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Thompson, Pierce suffer injuries in preseason opener

Posted on 09 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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In what was otherwise a satisfying 44-16 victory in the preseason opener, the Ravens suffered two injuries of note against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night.

The most concerning at this point appears to happen to wide receiver Deonte Thompson, who injured his left ankle making a 5-yard reception in the second quarter. The second-year wideout was in visible pain as he limped to the sidelined and was tended to by members of the training staff. Reports from Tampa indicated he was seen in a walking boot following the game.

The second notable injury was to Bernard Pierce as the backup running back scored a 20-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. Pierce took a helmet shot to the hip as he was crossing the goal line and landed awkwardly, appearing to tweak his knee. He was limping noticeably until he jogged to the sideline.

“We look pretty good right now,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who didn’t name any specific injuries. “We’ll have some things we’ll have to see about [Friday] – X-rays, MRIs, things like that. So we’ll have to see.”

Players are off on Friday before they return to the practice field in Owings Mills on Saturday afternoon.

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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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Training camp observations from Owings Mills

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Training camp observations from Owings Mills

Posted on 01 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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

There were no changes to the attendance report for Thursday’s practice from a day earlier, but the workout provided plenty of intrigue in terms of competition as the Ravens inch closer to next Thursday’s preseason opener at Tampa Bay.

The Baltimore public relations staff also released the first depth chart of the year, which shouldn’t be analyzed as anything but an estimate of what we’ve seen at training camp. However, it does support some of the following observations a week into full-squad workouts in Owings Mills:

1. The use of a point-based system to track practices has increased the intensity level between the offensive and defensive units and, more specifically, quarterback Joe Flacco and linebacker Terrell Suggs.

As we’ve seen with the explosion of statistically-based analysis in baseball over the last 30 years, NFL front offices and coaches are looking for more and more data to quantify what talent evaluators are seeing on the field over time. As a result, football video operations coordinator Drew Wilkins and defensive quality control coach Matt Weiss devised a point system to not only track the performance of players and units over time but also create more competition for players with a scoreboard tracking practices in Owings Mills.

The details of the system were too complicated for coach John Harbaugh to spell out Wednesday, but it seems more than coincidental to hear more chirping and gamesmanship than ever between the offense and defense — most of it being good-natured ribbing. Flacco and Suggs have been the ringleaders for their sides as the quarterback has become increasingly vocal over the last couple years and the 30-year-old linebacker is no longer in the shadow of Ray Lewis or Ed Reed as a spokesman for the defense.

During 11-on-11 drills on Thursday, the defense began chanting, “We fight!” after a reserve unit made a stop against the second-team offense. Not to stand by quietly, Flacco shouted across the field, “What are you, a little league softball team with that cheer?”

Suggs and Flacco continued jawing at each other with the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year bragging about having more “swag” before the Super Bowl XLVII MVP fired back that he made more money than his defensive contemporary.

If there were any lingering doubts, it’s quite clear who the vocal leaders are in the post-Ray Lewis era.

2. Questions remain over who will be the starting 11 for a revamped Ravens defense, but coordinator Dean Pees is thrilled with the potential versatility at his disposal.

It’s difficult to get a great read on how the Ravens will ultimately line up in their base defense, but Pees will likely view as many as 16 or 17 players as “starters” in his unit. It’s quite a change from last season when injuries all over the defense and deficiencies upfront forced Pees to simplify his play calling.

The addition of Chris Canty as a 5-technique defensive end — a position the Ravens failed to fill last season after the free-agent departure of Cory Redding — has allowed Pees to shift Haloti Ngata to the nose tackle position where he can use his strength and speed to either overpower or blow past centers and guards. The depth chart currently lists Ngata as the starting nose tackle and Canty and Arthur Jones as the starting defensive ends, but the Ravens will also have the likes of Marcus Spears, Pernell McPhee, Terrence Cody, and rookie Brandon Williams to mix and match along the line.

Regardless of whether he’s able to beat out rookie Matt Elam for the starting strong safety spot, James Ihedigbo will be another versatile piece as a dime back who can also play inside the box as an extra linebacker in certain packages.

Perhaps the most intriguing spot to watch will be the outside linebacker position where nearly everyone assumed Suggs and free-agent acquisition Elvis Dumervil would be the starters. The Ravens have listed Courtney Upshaw and Dumervil as co-starters at the strongside linebacker spot, but Upshaw has received extensive time at the starting “Sam” position in practices with Dumervil being used more in sub-packages and as the backup to Suggs at the rush linebacker spot in some 11-on-11 sessions.

Of course, these are very early observations, but Upshaw is superb at setting the edge and has a clear size advantage over Dumervil that might be more advantageous in early-down situations where running players are more likely. Make no mistake, the Ravens are very happy with Dumervil and he’s looked like a monster getting after the quarterback in practices, but he may be used more as a situational player like Paul Kruger than as an every-down linebacker like Suggs on the other side.

3. Tight end Ed Dickson has impressed in the absence of the injured Dennis Pitta, but the collective group of young wide receivers beyond Torrey Smith has been nondescript thus far.

Many forget that Dickson posted a 54-catch, five-touchdown season in 2011 before Pitta emerged later that season and the former was phased into a supporting role. In a contract year and knowing that Pitta is gone for the season, Dickson has certainly looked like a man trying to make a statement in the early days of practice, catching the football consistently and even working a little more in the slot in the way Pitta would.

Meanwhile, the wide receiver position looks as cloudy as it did before camp as no one beyond Smith looks the part of a deserving starter at this very early stage. Jacoby Jones has filled a role similar to what we saw last year as an outside receiver in three-wide sets, making you wonder if the Ravens are inclined to keep him in that limited capacity offensively to preserve him for his return duties. Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson have received more opportunities than other young wideouts with the starting unit as each has worked primarily out of the slot but also on the outside in some two-wide sets.

In evaluating Doss, Thompson, LaQuan Williams, David Reed, Aaron Mellette, and Tommy Streeter, there has been some good, some bad, and plenty of “meh.”

Perhaps the best way to illustrate my point was the discussion I overheard Thursday between two local media members about which receivers had impressed them the most to this point. One reporter praised two young receivers before the second reporter disagreed and pointed out a series of negative plays from each. The second reporter then offered his thoughts on a couple other receivers that were predictably disputed by the other reporter.

My way-too-early observation of the entire group? The absence of Anquan Boldin sticks out like a sore thumb.

4. In position battles at center, inside linebacker, and strong safety, the coaching staff is giving veterans the early benefit of the doubt.

I still believe Gino Gradkowki has the inside track for the starting center spot, but former Indianapolis Colt A.Q. Shipley has received a large number of reps with the starting offensive line, which could just be a show of respect for his extra experience or a reflection of him pushing the second-year Gradkowski more than anticipated. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell praised both on Thursday and also talked about how important communication would be as the center is responsible for making the blocking calls at line of scrimmage.

Neither Gradkowski nor Shipley are very big, which does make you question if either will hold up as well physically as the retired Matt Birk, who was noticeably bigger at the center spot. As you’d expect, the preseason will loom large in determining who’s snapping the ball to Flacco in Denver on Sept. 5.

At inside linebacker, it’s apparent that Daryl Smith is a heavy favorite to be the starting “Mike” — responsible for making the defensive calls — if Jameel McClain isn’t available at the start of the year. The 31-year-old has been praised for both his leadership and play since arriving on the scene in early June.

Who lines up next to him will be more interesting as the Ravens are clearly making rookie Arthur Brown pay his dues, instead giving most of the first-team reps to Josh Bynes and even Albert McClellan on occasion. Brown may not begin the season as a starter, but at the very least, he’s a good bet to be involved as a nickel linebacker in passing downs to utilize his ability in pass coverage.

Ihedigbo is listed as the current starting strong safety on the depth chart as Elam has worked with the second unit, which is probably the best example of the Ravens deferring to veterans early in camp. It’s difficult to imagine Elam not being the starter Week 1, but Pees loves Ihedigbo’s versatility and both will likely be used creatively in various defensive packages.

Elam has made some good plays in coverage, but his 5-foot-10 frame has been an issue matching up against bigger tight ends on occasion.

 

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Without Pitta and Boldin, Flacco must take the next step as a franchise quarterback

Posted on 29 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

Like many Ravens fans, my heart sank when I heard about the injury to Dennis Pitta. Now, Flacco is without two targets that produced 7 of his eleven postseason touchdowns.

Pitta is a huge loss for the Ravens. Made worse by the lackluster supporting class which remains. We all know about Torrey Smith who has excelled as a deep threat in his short career. Smith also displayed signs of developing as an all-around receiver in 2012.

Behind Smith, there are major question marks. If the season started tomorrow (that would be awesome), Jacoby Jones would likely line up across from Torrey Smith. That could be an issue from several standpoints.

For several seasons in Houston, Jones was expected to be the second receiver across from Andre Johnson, one of the best receivers over the last ten years. Jones consistently struggled to make the type of impact the Texans desperately needed to take attention away from Andre Johnson and therefore, take the offense to another level. If Jones struggled to make an impact with a Hall of Fame receiver, how much of an impact can he make with Torrey Smith?

Jones’s impact on special teams will also come into question if he starts at receiver. Remember when the Bears tried to turn Devin Hester into a receiver? Hester has struggled as a return man ever since. Jones’s ability to return kicks and punts for touchdowns can change the momentum of a game in an instant. If Jones is counted on to make an impact at receiver, Jones might not be able to change games as a return man.

However, Jones can make an impact on the offense if the Ravens use him as a third option where he isn’t counted to make a large contribution to the offense.

Now, back to the topic at hand. What must Joe Flacco do to make the next step as a franchise quarterback? Make something out of nothing.

Name as many receivers Tom Brady has worked with as you can. It’s difficult, isn’t it? Outside of Randy Moss, Deion Branch, Troy Brown, and Wes Welker, the names are difficult to remember. For years, Brady has made household names out of receivers no one has heard of.

Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and even Phillip Rivers have done the same exact thing.

In 2013, Flacco will have to do this as well. Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter, LaQuan Williams, David Reed, and Aaron Mellette are all competing for the second receiver position.

Tandon Doss was hand picked by Flacco in the 2011 draft. Doss’s size, speed, and hands perfectly compliment Torrey Smith. But, Doss has yet to translate those skills to the field. Coaches have raved about Doss’s hands but he dropped every ball thrown his way in the playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Other young receivers have showcased their ability in training camp. Second year receivers Deonte Thompson and Tommy Streeter have been praised for their physical attributes. But those tangibles will only take them so far.

Flacco has the ability to make everyone around him better. The offense Jim Caldwell implemented last season is up-tempo and aggressive. Those attributes perfectly fit Joe Flacco’s mentality and rocket arm.

Yesterday, veteran tight end Visanthe Siancoe was added to the Ravens roster. Shiancoe is athletic enough to create mismatches and he catches almost everything. While Shiancoe is a nice addition, he won’t be expected to make a huge impact. But Shiancoe’s role might increase should the Ravens younger receivers struggle early in the season.

The Ravens aren’t doomed for the 2013 season. The running game is still elite and the defense will greatly improve. Flacco is perfectly positioned to take the reigns as the Ravens leader and make everyone better. After all, the Ravens are paying him like a quarterback who can do just that.

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Baltimore Ravens 2013 Season Preview Part Three: Predicting the Biggest Positional Battles

Posted on 06 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

It’s no secret the Ravens are a different team. Starters that must be replaced include Carry Williams, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe, Vonta Leach, and Anquan Boldin. Paul Kruger is also gone but he was more of a role player that rotated starts with rookie Courtney UpShaw.

The following are my projections for the most heated roster battles.

Receiver:

Torrey Smith is the only receiver guaranteed a starting spot. Jacoby Jones is a veteran but struggled in Houston when given a larger workload. Therefore, Jones will be competing with Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter, David Reed, and LaQuan Williams. So far, Thompson has made the most of offseason workouts. According to reports, he displays great hands and improved route running ability to go along with his blazing speed.

When the Ravens face the Broncos on Sept. 5, Jacoby Jones will start across from Torrey Smith. He is experienced and made plays when given the opportunity last season. The third receiver will be Danton Doss with Deonte Thompson winning the fourth receiver spot on the depth chart. Doss’s skill set translates well to the slot receiver position. His hands, physicality, and ability to get upfield after the catch will make him a nice weapon for Flacco.

Cornerback:

I am a huge Jimmy Smith fan. Smith has too much potential to be the Ravens nickel corner. If he can put everything together, he will be starting opposite Lardarius Webb. Corey Graham would then be the team’s nickel corner. Successfully defending two passes to Michael Crabtree towards the end of the Super Bowl will be positive plays for Smith to build upon.

Chykie Brown could be a sleeper to receive playing time this season. He showed promise last season and played frequently towards the end of the season.

Inside linebacker:

John Harbaugh and the Ravens have a lot of options at inside linebacker. Jameel McClain will likely start. Therefore, the competition really comes down to Arthur Brown and Darryl Smith. Brown was a second round selection in the 2013 draft and is projected to be a defensive rookie of the year candidate. But Smith brings experience and proven ability at inside linebacker. In the beginning of the season, I think Smith will start on running downs and Brown will play on passing downs. Brown has excellent coverage ability and when paired with McClain, they could make up a great duo in pass coverage.

Bryan Hall could also receive playing time pending the training camp competition. Hall played along the defensive line last season but is making the switch to inside linebacker. Hall could play in certain blitz packages but for the most part, will be a special teams player.

Nose tackle

After a solid 2011 season, many thought Mount Cody would break out in 2012. But Cody struggled. He was consistently pushed around and made little impact against teams with great running games. Ozzie Newsome has made an effort to improve the middle of the defense through the draft and free agency. Brandon Williams was drafted in the third round and Marcus Spears and Chris Canty were signed in free agency. Spears and Canty won’t play nose tackle but they will improve the middle of the defense.

I think Brandon Williams will win the starting job. Cody had hip surgery which could explain his poor play in 2012. If Cody can get healthy and play like he did in 2011, the Ravens will have a great rotation at nose tackle.

Center

Replacing Matt Birk will be difficult. Birk was a great leader and will be replaced by either Gino Gradkowski or AQ Shipley. Gradkowski was drafted out of Delaware in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. Gradkowski was projected to be the starter once Birk retired but Shipley played very well for the Colts last season. He played so well that he earned a plus 6.9 rating from Pro Football Focus.

Gradkowski is the early favorite but Shipley is a solid veteran that could start should Gradkowski struggle.

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Your Monday Reality Check: Celebration over, preparation in full force this week

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Your Monday Reality Check: Celebration over, preparation in full force this week

Posted on 10 June 2013 by Glenn Clark

As Nestor Aparicio, Luke Jones and I were sitting at the Baltimore Ravens’ facility in Owings Mills Friday night, we were discussing the finality of the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII season/celebration. Luke pointed out the team would still have the ability to hang a Super Bowl championship banner at M&T Bank Stadium before their home opener Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns, but that’s about all that’s left for this team.

With the White House visited and the rings handed out, the Baltimore Ravens are now-in the words of now NFL agent Jay-Z-”on to the next one.” It was nice to have Ray Lewis and Ed Reed around Charm City for a week. It was nice to reflect once more on this particular era of Ravens football.

But as of today, that’s over.

As of today, the relationship between Ed Reed and the Baltimore Ravens is once again severed. He won’t be back in the building again until his career comes to a close. As of today, Ed Reed is nothing more than a player the Ravens will have to go up against when they play the Houston Texans…if he’s healthy enough to play.

It has been remarkably fun to celebrate a Super Bowl title for Baltimore Ravens players (and coaches and staffers who also received rings Friday night) and fans alike. It’s been a wild four months of player movement, late-night talk shows, Dancing With The Stars, accolades and high-fives.

It’s all in the past now.

The Ravens open their only mandatory mini-camp of the offseason tomorrow in Owings Mills. While a number of players have taken part in voluntary OTA’s and strength programs, this will be the first gathering of what will make up the overwhelming majority of the 2013 version of this team. There will still be a few lingering injuries that will prevent players from taking part in practice, but it will most certainly be the closest thing we’ll see to the first look at the Ravens in the post Lewis/Reed era before Training Camp.

While you’re scrambling to make sure you have your copy of “Purple Reign 2″ before Father’s Day (and that isn’t a bit-you REALLY need to make sure this is the gift you’re giving), the Purple Birds will spend their week taking the best look they can at the team that will take the field this year to try to protect their Lombardi Trophy.

For the World Champs, there are a number of questions as always. None will be fully addressed in minicamp; because no NFL issue has EVER really been fully addressed during the course of a minicamp. But many will be viewed closely with the understanding that this is the best opportunity to set the tone for how the team handles both Camp and preseason games.

The Ravens will have to plan a depth chart before Training Camp gets underway. While all players will get reps, determining who gets which reps with which unit and how many are necessary is something that will happen between now and the start of Camp. At no position is that determination more difficult than wide receiver.

The Ravens know what they have at the top of the depth chart at wide receiver. Torrey Smith (or “Samson” as LB Terrell Suggs joked Friday night) is expected to lead the group and appears to be on the verge of breakout stardom. His exceptional speed was combined with better route running and improved catching consistency last season, leaving many to believe he could become a 1,000 yard type of receiver in his third year out of Maryland.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Flacco unwavering despite changes all around him

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Flacco unwavering despite changes all around him

Posted on 22 May 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. — Joe Flacco has the Super Bowl ring — or at least he officially will in a couple weeks.

The Ravens quarterback has the lucrative $120.6 million contract and the long-term security it provides.

And he has a heightened level of respect, even if some of his biggest critics now want to see him replicate some semblance of his record-setting playoff run in the regular season.

But an offseason full of changes brings more questions for the franchise quarterback. The retirement of Ray Lewis and the free-agent departure of Ed Reed have left a gigantic leadership void that many expect the 28-year-old to fill as he enters his sixth season. The exits of center Matt Birk and wide receiver Anquan Boldin suddenly makes Flacco one of the elder statesmen on the offensive side of the football.

Ask anyone in the Baltimore locker room whether Flacco is treating this offseason or his style of leadership any differently and you’ll receive a similar response. The Super Bowl XLVII MVP was already the kind of leader teammates respect, even if it lacks Lewis’ camera-friendly fire or Reed’s outspoken nature.

“Joe has done a great job throughout his career in his own way,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Nothing is going to change Joe. Joe is going to be who he is. I don’t think a change in the roster is going to change Joe [and] who he is. A change in the contract isn’t going to change Joe. Joe is Joe, and that’s what you love about him.”

Flacco is also experiencing his first full offseason with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. While many have wondered what the former Indianapolis head coach can do with the offensive system with ample time to plan after being thrown to the fire last December, Flacco downplayed any notion that the Ravens will look dramatically different on offense in 2013.

Of course, the start of the regular season is still more than three months away, so much could happen, both from schematics and personnel standpoints. The Ravens will hope the dramatic breakthroughs made in December that carried over into their postseason run to a Super Bowl title were only scratching the surface in terms of production under Caldwell.

“We may have changed a couple things here and there, but for the most part, it’s the same,” Flacco said. “He’ll probably add some of his concepts in just because he’s the guy that is driving things for the most part now. So, we’ll have new wrinkles in there, but for the most part, it’s pretty similar.”

Perhaps the biggest change we’ll see between now and the start of the season is at the wide receiver position as the Ravens continue to adjust to life without Boldin as their most reliable receiver. To this point, general manager Ozzie Newsome hasn’t added a veteran receiver with a track record to supplement the outside threats that Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones provide.

Instead of looking at a scrap heap of free-agent receivers headlined by the productive but baggage-heavy Brandon Lloyd, the Ravens appear content with evaluating a cast of young receivers that includes Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, and David Reed. All three saw time working with Smith and the starting offense during Wednesday’s practice as Jones was absent on the heels of his third-place finish in ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.

Asked if outsiders have made too much of the Ravens’ need to add an established wideout to the mix, Flacco sees potential in the homegrown players who have received few opportunities to this point in their respective careers. The three young receivers who’ve been sharing time with the first unit this week have combined for 17 receptions and just 35 targets.

With tight end Dennis Pitta expected to work more from the slot, the Ravens don’t need any of the young options to match Boldin’s impressive production, but they do need at least one to become a viable target. And much of that development will fall on a veteran quarterback entering the prime years of his career. For years, it was veteran pass catchers such as Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, and Boldin nurturing Flacco’s development, but the Ravens believe Flacco can now do the same for younger receivers.

“I like the idea of having guys that we’ve had, we’ve drafted here, or we’ve picked up here and grooming them and getting those guys to become great wide receivers,” Flacco said. “They definitely have the talent to do it; I think we just need to get them some [game-time] reps and their confidence can take off.

“One of the biggest things about Anquan is that he knew he was the man. So, when he went out there, he didn’t care what happened. He was the man. You don’t realize how much that helps out your play and your team’s play. And when these young guys can get to the point where they’re out there and their attitude is that, they have all the ability in the world, and I feel very confident with those guys.”

None of the Ravens’ many youthful options are a sure thing. Doss has drawn the strongest comparisons to Boldin because of his crisp routes and strong hands shown in practices, but those skills haven’t transferred to game action in limited opportunities and he’s struggled to stay healthy. Thompson shows breakaway speed, but the biggest knock on him at the University of Florida was his inconsistent hands. Reed faces questions about both his durability and his hands.

Perhaps a receiver from a second tier of players that includes LaQuan Williams, Tommy Streeter, and Aaron Mellette will turn heads over the next few weeks and push their way into the conversation.

And there remains a very real possibility that the Ravens make that veteran addition through a trade or by simply waiting until cuts are made over the course of the preseason.

None of these uncertainties seem to faze Flacco, who views change as part of life in the NFL. He simply takes the lessons learned from the veterans before him and passes them along to newcomers. The Ravens hope the confidence Flacco holds in his own ability will hopefully rub off on an unproven group of players in which he sees much promise.

His style hasn’t changed, but his success speaks for itself in terms of how he’s viewed as a leader in the locker room and on the field. It’s a major reason why the Ravens aren’t nearly as concerned about the veteran leadership lost this offseason as everyone else seems to be.

“We’ve always had a locker room where everybody kind of shares roles,” Flacco said. “You have so many guys that are very responsible and know how to go to work, and I think that’s why we’ve been able to continuously have success even though our team has changed a lot. It’s because all of those guys that have been there before us really show us how to do it and then everybody just kind of takes that lead.

“And I think that’s where we are. I think that’s where I am.”

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Ravens-Cowboys: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Cowboys: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 14 October 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Welcoming the Dallas Cowboys to Baltimore for the first time since the 2004 season, the Ravens look to continue their NFL-best 13-game winning streak at home on Sunday afternoon.

After three prime-time home games to begin the season, the Ravens were finally able to settle into their regular routine this week for Sunday afternoon games and will face a Dallas team coming off its bye. Baltimore is 3-0 all-time against the Cowboys, including a 2-0 mark at M&T Bank Stadium.

Veteran Bobbie Williams will start at left guard for the first time this season, replacing third-year lineman Ramon Harewood. The former Cincinnati Bengal was signed in early June with the expectation of starting along the Ravens offensive line, but the 36-year-old dealt with swelling in his right ankle that he fractured in December last season and the surprising Harewood beat him out at the end of the preseason.

Harewood was listed as one of the seven inactives prior to Sunday’s kickoff. With him and Jah Reid both listed as inactives, the Ravens will have only seven offensive linemen available against the Cowboys.

With tackles Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele struggling with edge rushers, you have to wonder if veteran Bryant McKinnie will be the next veteran to regain his spot along the starting line should the pair struggle against Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware on Sunday. Through the first five weeks of the regular season, Williams and McKinnie had been relegated to spot duty and special teams.

In another sign of potential concern for their play at tackle, the Ravens have activated third tight end Billy Bajema, who could assist in run blocking and pass protection.

The Ravens surprisingly deactivated kick returner Deonte Thompson, who fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half last week. This likely means No. 3 wide receiver Jacoby Jones will return kicks against Dallas.

Meanwhile, the Dallas offensive line has struggled immensely this season as it’s been unable to open running lanes for Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (3.9 yards per carry) and consistently protect quarterback Tony Romo, who’s tied for third in the league with eight interceptions in only four games.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys with black pants while Dallas wears its white tops with silver pants.

The Baltimore defense will be introduced prior to Sunday’s game, but center Matt Birk will also be announced as he will play in his 200th NFL game.

Here are Sunday’s inactives …

BALTIMORE
G Ramon Harewood
WR Deonte Thompson
DL DeAngelo Tyson
LB Sergio Kindle
DL Bryan Hall
CB Asa Jackson
OL Jah Reid

DALLAS
LB Anthony Spencer
P Brian Moorman
WR Cole Beasley
S Matt Johnson
LB Orie Lemon
OL Ryan Cook
DT Marcus Spears

Follow WNST on Twitter as Drew Forrester, Nestor Aparicio, and I bring live coverage and updates from M&T Bank Stadium throughout the day Sunday as the Ravens try to improve to 5-1 on the season.

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Four Questions for the Ravens Season

Posted on 04 September 2012 by jeffreygilley

Personally, I have high hopes and expectations for the Ravens this season.  But then again, when are expectations not high in Baltimore?  The success the Ravens have had in their short existence is truly unbelievable.  As I said, this season is no different and the Ravens are hoping to make the Super Bowl after reaching the AFC Championship in two of the last four years.  But, no team enters a season without question marks.

Can the Ravens young linebackers replace the production of Suggs?  

As we all know, Terrell Suggs tore his ACL in the off-season.  Because of his injury, linebackers Paul Kruger, Courtney UpShaw, Sergio Kindle, and Albert McClellan must step up.  Kruger had a nice season in 2011 but that was when he had Terrell Suggs on the field commanding double teams.  Kruger is not alone though.  He has the help of some young players but young is the key word.  Kindle, UpShaw, and McClellan are all young and unexperienced.

If the Ravens can not produce any pressure, the team will struggle.  Pernell McPhee is a defensive lineman to keep an eye on.  He was most effective last season when he lined up against guards.  Pernell McPhee and Haloti Ngata will be a deadly combination this season and can occupy blockers which will help the Ravens young linebackers.

Can Torrey Smith have a break out season? 

Another way the Ravens can make up for the loss of Terrell Suggs is for the offense to be more productive and the pre-season has looked promising for the offense.  Joe Flacco looks much different.  He seems more composed and is scanning the field more effectively.  His favorite target seems to be Torrey Smith.  Smith also looks better.  His route running is more polished and he is now more than a down field threat.

If Torrey Smith had an 800-yard season in 2011 by being a down field threat only, immagine what he can do now that he is more polished?

How will the Ravens use Bobby Rainey and Deonte Thompson?

Bobby Rainey and Deonte Thompson were both stars of the pre-season.  They were brought into Ravens camp with little expectations but once they got to camp, they did nothing but perform at a high level.  Rainey, a running back out of Western Kentucky has shown a vast skill set throughout the preseason.  Rainey can run the ball effectively, catch the ball out of the backfield, he can block, and he can even return punts and kicks.  I think Rainey will play a role very similar to how Darren Sproles is used in New Orleans.  He is a play maker and the Ravens need as many of them as possible.

Deonte Thompson has also been very impressive in the preseason.  Like Raney, Thompson has been effective in multiple areas.  He has been explosive at wide receiver and as a kick returner.  Thompson has an opportunity to climb the depth chart even more.  Players like LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss are ahead of him but Thompson has been more impressive in the preseason.  I expect Thompson to be used in multiple situations this season.

Will the special teams improve? 

The Ravens are stacked with options to return punts and kicks.  Jacoby Jones, Asa Jackson, Deonte Thompson, and Bobby Rainey have all shown flashes of brilliance in the return game but returning punts and kicks is not the problem.  The coverage was dreadful last season.  To improve the kickoff and punt coverage, the Ravens made several moves in the offseason.  Cory Graham, a special teams ace from the Bears is expected to play a big role on special teams this year and possibly on defense.  Sean Considine was also signed and is expected to contribute in a big way on special teams.

The special teams coverage did not look good in the preseason but it’s only the preseason.  I expect the special teams to be greatly improved from last season.

 

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Deonte Thompson is Making a Case for a Roster Spot

Posted on 15 August 2012 by jeffreygilley

From day one, Deonte Thompson has been making plays.  The un-drafted free agent from Florida has serious speed and good hands.  Thompson is fighting for a roster spot among group of receivers filled with youth and talent.  Most predict that the Ravens will keep six wide receivers on the final 53-man roster.  Anquan Boldin,  Torrey Smith, and Jacoby Jones are locks to make the roster.  After those three players, the picture is not so clear.

The players competing for the final three wide receiver spots are LaQuan Williams, Tandon Doss, Tommy Streeter, and Deonte Thompson.  Williams and Doss will most likely make the roster because of their production on special teams and their potential at wide receiver.  Although coaches have praised Doss, he has struggled to stay on the field due to injuries.  If Doss can’t stay healthy, the Ravens could surprise everyone and let him go.  While this is unlikely, it is still a possibility.

Every team in the league values players who can make an impact on special teams.  The Ravens are no different.  Therefore, the competition for the final three roster spots could come down to special teams.  Williams and Doss have been good on special teams and are somewhat established players in the Ravens organization.  Therefore, you can really narrow down the competition to be between Tommy Streeter and Deonte Thompson for the final roster spot at wide receiver.

While Tommy Streeter was a sixth round draft pick and Thompson was un-drafted, Thompson seems to be making more of an impact on offense and special teams.  Streeter is more of a project player and Thompson could produce for the Ravens right away.  Therefore, I think Thompson should make the team.

In addition to his potential role on special teams, I think Thompson could make an impact on the offense.  The Ravens are looking for a fourth receiver and neither LaQuan Williams or Dandon Doss have made significant strides to win that job.  Thompson’s presence in the offense would make the Ravens receiving core one of the fastest in the NFL.

If the Ravens do pick Thompson over Streeter, they can still keep Streeter seeing as they love his potential and raw ability.  Streeter could spend one year on the scout team and come back next year to make the team.  After all, Anquan Boldin will be a free agent and the Ravens might decide not to resign him.  Streeter could, one day, become the number two receiver for the Ravens.  He just needs time to develop.

 

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