minutes of play. The lone highlight was a 77-yard touchdown strike from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith on a crossing pattern over the middle of the field on the first play of their second offensive series.

Aside from that one play, the Ravens were held to 54 yards on 18 plays and managed just three first downs before halftime. Baltimore carried the ball 10 times for just 13 yards in the first half as the starting offensive line opened few running lanes with Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda not quite ready for game action.

Wide receivers not named Smith were held to one catch for four yards on six targets prior to Mellette’s 40-yard touchdown to open the fourth-quarter scoring.

“We kind of beat ourselves with penalties and certain miscues, and it’s tough to play from behind,” Smith said. “When you’re not playing many plays, it’s tough to recover from that, but we’ll be fine. We know what the mistakes were that we made, and you can’t make penalties, so obviously we need to correct that.”

There are only so many times you can go to the “throw a quick slant to Torrey Smith for a touchdown” trick in the playbook.

The results of Thursday night’s game are truly inconsequential as we’ll all forget the score of the game in just a few weeks, but the current state of the passing offense continues to look like one of panic. Beyond Smith, not a single receiver emerged as Jacoby Jones was held to one reception and newly-signed veteran Brandon Stokley wasn’t targeted after playing only a handful of plays in the slot.

With Ed Dickson still sidelined with a hamstring injury, current starting tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was targeted twice in the first half — one negated by a penalty — and failed to record a reception.

It was Jones again running a questionable route that contributed in part to a second Flacco interception in as many weeks.

“I threw it into a bee’s nest,” said Flacco about the second-quarter pick. “I thought Jacoby might be able to get around the Sam linebacker, so I kind of threw it off of his shoulder, but Jacoby was just getting behind there, so I threw it into too many people.”

It’s becoming apparent that the Ravens are discovering what the Houston Texans did about Jones’ limitations as a wide receiver. The Pro Bowl return specialist’s ideal role is the one he served last year as a vertical threat on the outside in three-wide sets and as a player you can use for a handful of gadget plays over the course of the year.

But Jones hasn’t been as disappointing as third-year receiver Tandon Doss, who didn’t even draw any playing time with the starting offense on Thursday as Stokley took the reps in the slot. Though not the deciding factor by any stretch, Doss was viewed as a real piece of the puzzle along with tight end Dennis Pitta this offseason to replace veteran Anquan Boldin’s production.

Instead, it’s been a quiet summer for the 2011 fourth-round pick, who has struggled to gain separation in practices and each of the first two preseason contests. Doss suffered a drop on a pass originally ruled to be a fumble in the third quarter before he did manage to make up for it with a 5-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.

“That was really, really great to see,” Harbaugh said. “Consistency is important, too. You’ve got to stack good plays. We’ll have to go back and look at that and just see for every guy how that plays out. You really need to watch the tape and kind of see where the situation is to evaluate it fairly.”

Harbaugh’s correct and much of what he saw on both sides of the ball was correctable, but he’ll also find a group of wide receivers and tight ends that struggled to gain separation over the first three quarters of play. And while it’s only a preseason game for the established veterans with track records, these are the precious opportunities to find out as much as you can about the unknown commodities on your roster.

The likes of Doss, David Reed, LaQuan Williams (who followed a strong preseason opener with two drops Thursday night), and the injured Deonte Thompson haven’t looked up to the task for the most part in the two preseason games or practices, leaving the door open for Stokley and newly-signed veteran tight end Dallas Clark to receive extensive opportunities in the all-important third preseason game.

Four weeks into the summer, a long-term and potentially season-ending hip injury to Pitta and a disappointing Doss have left the plan to replace Boldin in shambles as the Ravens are now looking for any help they can get to augment the passing game.

Beyond Smith and Ray Rice out of the backfield, who can you trust as pass catchers?

Flacco has talked a good game all spring and summer about trusting his young receivers, but you wonder how much of that is the sixth-year quarterback trying to be a good teammate at this point as he can’t truly rely on anyone but Smith in the current batch of healthy receivers and tight ends.

At least there’s always Rice and the check-down to count on.

“We really don’t think about it too much besides when we’re questioned about it,” Flacco said about the perceived offensive struggles. “You guys look more at that stuff. We just go out there and play and do it with who we have out there. I think the guys are doing a great job.”

Who we have out there.

Whether he intended to or not, the quarterback said it all with that portion of his response.

And Thursday made you continue to doubt if who the Ravens have out there will be enough this year.

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Even with Clark’s addition, Ravens not closing door on Pitta return yet

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Even with Clark’s addition, Ravens not closing door on Pitta return yet

Posted on 13 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. — Even as the newly-signed Dallas Clark made the highlight play of Tuesday’s practice with a one-handed catch on a pass thrown behind him in the end zone, Terrell Suggs screamed out, “Calm down, there’s still only one white tight end!”

The 30-year-old linebacker was not only teasing the former Indianapolis Colt but making it clear that the Ravens haven’t forgotten their starting tight end. The injured Dennis Pitta was clearly on Suggs’ mind as he watched the 34-year-old Clark haul in Joe Flacco’s errant pass.

And while the Ravens are pleased with the addition of Clark to boost their depth at a banged-up tight end position, it was an interesting coincidence that coach John Harbaugh revealed after Tuesday’s practice that the Ravens haven’t placed Pitta on season-ending injured reserve yet because they’re unsure that he’ll definitely miss the entire season.

“We’ll put him on IR when we’re certain that he’s out for the year,” Harbaugh said. “We know it’s a serious injury, but when it came back that there was no ligament or cartilage damage, then that maybe gave us some hope. We’re going to wait and see how that bone heals over the first five weeks of the injury and see where we’re at.”

Sidelined since July 27 when he dislocated his hip trying to make a touchdown catch during practice, Pitta still has a difficult rehabilitation process of an estimated four months ahead but has at least a slightly better chance of returning by the end of the 2013 season due to positive MRI results. The Ravens initially said Pitta would be out for the rest of the season and wasn’t even a  candidate for the possibility to return.

Starting last year, the NFL began allowing teams to place one player on IR with a designation to return later in the season. This would likely be the course of action with Pitta if no other long-term injuries arise between now and Sept. 3, the earliest date a team can place one player on the reserve-injured list as “designated to return.” With this label, a player must miss a minimum of eight weeks of games but can begin practicing after six weeks, stipulations unlikely to be much of a factor for Pitta’s expected length of time needed to recover.

While it’s tempting to give Pitta the same treatment offered to linebacker Ray Lewis after he tore his right triceps last October, the designation can only be used for one player whether the individual would be able to return or not, meaning the Ravens could be dealing with a short-handed roster if they were to have another key player go down with a long-term injury early in the season. General manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh must weigh the best-case scenarios for Pitta against the realistic expectations in determining whether he has a good chance to not just return to action but perform at a high level.

Shipley getting starting nod

If any more evidence were needed to determine how close the battle for the starting center job is at this stage in the preseason, run-game coordinator Juan Castillo announced Tuesday that A.Q. Shipley would receive the start in Thursday’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Second-year lineman Gino Gradkowski started in the preseason opener last week and appears to hold the slightest of edges over the newcomer Shipley, who spent last season in Indianapolis. Gradkowski is listed as the starter on the most recent depth chart released by the Ravens public relations staff, but the pair have split reps with the starting offensive line throughout the summer.

“We need to have some separation,” Castillo said. “Somebody has to come to the top. The problem is that they’re both playing really well right now.”

Whoever prevails in the competition will be filling the large shoes of Matt Birk, who retired this offseason after 15 seasons in the NFL and winning his first Super Bowl championship.

Clark sporting No. 87

Clark had worn No. 44 in his nine seasons in Indianapolis and one season in Tampa Bay, but the veteran tight end didn’t even bother asking fullback Vonta Leach if he wanted to work out a deal.

Expressing much respect for the three-time Pro Bowl fullback, Clark instead elected to take No. 87 in what is a tribute to former teammate and good friend Reggie Wayne. The two played together for nine years in Indianapolis with Clark crediting Wayne for helping him a great deal in his career.

“One of my favorite teammates I’ve ever played with, so I told him last night that I got his number and he was pretty pumped about that,” said Clark, who joked that he’ll pretend to wear No. 44 as long as he doesn’t look down at his jersey. “I learned a lot from that guy, so I felt good about having 87.”

Practice attendance

Three players returned to the practice field on Tuesday as offensive lineman Ramon Harewood (knee) and cornerback Chykie Brown (undisclosed) each returned from ailments and linebacker Courtney Upshaw was back with the team after being excused for the last two days for the birth of his son.

Players not practicing included defensive tackle Marcus Spears (hamstring), wide receivers Deonte Thompson (foot) and Marlon Brown (undisclosed), tight ends Ed Dickson (hamstring) and Pitta, cornerback Chris Johnson (undisclosed), linebacker Jameel McClain (neck), offensive lineman Ryan Jensen (foot), and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee).

Harbaugh revealed that Spears has been dealing with a minor hamstring injury that’s kept him out of action since the first preseason game, but the coach expects Spears to return soon but wouldn’t specify a timetable, making it unlikely he’ll play Thursday against the Falcons.

Odds & ends

The Ravens practiced in helmets, shells, and shorts in what amounted to an extended walk-through without any contact on Tuesday. … Clark made it clear that he has plenty of work to do — studying his playbook and working on the field — in order to pick up the Baltimore offense, regardless of his familiarity with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell from their days together in Indianapolis. “You do your best learning out here, making the mistakes and looking like an idiot and just causing a whole big ruckus and just being in the wrong position. That’s the only way you can truly learn how to play football.” … Veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley received some first-team reps in his second practice since signing a one-year deal with the Ravens, executing a nice double move faking an inside slant before catching a touchdown pass during an 11-on-11 session. … Baltimore will have a walk-through on Wednesday that will be closed to media in preparation for their second preseason game.

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Ozzie Admits Mistake with Recent Signings

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Ozzie Admits Mistake with Recent Signings

Posted on 13 August 2013 by Brett Dickinson

Now Ozzie Newsome is one of (and probably the best) General Manager in the NFL, for his entire career in Baltimore.  But that does not make him impervious to mistakes. His “Achilles Heel” has always been the pass-catcher situation; namely Wide Receiver.

He has made smart moves in the past to find targets for Joe Flacco, Trent Dilfer and Steve McNair, such as Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and Shannon Sharpe.  But none of them had the monster careers that Baltimore fans hoped for.  Add in his track record in the draft with receiving threats (i.e. Travis Taylor, Mark Clayton, Patrick Robinson, Demetrius Williams, etc.) and you could say Ozzie has been somewhat unsuccessful filling that spot.

Most recently, Anquan Boldin was due $6 million for the 2013-14 season.  After a failed attempt to renegotiate Boldin’s contract, the Ravens sent him Super Bowl foe, San Francisco 49ers, for a 6th round pick.  The move was made thinking that the young core, namely Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss and Dennis Pitta, would take their games to the next level.  The team has already lost Pitta for the season, and seem to be underwhelmed by the rest of pass-catchers.

Since Training Camp began, Baltimore has signed a trio of aging veterans, who made a living across the middle of the field (Brandon Stokley, Visanthe Shiancoe and Dallas Clark).  The argument would be that those signings were to supplant what was lost in Pitta’s tragic hip injury.  But the team had already brought in Shiancoe, before their up-and-coming star TE went down.

Ozzie found the need to bring three guys, on the wrong side of 30, to fill the void left by the key losses of their TE and top WR in 2012. Though the organization did not want to pay Anquan Boldin, they sure have spent a lot of time and effort trying to find a replacement.  Unless one of the young players, like Aaron Mellete, Deonte Thompson or Tommy Streeter, begins to wow the Ravens’ brain-trust, those vets will see a lot of time in 2013.  

Anyone is hoping to see the 2007 version of any of those signings walk through the doors in Owings Mills, will be highly disappointed.  Stokley had a somewhat of a rebound season, but had the luxury of playing with Peyton Manning (again), Shiancoe caught zero passes for the Patriots in five games and Clark played his first full season in three years for Tampa Bay in 2012.

The fact that Ozzie started digging at the bottom of barrel, for players no other team wanted, shows a lack of confidence in the players currently on the roster.  Hindsight is always “20/20,” but moving on from a trusted big-game target, like Anquan Boldin, looks like a bigger mistake several months later. His production is clearly already missed and Ozzie has realized that.  Let’s just hope it has not been “too little, too late.”

 

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Yanda takes part in practice for first time this summer

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Yanda takes part in practice for first time this summer

Posted on 12 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. — With plenty of uncertainty surrounding their starting offense, the Ravens received good news Monday with the return of Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda to the practice field.

The 28-year-old took part in the workout in a limited capacity, doing individual work and taking some reps with the starting offense in the non-contact practice.

“It was great to see him back out there in a limited amount in terms of what he was able to do,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “It’s always great to have him out there. He’s a great leader. Obviously, he’s been in meetings and things of that nature, but he brings a lot of experience and certainly a lot of toughness to our guys upfront.”

Sidelined for the entire spring after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, Yanda was taking part in practice for the first time this summer. The seventh-year lineman had made good progress in his rehab and had been taking part in morning walk-throughs for quite some time, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

Yanda hadn’t been in pads since Super Bowl XLVII in February as he underwent a procedure to repair a torn rotator cuff, forcing him to miss organized team activities and mandatory minicamp in the spring. However, the Ravens never expressed concern that the 2007 third-round pick wouldn’t be ready for the start of the regular season despite acknowledging that he’d miss a substantial portion of training camp before returning.

“I don’t want to put an exact date on it, but it will be in training camp pretty good,” Harbaugh said about the standout guard on July 31. “We aren’t in a rush with him. [He is] very much on schedule. He’s doing certain things. He does things in the morning. He goes through the morning workout. He goes through some individual stuff, so he’s practicing. He’s just not going through the contact stuff, but he’s doing very, very well.”

Yanda was working with the first-team offensive line in a lighter practice that featured helmets, shells, and shorts on Monday afternoon, but it would appear he won’t make his live-game debut until at least the third preseason game next week against the Carolina Panthers.

Newly-signed veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley was also taking part in his first practice after officially signing a one-year deal with Baltimore on Sunday. However, veteran tight end Dallas Clark was not on the field for the early portion of practice as he was undergoing a physical and finalizing his deal with the Ravens.

Second-year running back Bernard Pierce (knee) also returned to practice after missing the last two workouts since the preseason opener when he injured his knee in the second quarter. Harbaugh said Sunday that Pierce has a chance to play in Thursday’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Linebacker Bryan Hall (hamstring) also returned to the practice field after being sidelined since the preseason opener.

A number of players were still missing from the practice field on Monday including linebacker Courtney Upshaw, cornerbacks Chykie Brown (undisclosed) and Chris Johnson (undisclosed), defensive tackle Marcus Spears (undisclosed), wide receivers Deonte Thompson (foot) and Marlon Brown (undisclosed), offensive linemen Ramon Harewood (knee) and Ryan Jensen (foot), and tight ends Ed Dickson (hamstring) and Dennis Pitta (hip).

Linebacker Jameel McClain (neck) remains on the active physically unable to perform list and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee) is still on the non-football injury list.

Caldwell excited to have Stokley, Clark in fold

Jim Caldwell had his first opportunity to comment on the veteran additions of Stokley and Clark, who worked with the Baltimore offensive coordinator in Indianapolis.

Stokley played with the Colts from 2003 through 2006 when Caldwell was the quarterbacks coach while Clark spent the first nine years of his career in Indianapolis, which included Caldwell’s three-year tenure as head coach. Despite being at the tail end of their respective careers, both players are expected to provide the Ravens with middle-of-the-field options they’re looking for with Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta no longer in the picture.

“You can see that they’ve been productive,” Caldwell said. “Obviously, their roles have changed over the years — maybe haven’t played quite as much in certain situations. We have a good blend of personnel groupings that we use and we certainly would be able to get them in the mix and give them an opportunity to show what they can do.”

Clark’s best season came in 2009 — Caldwell’s first season as the Indianapolis head man — when he caught 100 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns to earn his first and only trip to the Pro Bowl.

Caldwell had stayed in contact in recent days with his former tight end through text messaging but hadn’t spoken to Clark over the last couple days as an agreement was reached.

“John [Harbaugh] and Ozzie [Newsome] take a look at all the possibilities and make determinations as such,” said Caldwell, who downplayed the impact of his relationships with Clark and Stokley in the Ravens’ decision to sign each player. “Every once in a while they’ll ask for what [my] opinion is on certain situations, but it does not carry the predominance of the weight. They look at it all, see if it’s a good fit for us, and make the decision from there.”

Upshaw excused from practice

Upshaw’s absence from the practice Sunday M&T Bank Stadium remained a mystery until his social media activity early on Monday.

The second-year linebacker wrote on his official Twitter account about a new addition to his family and defensive coordinator Dean Pees confirmed after Monday’s practice that the second-year linebacker was excused from the team for the birth of his son.

Upshaw has worked as the starting strongside outside linebacker with veteran Elvis Dumervil serving as more of a pass-rush specialist to this point in the summer, which would also free him up to occasionally spell Terrell Suggs at the rush linebacker position as well.

“They’ll all play. They all have a role on this team,” Pees said. “It’s a game-to-game thing, and a lot depend one the packages we have in and what we’re doing for that particular game. They’re all good players and they’re ll going to play.”

Upshaw made two tackles against the Buccaneers in the preseason opener.

Practice highlights

Stokley worked with both the first and second offenses and ran a crisp sideline route to beat cornerback Corey Graham for a touchdown from quarterback Joe Flacco early in the practice session. However, the quarterback and receiver weren’t on the same page a few plays later as Stokley appeared to run the wrong route and the pass sailed into the arms of cornerback Lardarius Webb. Needless to say, Stokley was doing plenty of learning on the fly as he tried to get up to speed in Caldwell’s offensive system. … Webb still isn’t a full participant in team drills, but the fifth-year cornerback continues to increase his level of activity in team drills and recorded two interceptions on Monday. Pees was noncommittal about Webb’s potential participation in the preseason, deferring to Harbaugh and the training staff in describing where the cornerback is physically at this stage. … Wide receiver Torrey Smith made a nifty touchdown catch over cornerback Asa Jackson on a fade route during an 11-on-11 red-zone drill on Monday. … The practice marked the first time all summer that the projected starting offensive line was able to work together as left tackle Bryant McKinnie, left guard Kelechi Osemele, center Gino Gradkowski, Yanda, and right tackle Michael Oher worked a limited number of plays together in team drills.

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Your Monday Reality Check: Look, I love Brandon Stokley and all…

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Your Monday Reality Check: Look, I love Brandon Stokley and all…

Posted on 12 August 2013 by Glenn Clark

I can’t stress this part of this enough.

I LOVE Brandon Stokley. If he ran for governor of the State of Maryland I would vote for him. Hell, I’d register under the names of six or seven dead guys as well so I could just keep voting for him.

If he hadn’t re-signed with the Baltimore Ravens, I probably would have offered to invite Stokley and his family over to the Glenn Clark compound for dinner. I would have offered to grill. My fiancé and I are partial to kabobs, but if Brandon Stokley was coming over we would have grilled a meal called “anything he wants.” We probably would even use real plates instead of the regular paper plates that we regularly use when we eat outdoors.

I REALLY love Brandon Stokley. I’ve been planning a “Bachelor Road Trip” with my best friend recently before I get married. If he wasn’t going to be playing football this Fall, I would have asked him to come along. I could just envision the two of us chugging beers at a Lone Bellow show in Memphis and belting out every word to “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” before posing for goofy pictures together at Graceland the next day.

You know as well as I do that my outpouring of love is going to have to be followed by a sentence that starts with the word “but.” I’m just trying to delay it because I would to make sure my love for Brandon Stokley is fully conveyed.

There are only roughly 150 current or former NFL players who can claim to have won a Super Bowl for the city of Baltimore. We’ve lost a number of the Super Bowl V champion Colts, we’ve lost a couple of the Super Bowl XXXV champion Ravens as well. The fraternity gained 55 or so new members earlier this year, but remains incredibly exclusive.

Of those 150 or so members, even fewer can claim to have scored touchdowns in a Baltimore Super Bowl victory. Tom Nowatze, John Mackey (who is the only member of this group to have passed away), Duane Starke, Jermaine Lewis, Jamal Lewis, Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta and Jacoby Jones (two) join Stokley on the very exclusive list. Stokley’s TD haul in Super Bowl XXXV will forever be special

Whether Brandon Stokley ever rejoined the Ravens or not, I would like to think he would have never had to pay for another beer or dinner in our city. If that meant I had to personally purchase every one of those beers and dinners, I would be willing to. That’s how much I love Brandon Stokley.

Okay, now here’s the “but” of it.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ravens agree in principle to deal with veteran tight end Dallas Clark

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Ravens agree in principle to deal with veteran tight end Dallas Clark

Posted on 11 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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

BALTIMORE — Not satisfied in stopping with veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley, the Ravens added another experienced option to their passing game on Sunday.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and 34-year-old tight end Dallas Clark agreed in principle to a deal on Sunday, head coach John Harbaugh announced after Sunday’s practice at M&T Bank Stadium. Quite familiar with Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell from their days together in Indianapolis, Clark provides Baltimore with another veteran option at tight end with the injuries to Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.

Clark also frequently worked in the slot in his days with the Colts and was a valuable option on third down, something the Ravens are looking for with Pitta and Anquan Boldin no longer at their disposal.

“He’s a great stop, option, [and] crossing-route guy, so that’s the type of routes that move the chains,” Harbugh said. “He has a good catch radius. Those are the things that Dennis excelled at, so those are things that he excels at.”

Clark spent the first nine years of his NFL career with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis before playing in Tampa Bay last season. After injuries limited Clark to just 17 combined games in his final two seasons with the Colts, Clark played in all 16 games for the Buccaneers last year, catching 47 passes for 435 yards and four touchdowns.

There had been reports in recent days that Clark was drawing interest from teams and the Ravens had apparently been talking with him for quite some time.

Baltimore added 33-year-old tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on July 28, just a day after the season-ending hip injury to Pitta. While Dickson continues to work his way back from a hamstring injury suffered on Aug. 4, Clark will help quell concerns about the Ravens’ depth at the tight end position.

“I’ve got a couple guys that I can pick their brain, a couple guys that have been doing well in the league,” said Dickson, who wouldn’t offer a timetable on his return to the field after Sunday’s practice. “You’ve got to have numbers; you never know what’s going to happen. With me down and Dallas Clark coming in, we’re going to show him the ropes and see what he can do for us.”

In 10 professional seasons, Clark has caught 474 passes for 5,322 yard and 50 touchdowns. His best season came in 2009 when he caught 100 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns, earning his only trip to the Pro Bowl.

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Old friend Stokley officially rejoins Ravens at stadium practice Sunday

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Old friend Stokley officially rejoins Ravens at stadium practice Sunday

Posted on 11 August 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 man who caught the first touchdown in Ravens Super Bowl history officially reunited with the team who drafted him as wide receiver Brandon Stokley was present for Sunday’s practice at M&T Bank Stadium.

The 37-year-old receiver who played in Baltimore from 1999 through 2002 watched practice but didn’t participate as the Ravens held their second public practice of the summer. Earlier in the day, the Ravens officially announced a one-year contract with Stokley and waived wide receiver Marcus Rivers to create room on their 90-man preseason roster.

With the foot injury to wide receiver Deonte Thompson and the questions surrounding the wide receiver position, Stokley’s addition became a no-brainer in the Ravens’ minds.

“It gives us experience,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It gives us a guy who can catch balls in the slot and has done that over a number of years. He’s done a great job of that. It’s an asset for us. More than anything, it’s a need potentially in a certain area, but we still have guys who are in the process of stepping up there.”

Stokley had a solid season with former Indianapolis teammate Peyton Manning in Denver last year, catching 45 passes for 544 yards and five touchdowns.

For the veteran receiver, Sunday felt like a homecoming as Stokley recalled arriving in Baltimore 14 years earlier as a fresh-faced rookie taken in the fourth round of the 1999 draft out of Louisiana-Lafayette. It only took 384 catches, 5,224 yards, and 39 touchdowns for the 15th-year veteran to come full circle.

“This is where I started. A lot of old, good memories,” said Stokley, who believes he can provide the Ravens with a target who can help move the chains and provide another option inside the red zone. “It’s just a great organization, great fans, just all around a great place. I’m just trying to come in here and work hard, do my best, and hopefully help out in any way that I can.”

Of course, Stokley’s first run with the Ravens didn’t include the opportunity to play with a franchise signal-caller like Joe Flacco as Stokley played with the likes of Tony Banks, Trent Dilfer, Chris Redman, and Elvis Grbac. In four seasons with Baltimore, he caught just 60 passes before joining Indianapolis where he caught 139 passes while playing with Peyton Manning over the next four seasons.

Stokley was quite complimentary of Flacco after being reminded by reporters that he was on the opposing sideline in Denver when the Baltimore quarterback connected with Jacoby Jones on the 70-yard touchdown to force overtime in the divisional-round thriller against the Broncos.

“He’s unbelievable,” Stokley said. “You saw what he did last year in the playoffs. That run that they went on was awesome. It takes a special quarterback to do that.”

Thompson out, Pierce possible for Atlanta game Thursday night

Harbaugh confirmed that Thompson’s left foot sprain wasn’t something that will keep him sidelined for an extended period of time but ruled out the second-year receiver for Thursday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Thompson injured the foot making a 5-yard catch in the second quarter of the preseason opener against Tampa Bay and didn’t return. He was seen wearing a walking boot following the game and hasn’t practiced since. It appears, however, he will be ready to play in the all-important third preseason game in less than two weeks.

“Deonte sprained his foot. It’s not serious,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to hold him out of this game and re-evaluate him on Friday [to] see where he’s at. I would expect him back for the Carolina game.”

The Baltimore coach also confirmed reports that the injury to running back Bernard Pierce’s knee wasn’t serious, labeling the injury as a bruise. The second-year back tweaked his knee on a 20-yard touchdown early in the second quarter of Thursday’ game and didn’t return.

Despite not practicing over the last two days, Pierce still has a chance to play against the Falcons, according to Harbaugh.

Dickson on mend, no timetable for return

Sunday marked a week since Ed Dickson suffered a slightly-torn hamstring tear and while he’s not ready to announce a date for his return, the fourth-year tight end continues to make progress in rehabbing the injury.

“Every little thing I can do, I’m taking it day by day,” Dickson said. “This type of injury with a muscle, you’ve got to take it day by day. I’m doing all the little things, staying conditioned, and trying to catch as many balls as I can.”

Dickson has taken some consolation in knowing he can take his time recovering fully after the recent veteran additions of Visanthe Shiancoe and Dallas Clark, but the 2010 third-round pick said it’s been frustrating being sidelined after the season-ending loss of Dennis Pitta on July 27.

Asked whether he was confident that he’d be ready to go for the start of the regular season as Harbaugh has previously said, Dickson wouldn’t speak in specific terms, only expressing concern that he doesn’t want the injury to linger into the regular season.

“I can’t make any predictions,” said Dickson about his availability for the season opener on Sept. 5, “but I’m working hard to do that. I’m trying my hardest to get back out there. It kills me. I’m hard on myself.”

Absences growing at practice

The Ravens were without 13 players for Sunday’s stadium practice as linebacker Courtney Upshaw was a new absence to add to the list.

Joining him as non-participants were wide receivers Thompson (foot) and Marlon Brown, Pierce (knee), tight ends Dickson (hamstring) and Pitta (hip), offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and Ryan Jensen (foot), cornerback Chris Johnson (undisclosed), linebackers Bryan Hall (hamstring) and Jameel McClain (neck), and defensive linemen Marcus Spears (undisclosed) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee).

Johnson had practiced on Saturday before once again being sidelined for Sunday’s workout.

Odds & ends

Kicker Justin Tucker continued his outstanding training camp as he connected on field goals from 20, 39, 48, 35, 52, and 58 yards. He then proceeded to miss attempts from 64 and 67 yards even though each kick had more than enough distance. The NFL record for the longest field goal is 63 yards. … A day after being chastised for lackadaisical play by Harbaugh, rookie wide receiver Aaron Mellette turned in his strongest practice of the summer, making consecutive difficult catches on a slant pattern and sideline route during 7-on-7 drills and topping those receptions with an outstanding leaping catch over the middle for a long gain while working with the second-team offense a few minutes later. … With Thompson sidelined, the Ravens primarily used Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and Tandon Doss in their three-wide sets, but David Reed also received some reps with the first-team offense. Harbaugh said after Sunday’s practice that they’re going to take a closer look at Doss in the slot after using him in the slot and on the outside in the first couple weeks of practice. … As he did in his first tour of duty with the Ravens, Stokley will wear No. 80 and plans to practice on Monday. … The Ravens announced approximately 25,000 fans were in attendance for Sunday’s open and free practice at M&T Bank Stadium.

 

 

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