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Thanksgiving leftovers from the Ravens’ win over San Francisco

Posted on 25 November 2011 by Luke Jones

As you pick through the remains of the turkey and scrape the bottom of the mashed potatoes bowl — or try to finally enjoy a turkey-induced nap as I was unable to do on Thursday — we take a final look back at the Ravens’ first ever Thanksgiving game.

– Of course, the story of the night was one of the finest defensive performances by the Ravens in recent memory — without Ray Lewis, ironically — as they tied a franchise record with nine sacks. It ranks as the second most in an NFL game this season, topped only by Buffalo’s 10 sacks against the Washington Redskins in Toronto on Oct. 30. It topped the previous season high of six against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8.

The relentless effort matched the Ravens’ nine sacks against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 26, 2006 in a 27-0 blowout at M&T Bank Stadium famously known for the violent hit Bart Scott delivered to Ben Roethlisberger. Baltimore also record nine sacks against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 16, 1997, a game that ended in a 10-10 tie at old Memorial Stadium.

Baltimore also continued the impressive streak of 19 consecutive games without allowing an opponent to score on its opening drive of the game.

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– Three defensive players tied or set a career high in sacks on Thursday night as Terrell Suggs matched his personal best with three sacks, Haloti Ngata tied his best total with two, and Cory Redding set a career best with 2 1/2 sacks.

It was the second time this season Suggs had reached the three-sack mark after doing it in the season opener against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11. The Ravens are an impressive 47-17 all time when Suggs records a sack and 12-1 when the Pro Bowl linebacker tallies at least two sacks.

Redding’s previous career high was two when he played for the Detroit Lions on Nov. 12, 2006 against the 49ers.

– While 16 points and 253 yards won’t raise many eyebrows, the Ravens offense was efficient in completing only its second turnover-free game of the season, the other coming against the Steelers in Week 1. Baltimore did not allow a sack for the first time this season as the offensive line did an exceptional job in protecting quarterback Joe Flacco.

The effort allowed Flacco to continue his impressive play at M&T Bank Stadium where he has now won 16 of his last 17 home starts. The fourth-year quarterback has completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 4,038 yards, 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions over that stretch, good for a 98.4 quarterback rating.

– With his 83 total yards against a formidable San Francisco defense, Ray Rice moved into second place on the Ravens’ all-time yards from scrimmage list. The running back passed wide receiver Derrick Mason and now has 1,259 yards from scrimmage this season.

Rice only trails former running back Jamal Lewis, who accumulated 9,166 scrimmage yards from 2000 to 2006.

– Much has been made about Billy Cundiff’s struggles from 50 yards and out, but the kicker has been flawless on field goal tries in the fourth quarter since 2010. Cundifff is a perfect 14-for-14 after connecting on a 39-yard field goal with 3:10 left in the fourth quarter on Thursday night.

– The Ravens are now 9-2 all time when wearing their black jerseys, including a 6-0 mark under coach John Harbaugh. It was the fourth time Baltimore has donned the alternate jersey with white pants, a look in which the Ravens are undefeated

The win over San Francisco improved the Ravens’ mark in prime-time games to 9-5 under Harbaugh and earned them their first Thursday win in four tries. The Ravens had previously lost Thursday night games against Kansas City in 1999, Cincinnati in 2006, and Atlanta in 2010.

The Ravens are now 29-5 when scoring first in a game during the Harbaugh era. Cundiff’s 39-yard field goal in the first quarter gave them a 3-0 lead, and Baltimore improved to 6-0 when striking first this season.

Baltimore is now 8-3 for just the second time in team history, matching its mark through 11 games last season. However, the impressive record trails the 9-2 start the Ravens posted when it finished a franchise-best 13-3 in 2006.

 

 

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With Ravens fans snickering at Mason, has Boldin received a free pass in Baltimore?

Posted on 12 October 2011 by Luke Jones

After Derrick Mason’s abrupt departure from the New York Jets on Tuesday night, many fans have offered their zingers and potshots at the former Ravens receiver, whose poor production and crumbling relationship with the Jets coaching staff led to him being traded to the Houston Texans for a seventh-round pick.

While I couldn’t resist making a snide comment or two about the whole situation, I’m mystified at the amount of disdain hurled toward the Ravens’ all-time leading receiver who caught 29 touchdowns in his six seasons in Baltimore. Yes, he could be a cranky diva — not unlike most productive wide receivers, mind you — but far too many are discrediting his work. The reliability he provided for a rookie quarterback named Joe Flacco, who was thrown into the starting lineup out of necessity in 2008, turned a potentially disastrous situation into one of the most enjoyable seasons the Ravens have ever had and sparked a promising career of a franchise quarterback.

Yes, it was time for Mason and the team to part ways, especially with the 37-year-old’s high salary-cap number in 2011, as many expected his production to be absorbed by veteran Anquan Boldin in his second season with the Ravens.

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And that brings us to a different topic entirely.

Through four games in 2011, Boldin has just 15 catches for 222 yards and a lone touchdown catch on the Ravens’ first drive of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11. It follows his 2010 season in which the former Arizona Cardinals wideout caught 64 balls for 837 yards and seven touchdowns. The only season in which Boldin had fewer receptions and receiving yards was his second season in 2004 when he played in only 10 games.

In comparison, Mason has 13 receptions for 115 yards in five games as the No. 3 receiver in New York before the trade to Houston on Tuesday. I mention this not to suggest that the Ravens should have kept Mason, but it poses an interesting, and largely unspoken, question with Boldin’s numbers not exactly blowing Mason’s out of the water by leaps and bounds.

Has Boldin received too much of a pass in his first 20 regular-season games in Baltimore?

We’ve seen all the explanations.

He, Mason, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were too similar in what they did best as receivers.

Boldin matches up against the opposition’s No. 1 cornerback and deals with bracketed coverage on a regular basis.

Flacco hasn’t developed the same rapport with Boldin as he enjoyed with Mason and doesn’t target him enough while going through his progressions.

And — of course — it’s offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s fault for not finding better ways to get the ball to Boldin in the offense.

While all of these explanations undoubtedly factor into the equation to varying degrees, at what point do we begin to wonder whether the Ravens really got their money’s worth when trading third- and fourth-round picks to Arizona a year ago and signing Boldin to a three-year, $25 million extension through 2013 with $10 million guaranteed?

When do we begin looking at Boldin himself?

That’s not to say Boldin has been a bad player in Baltimore. Far from it, in fact. The 31-year-old has shown mostly-reliable hands other than a critical drop in the end zone in the fourth quarter of the Ravens’ heartbreaking 31-24 loss to the Steelers in the AFC divisional round last January. He had three 100-yard games a year ago, including a three-touchdown explosion against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3.

But, he’s yet to show himself as even a proper replacement for Mason during his best seasons in Baltimore, much less the impact receiver Ravens fans thought they were getting a season ago.

For those pointing to the injury of Lee Evans and the lack of talented receivers to deflect attention from Boldin, Mason wasn’t exactly reaping the benefits of playing opposite Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams over the years, but he still found ways to be very productive.

The great ones are able to find space to get open in order to produce, even when the circumstances are far from ideal as they are right now in Baltimore, with the Ravens relying heavily on unproven rookie receivers in Evans’ absence.

With the offense still searching for its identity in an otherwise successful 3-1 start, the Ravens would sure benefit from a Mason-like — or even better — boost from Boldin, in whom they invested a lot after seven superb seasons in Arizona where he became the fastest player to reach 400, 500, and 600 catches in NFL history.

We’ve seen flashes of the Boldin who teamed with Larry Fitzgerald to form one of the most feared receiving tandems of the last decade, but the consistency just hasn’t been there to the degree that anyone expected.

Perhaps the surge is finally coming after the bye when you consider the lack of an offseason and how that might have stunted his development with Flacco. Or, maybe this is all we’re going to get from Boldin.

So, before we continue finding amusement in what’s amounted to a humbling conclusion to Mason’s playing career — yes, much of it his own doing — ask yourself a question.

Are we sure the Ravens are really that much better off without him?

Boldin’s numbers don’t support it.

At least, not yet.

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Ravens to see Derrick Mason for second straight game

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Ravens to see Derrick Mason for second straight game

Posted on 11 October 2011 by Luke Jones

Several Ravens defensive players reveled in the opportunity to hit former teammate Derrick Mason when the New York Jets came to M&T Bank Stadium two Sundays ago.

They’ll apparently get another opportunity this week as the Houston Texans have traded a conditional draft pick to the New York Jets for the 37-year-old wide receiver, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. The compensation will reportedly be a seventh-round pick, per Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com.

Needing help at the receiver position after losing dynamic playmaker Andre Johnson against the Steelers two weeks ago, the Texans will hope Mason has something left in the tank after he played five unproductive games with the Jets. It was apparent Mason’s relationship with the New York coaching staff was crumbling after he was benched in the first half of the Jets’ loss to the Patriots on Sunday amid reports of Mason complaining about his role in the offense.

Mason had just 13 catches for 115 yards in five games for the Jets and was supplanted by Jeremy Kerley as the Jets’ No. 3 receiver on Sunday.

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Ravens-Jets: Five predictions for Sunday night

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Ravens-Jets: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 01 October 2011 by Luke Jones

Three weeks into the season, I’m still trying to figure out just how good the Ravens really are — or will be — in 2011.

A seven-turnover blowout win over their bitter rival, an embarrassing loss in Tennessee, and a 30-point victory over the hapless Rams don’t exactly allow you to draw a definitive conclusion, but that’s why they play the games.

On the other hand, the Jets’ two wins over Dallas and Jacksonville before being shredded by the Oakland Raiders leave you scratching your head even more.

The storylines don’t need to be rehashed again. These coaches and players know each other very well, making for a highly-competitive matchup at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday night. It’s a conference game with possible playoff implications down the road, so don’t let the early Week 4 billing fool you in its significance.

Here’s what to expect when Rex Ryan’s Jets visit John Harbaugh’s Ravens on Sunday night …

1. The Jets will spread out the Baltimore defense with three- and four-receiver sets to exploit a thin secondary. A tenuous situation at cornerback grew even worse on Friday with the news that veteran Chris Carr is questionable for Sunday after re-aggravating the hamstring injury he’s fought since the preseason. Couple that with the decision to place Domonique Foxworth on injured reserve, and the Ravens may be looking at former practice-squad player Danny Gorrer and rookie Chykie Brown as their only reserve cornerbacks behind Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams. If the Ravens are unable to pressure Mark Sanchez, they will be eaten alive by the receiving trio of Raven killer Santonio Holmes, the 6-foot-5 Plaxico Burress, and the old veteran Derrick Mason, who will have extra motivation to show up his former team.

2. Tight end Dustin Keller and running back LaDainian Tomlinson will exploit the Ravens linebackers in coverage. As mentioned in the previous point, the Ravens will need to send heat to make Sanchez uncomfortable and help an undermanned secondary. That will leave the defense vulnerable underneath as Sanchez loves to throw the ball to his favorite target Keller (16 catches for 249 yards). It’s no secret the Baltimore linebackers are often exposed in coverage by talented tight ends and running backs releasing out of the backfield. Baltimore may be able to bring enough heat on Sanchez to curtail Holmes from burning the Ravens again, but Keller and Tomlinson (12 catches, 196 yards) are going to have productive days as receivers.

3. Torrey Smith will not follow up his record day in St. Louis with a productive night — statistically speaking. The rookie will likely never have another first quarter like he did against the Rams last week, but the performance serves a bigger purpose for the rest of the season, especially not knowing the status of Lee Evans’ injured ankle moving forward. Smith is likely to struggle with the physicality and overall talent of Antonio Cromartie, who will likely match up with the former Maryland standout. However, the Ravens will still send Smith on vertical patterns to keep the Jets defense honest and, more importantly, create space for Anquan Boldin, Ray Rice, and the Ravens tight ends to work underneath. Predicting a productive day for Boldin is tough with Darrelle Revis locked on him, but the veteran will find some room to help move the chains. Smith may not log more than a reception or two, but his work in St. Louis could pay dividends in keeping opposing defenses cognizant of where he is on the field at all times.

4. Ray Rice will have 130 total yards and a touchdown against a Jets defense desperate to stop the run. Much has been said about New York’s 31st-ranked run defense after Raiders running back Darren McFadden ran for 171 yards against the Jets a week ago, but the Ravens aren’t buying the Jets’ early struggles. Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will be desperate to shut down the Baltimore running game, so Rice may not see as much running room. However, Joe Flacco’s ability to get Rice the ball in space will pay off in the passing game with Revis and Cromartie looming in the secondary. He won’t go for 100 on the ground, but Rice will more than make up for it catching passes out of the backfield and will score a touchdown against the New York defense.

5. The Ravens will win a 24-20 nail-biter with more points than you’d expect because of turnovers from both sides. Considering last year’s 10-9 final between these teams in their regular-season opener, it’s almost unthinkable to expect 44 points to be scored on Sunday night. However, both quarterbacks will see a variety of different looks in potential blitz packages and coverages, which will lead to confusion for Flacco and Sanchez. A few turnovers will lead to short fields and, potentially, a defensive score or two. The Ravens, however, are the more complete football team at the beginning of October and will improve to 3-1 before using a much-needed bye to rest several injured players.

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Lee Evans hits practice field after passing physical

Posted on 13 August 2011 by Peter Dilutis

OWINGS MILLS – Newly acquired Lee Evans has passed his physical and is out on the practice field Saturday afternoon. Evans is sporting Derrick Mason’s old number 85, which is ironic considering Evans will also be taking Mason’s spot on the field.

**Update (3:33PM) The Ravens moved practice inside after only a few minutes outside as rain and thunderstorms threatened the Owings Mills area.

Among those not practicing today are Marshal Yanda, Terrence Cody, and Brady Bond.

Notable participants include Dominique Foxworth, Ed Dickson, James Hardy, and Ramon Harewood (who has now been taken off the PUP list).

With Marshal Yanda out today, Oniel Cousins was taking the snaps at RG, with Jah Reid getting time at RT. This MAY be an early indication that the team will opt for Yanda at G and Reid at T when the Ravens take on the Chiefs next week.

Certainly, the RT and RG situation will be something that we keep an eye on as Training Camp progresses.

Stay tuned for live updates as we expect to hear from Coach Harbaugh and Lee Evans following practice around 4:30.

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Ravens-Eagles Preseason Primer: What to watch in tonight’s opener

Posted on 10 August 2011 by Luke Jones

***Join us in the Purple Haze live chat beginning at 7:30 p.m. as WNST.net brings you live coverage from the preseason opener in Philadelphia. For the quickest updates and analysis, follow WNST on Twitter and be sure to subscribe to the WNST Text Service.***

Nearly seven months after the Ravens walked off the field after suffering a gut-wrenching loss to Pittsburgh in the AFC divisional playoffs, Baltimore begins preseason action on Thursday night looking noticeably different.

And younger.

After waving goodbye to veterans Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Willis McGahee, and Kelly Gregg and watching a number of others depart via free agency, the Ravens find themselves in transition, getting younger while still hoping to maintain their Super Bowl aspirations. However, questions at several positions including wide receiver, tight end, right tackle, and backup quarterback as well as the pass rush remain unanswered.

Couple those uncertainties with a 134-day lockout that eliminated off-season workouts and the typically mundane preseason opener appears to carry extra significance — depending on who you talk to, at least. With a young offense trying to find a new identity in the passing game, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron labeled this first preseason game as more important than any other year he could remember. On the other hand, new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said his veteran-laden defense will just “go out and play.”

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The final score will inevitably be forgotten in a matter of weeks, but the Ravens view the meeting with the revamped Eagles as a good indicator to evaluate how much work needs to be done before the season opener against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11. Key veterans such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, and Terrell Suggs figure to play little more than a series while other starters will see more extensive time through the first quarter or two.

“It’s hard to say a preseason game is ‘big’ big,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s big for a lot of guys. Is it going to be big for the team? Well, it’s big in the sense of, ‘Where are we?’ I think that’s going to be very important for us. It’s going to be very interesting to see where we’re at.”

With the Eagles signing the likes of cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Cullen Jenkins, running back Ronnie Brown, and defensive end Jason Babin, the Ravens will get a decent picture of where they stand after two weeks of training camp. Regardless of the outcome, however, viewers will fight the urge to overreact to what happens at Lincoln Financial Field — good or bad.

Series history

Thursday will mark the 12th time the Ravens have been scheduled to meet Philadelphia in the preseason, holding a 7-3 all-time mark in August. The last time the teams met in Philadelphia was 2004 when Terrell Owens caught an 81-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb on the Eagles’ first offensive play from scrimmage. The most recent preseason meeting, however, was a 29-3 victory for Baltimore in 2007.

The Eagles were involved in the most unique (infamous?) moment in the preseason history of the Ravens when unsafe turf conditions at Veterans Stadium forced the 2001 preseason opener to be canceled. That night of embarrassing events was documented in the premiere season of HBO’s Hard Knocks.

In games that actually count, the Ravens are 1-1-1 all-time against Philadelphia, with their victory coming in a 36-7 drubbing at M&T Bank Stadium in 2008.

Coaching connections

Harbaugh coached 10 seasons as a member of the Eagles staff, serving nine campaigns as the special teams coordinator and his final season as the secondary coach under Andy Reid. The Ravens head coach returns to Philadelphia for the first time since taking the helm in Baltimore in January 2008.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know if I know where the visiting locker room is. It’ll be my first time in the visiting locker room. I fully expect to be cheered rabidly when I walk out onto the field. (laughing) I’ll be highly disappointed if that doesn’t happen.”

In addition to Harbaugh’s Philadelphia ties, running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery visits a place fond to his heart. Having played in Philadelphia from 1977 through 1984, Montgomery holds the franchise’s career mark for rushing yards (6,538) and rushing attempts (1,465) as well as the Eagles’ single-season rushing record (1,512 in 1979).

Montgomery will be inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in November.

On the opposing side, Eagles linebackers coach Mike Caldwell played linebacker for the Ravens in their inaugural season in 1996.

Local flavor

Inside linebacker Jameel McClain is a Philadelphia native while quarterback Joe Flacco hails from nearby Audubon, N.J.

Flacco will have plenty of family and friends in attendance despite their past loyalties to the Eagles.

“I hope they’re rooting for Ravens,” the fourth-year quarterback said. “I know they’re all Eagles fans, but when they have to make a decision, I hope they make the right one. (laughter) But yeah, they’re crazy about their Eagles in South Jersey. I mean, I’m not going to convert all of South Jersey, hopefully just the people I know. I’ve got to remind them, ‘Hey, I got you the tickets, so you’ve got to root for us.’”

Though he recently landed on injured reserve with a ruptured Achilles tendon, Eagles defensive end Victor Abiamiri was born in Baltimore and attended Gilman.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was born in Philadelphia in 1960 before moving with his family to Baltimore a year later.

Injury report

Tight end Ed Dickson (hamstring), cornerback Jimmy Smith (groin), center Matt Birk (knee surgery), offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (active PUP – knees), and receiver David Reed (active PUP – wrist) will not play. Smith has returned to practice on a limited basis after missing four days last week, but the Ravens are taking extra precaution with the talented first-round pick.

Others not expected to play include newly-signed running back Ricky Williams, long snapper Morgan Cox (knee), defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee), receiver James Hardy (hamstring), and running back Matt Lawrence (undisclosed). Williams only has one practice under his belt since signing a two-year deal with the Ravens while Cox and McKinney only came off the active PUP list to begin practicing this week.

Domonique Foxworth missed consecutive practices on Monday and Tuesday, leaving his status for Thursday in doubt. The former Maryland cornerback has battled soreness and “ups and downs” throughout the off-season in rehabbing a surgically-repaired torn ACL that caused him to miss the entire 2010 season.

7 Players to Watch

1. TE Dennis Pitta – With Dickson sitting out the preseason opener with a hamstring injury, Pitta will get the start at tight end and the early opportunity to distinguish himself in the passing attack. The 6-foot-4 product from BYU has drawn comparisons to Todd Heap in his overall makeup, but production is another story entirely. Pitta made just one catch for one yard in his rookie season.

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Live from M&T Bank Stadium: Deprived of training camp, fans flock to see Ravens practice

Posted on 06 August 2011 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 4:45 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — With their only chance to watch the Ravens work out this summer after the lockout forced the cancellation of training camp in Westminster, 24,078 fans flocked to M&T Bank Stadium to watch a three-hour practice on Saturday morning.

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Though fans surely missed notable veterans such as Todd Heap — now with the Arizona Cardinals — and free agent Derrick Mason, the enthusiasm was palpable and brought a different feel to practice that players have not experienced in the quiet confines of their training facility in Owings Mills.

“It’s different,” said coach John Harbaugh, who gave a mixed review on how his players handled the crowd. “I talked to the team afterwards about communicating. You get in an environment like this and you realize it’s tough. We had a lot of distractions by design. It wasn’t just for the fans to have the interviews and the music and all that. It was also a great distraction for our players to overcome the noise and all that.”

Given Friday’s news of free-agent target Malcom Floyd signing a two-year contract to remain in San Diego, a hot topic of discussion after practice was the speculated return of Mason, who agreed to a one-year contract with the New York Jets following Saturday’s practice. Mason’s return would have been welcomed by quarterback Joe Flacco and No. 1 receiver Anquan Boldin.

“Derrick’s a great guy, great locker room guy,” said Flacco, who will now be without the security blanket of his first three seasons. “He can be a little bit of a diva sometimes, but that’s all good and fun with him for the most part. Derrick’s a great wide receiver. He’d help this team out in my opinion, and I’d welcome him back immediately.”

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How receptive Boldin would have been to Mason’s potential return was more intriguing considering how similar the two players are in terms of where they work best in the passing game. Despite the former Cardinals receiver being acquired last season to be the No. 1 receiver, Flacco often went to Mason as his first option, leaving Boldin as a mere afterthought at times.

However, Boldin has to be looking around at a plethora of rookies and inexperienced receivers while wondering what impact that might have on his ability to thrive in the offense. He won’t have to worry about Mason taking away his opportunities anymore, but the thought of defenses keying on him exclusively has to be prevalent in his mind.

“Me and [Mason] have a great rapport,”  said Boldin, who had been exchanging text messages with Mason as recently as a couple days ago. “I think he can help us out tremendously. I would love to have Mase back.”

With receivers struggling to gain separation during practice, linebacker Terrell Suggs would have welcomed the swagger the 37-year-old always brought to the other side of the football.

“I would be very excited to see Mason back,” the Pro Bowl linebacker said. “Not only is he a phenomenal player, he’s a phenomenal locker room guy and a great leader. He brings a little edge to the offensive side of the ball, so I definitely want Mase back.”

Saturday afternoon’s news of Mason joining Rex Ryan in the Big Apple will only leave the Ravens scratching their heads as the wide receiver position remains in flux.

First-round pick eased back into practice

After being sidelined with a groin injury since Monday afternoon’s practice, cornerback Jimmy Smith returned to practice and was able to get his first taste of action at M&T Bank Stadium.

However, Smith returned to the sideline, wearing a ball cap, during 11-on-11 team drills after the individual portion of practice concluded at the end of the first hour. This was all part of the plan, according to defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

“He’s nursing that groin,” said Pagano, who confirmed Smith did not re-aggravate the injury. “Our [training staff members] do a great job of monitoring these guys. To rush him out there and rush him back, you’d set him back two more weeks, maybe three more weeks. We’re being very guarded with that.”

After two days of strong practices and appearing to feel no effect of a hamstring issue that hobbled him over the first few days of camp, rookie receiver Torrey Smith did not participate during the second half of practice. When asked about the hamstring, Smith briefly labeled himself “A-okay” in what sounded more like a Harbaugh-mandated answer than a clear indication of his status — telling the truth or not.

There were no changes to the active physically-unable-to-perform list as offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (knees), defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee), receiver David Reed (wrist), and long snapper Morgan Cox (knee) did not practice on Saturday.

Cox says his surgically-repaired left knee does not impact his snapping while working out on his own, but movements needed for blocking and other responsibilities still cause pain in the knee. The long snapper could return to practice as early as this week, but his timetable for a return could linger deeper into the preseason depending on the knee’s progress.

Utah State rookie Patrick Scales has been the only healthy long snapper on the 90-man roster through the first week of camp.

Other players not practicing included tight end Ed Dickson (undisclosed) receivers James Hardy (hamstring) and Rodney Bradley, running back Matt Lawrence, and center Matt Birk (knee surgery).

Dickson has missed two straight days of practice.

Odds & ends

Pass protection was a major area of concern for both the first and second units on Saturday, as the defensive line created constant pressure on Flacco and rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Terrell Suggs came off the edge untouched on one play in 11-on-11 work and would have had a hit reminiscent of Bart Scott on Ben Roethlisberger in 2006 had it been a real game situation.

The starting offensive line included Bryan Mattison at center and rookie Jah Reid at right tackle, with fourth-year tackle Oniel Cousins mostly working with the second unit.

Defensively, Cory Redding worked at defensive end — after sharing time with Arthur Jones on Friday — while Tom Zbikowski received a majority of the reps at strong safety next to Ed Reed. However, Haruki Nakamura saw plenty of time with the first unit as the Ravens limited Reed’s reps during the 11-on-11 portion of practice. The starting cornerbacks were Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr.

The defensive highlight of the day came on a high pass from Flacco that was intercepted by Reed. Fans yelled the customary “Reed!” as the 10-year veteran ran with the ball — without lateraling it to a teammate.

Kicker Billy Cundiff was 6-for-6 on field goals, including one from 58 yards that had plenty of distance left over. The Ravens — and play-by-play voice Gerry Sandusky — tried to great a real-game atmosphere as much as they could, but the iron-footed Cundiff was not fazed.

After an impressive week of practices in his first training camp, rookie Tandon Doss had a difficult day, dropping several passes and being stripped of the ball by linebacker Jason Phillips after Doss had made a first-down reception.

Tight end Dennis Pitta — receiving the first-team reps with Dickson not practicing — had a few drops, including one that would have gone for a long gain. Unimpressed by the second-year player’s effort, an audible cheer for the popular Heap could be heard from the press box.

Former Maryland receiver LaQuan Williams continues to impress despite being a long shot to make the 53-man roster. Working with the second-team in a “last player of the game” simulation, Williams brought down a jump ball from Tyrod Taylor in the back of the end zone, wrestling the ball away with rookie safety Mana Silva covering. A strong showing in the early part of camp and his special teams prowess make Williams a viable candidate for the practice squad.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to listen to post-practice interviews with John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Tom Zbikowski, and defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

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With Floyd out, is Derrick Mason returning to Baltimore?

Posted on 05 August 2011 by Luke Jones

With free-agent receiver Malcom Floyd opting to re-sign with the San Diego Chargers Friday afternoon, the Ravens can only go back to the drawing board regarding veteran options to complement veteran Anquan Boldin.

The 30-year-old receiver is currently flanked by rookie draft picks Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss in the starting offense through the first week of training camp. After the 6-foot-5 Floyd passed on the Ravens’ strong interest in favor of a reported two-year, $5 million contract to remain in San Diego, coach John Harbaugh remains open to Baltimore adding another veteran receiver.

“That’s a possibility,” Harbaugh said. “We’re not certainly going to shy away from adding players. I think we’d be happy to bring in a really good player, so we possibly have room for one.”

But exactly who is out there? The logical choice would be the recently-released Derrick Mason, but the 37-year-old has been linked to the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans and may feel jaded after an abrupt release and the Ravens’ apparent courting of Floyd. And a legitimate — if not, unsettling — argument exists that the Ravens need to move on from the veteran receiver in order for the passing game to grow in Joe Flacco’s fourth season.

Harbaugh has been in contact with Mason via text messaging, but the coach hasn’t spoken to the receiver since before his visit with the New York Jets on Thursday.

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The rest of the market looks even bleaker with injury red flags all over the place such as Terrell Owens, Giants wideout Steve Smith, the recently-released Jerricho Cotchery, and former Raven Mark Clayton. T.J. Houshmandzadeh remains a free agent, but the Ravens have shown no interest in bringing back the disgruntled No. 3 receiver from a season ago.

Barring an unexpected trade or the unlikely chance of enticing an aging Randy Moss to reconsider his retirement, the Ravens may need to take a leap of faith that Smith and Doss can adjust quickly to the pro game.

“I think it’s going to go through the season with these guys,” Harbaugh said. “They’re going to be on the team, they’re going to be playing, and it’s going to be interesting to see how they handle the whole season.”

Conventional wisdom suggests receivers struggle in their first season, but some rookies have flourished in recent years such as Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams (65 catches, 964 yards, 11 touchdowns in 2010) and Indianapolis’ Austin Collie (60 catches, 676 yards, seven touchdowns in 2009), both of whom were selected in the fourth round of the NFL draft.

For what it’s worth over the first week of training camp, Smith and Doss have both made impressive plays against the starting defense and appear to belong — at least as much as you can on the practice field. Doss has looked polished while running routes and catches nearly everything thrown his way. And after being slowed by a hamstring injury earlier in the week, Smith turned in his best practice of the summer on Thursday, making a spectacular sideline catch against press coverage.

“We’re not going to lower the bar with these guys,” Harbaugh said. “The bar’s high, they knew what they were getting into when we drafted them. We did draft them because we thought they were guys that would get up to speed quickly.”

Judging from the lack of attractive veteran options currently on the market, they’ll need to.

Veterans day (off)

A number of veteran players were given the day off on Friday including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, Haloti Ngata, Brendon Ayanbadejo, and Domonique Foxworth. The veterans’ respite came a day after safety Ed Reed sat out Thursday’s workout.

“We’ll definitely pull some guys out as we go, kind of when needed,” said Harbaugh, who pointed out how these players had been practicing the entire week. “Ed [Reed] took some time yesterday, and those guys today.”

The move was reminiscent of the “30-and-over” club of past training camps, except Suggs, Ngata, and Johnson (who turns 30 on Aug. 14) do not fall under that mantra. Foxworth, 27, may have been given the day off to rest his surgically-repaired knee that’s given him trouble in the early stages of training camp and throughout the offseason.

Infirmary report

Tight end Ed Dickson (undisclosed) did not practice in the shells-and-shorts practice. Others missing included cornerback Jimmy Smith (groin), receivers James Hardy (hamstring) and Rodney Bradley, and running back Matt Lawrence.

There were no changes to the active physically-unable-to-perform list as offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (knees), receiver David Reed (wrist), defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee), and long snapper Morgan Cox (knee) did not practice on Friday.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from John Harbaugh, Tom Zbikowski, and Haruki Nakamura as well as Marshal Yanda’s conversation with WNST’s Glenn Clark immediately following Friday’s practice.

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Former Ravens receiver Mason close to joining Jets

Posted on 04 August 2011 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 8:40 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ten days after his abrupt release from the Baltimore Ravens, Derrick Mason appears close to finding a new home in the Big Apple.

The New York Jets have released veteran Jerricho Cotchery and are moving toward signing the former Ravens receiver.

Mason leaves behind six productive seasons in Baltimore in which he became the franchise’s all-time leader in both receptions (471) and receiving yards (5,777) after joining the Ravens in 2005.

Rumors began linking the 37-year-old receiver to Rex Ryan’s squad Wednesday night before Mason visited the Jets and took a physical on Thursday. He would join a talented group of receivers in New York that includes Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress.

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While the Ravens continue to pursue the services of 6-foot-5 receiver Malcom Floyd to add more size and diversity in the passing game, quarterback Joe Flacco will adjust to life without his favorite target as Mason acted as the young quarterback’s security blanket over the last three seasons. Mason is the only receiver in franchise history to have a 100-catch season, grabbing 103 passes in 2007.

With former tight end Todd Heap having already signed with the Arizona Cardinals last weekend, the door closing shut on a potential Mason return marks the official end of an era in which the two ranked in the top two spots in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions in the 15-year history of the franchise.

“I hope we can go out there and we can operate no matter what,” said Flacco after his two favorite targets were released last week. “If those guys aren’t there, it is because we are confident with the guys that we have and we’re confident in those guys taking that next step and really being able to take on a 16-game NFL schedule and be on. That’s what I would say. If they are not there, we know we have a great group of guys. If they are there, we are only going to benefit from that.”

With the Jets set to visit Baltimore on Oct. 2 for a Sunday night game, the addition of Mason would add even more fuel to the fire of what’s already a spicy story with the John Harbaugh-Ryan connection and a number of former Ravens finding a home with the Jets such as Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard as well as Trevor Pryce in the middle of last season.

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With veteran targets gone, Flacco wants ball in his hands

Posted on 27 July 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even putting aside the 134-day lockout that ended earlier this week, it was anything but a typical offseason for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

There was the firing of quarterback coach Jim Zorn and rumblings that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and Flacco weren’t on the same page.

With two years remaining on his current contract, Flacco expressed a desire for a new long-term contract in the midst of labor unrest.

Amid criticism from national media and peers such as Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley about his ability to win earlier this summer, Flacco married his high school sweetheart and saw his wedding photos become a viral sensation.

But none of that topped Monday’s news of the Ravens’ intentions to release his two longtime targets, Derrick Mason and Todd Heap, who were responsible for securing 33 of Flacco’s 60 touchdown passes over his first three seasons. Suddenly, Flacco finds his safety net torn away, with only Anquan Boldin and a number of young question marks remaining.

“I had no idea anything like that was going to happen, I really didn’t,” said Flacco, who expressed strong hope that both can be brought back. “You expect to come back and see some new faces, just like every year. Definitely was not expecting to get rid of Derrick and Todd. It happens in this league, so you’ve got to learn to not be surprised by those things.”

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Surprise is exactly what Flacco has brought to Baltimore since injuries forced the former Delaware quarterback into the starting lineup to begin his rookie season in 2008. With a regular season record of 32-16 over his first three seasons, the 26-year-old has silenced initial questions of whether he could play in the NFL, but the criticism has shifted to his postseason failures and an inability to become an elite quarterback at this point in his career.

Despite seven career playoff games — all coming on the road — and a 4-3 record, Flacco’s 61.6 quarterback rating and seven interceptions (to just four touchdowns) have many questioning whether he can lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl. Without Mason and Heap on the field, the pressure falls even heavier on Flacco’s shoulders in his fourth season, with criticism growing louder in many circles.

“There’s some that you don’t pay attention to and there’s some that you do,” said Flacco, whose quarterback rating has increased in each of his three seasons. “I don’t really quite understand it. We’ve had a good team the last three years, and I think I’ve gotten better each year and played pretty darn good. I really don’t understand it, but there’s nothing you can do about it. People are going to say what they’re going to say. We just have to go out there and continue to win football games.”

Winning football games may prove a greater challenge after the veteran departures and the lack of an offseason for Flacco to become better acquainted with rookie receivers Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss as well as to develop better chemistry with projected starting tight end Ed Dickson. Of Flacco’s 25 touchdown passes in 2010, players currently on the roster caught just nine of those scores — seven from Anquan Boldin.

The offense can no longer rely on the leadership of Heap and Mason, but will instead look to Flacco and running back Ray Rice to assert themselves further in their fourth season together.

“It’s just time to groom those guys and mold those guys the way we want them, the way I want them,” Flacco said. “We’ll have that chance. I’ll be able to be out there on the practice field with these young receivers.

“I’ll have a chance to live everything with them, go through every step of it with them. When they’re learning everything, when they’re going through their tough times, when they’re going through their good times, I’ll be right there with them, and that’ll be a good experience.”

Much has been opined about Flacco’s freedom in the offense — particularly with making pre-snap adjustments at the line of scrimmage — and a need to “remove the training wheels” for the young quarterback in what amounts to a big season for Cameron. The Ravens stated their intent in the offseason for Flacco to be more involved in the planning and execution of the offense.

Flacco wasn’t ready to disclose what that will ultimately look like, but his intention to take the accountability for the Ravens’ successes and failures was made perfectly clear in his first day back at the training complex, speaking with more conviction than what we’ve come to expect from the laid-back quarterback.

“We have to go through a season, and we have to put in game plans and just see what we’re going to do,” Flacco said. “I just want to go out there and win football games, and I want the ball to be put in my hands. I want everybody to be accountable. I want to go out there, and I want to be in control. I want to be put in the position to lose football games.

“I want it to be on me, and if we lose football games, I want you to be able to look directly at me and say, ‘Why did we lose this game?’ I should have a pretty good answer for you. And I want you to be able to look at me and say, ‘Why did we win this game?’ and I should have a pretty good answer for you. In order to do that, you have to have trust in me, and I think we’re there.”

With all the criticism of an unprecedented offseason and the abrupt exit of his two favorite targets, the spotlight shines even brighter on Flacco. The offense is younger and will depend on him to lead — and to perform — with the outspoken Mason and the lead-by-example Heap no longer in the picture.

That’s just fine with the Ravens quarterback.

“What motivates me is being the best quarterback in the world,” Flacco said. “I don’t play this game to be average; I play this game to be the best. It doesn’t matter what other people say. I think I’m pretty damn good. I don’t need to go out and tell everybody that. … I go out there, and I play.”

And that’s exactly what he’ll need to do.

Hear Flacco’s comments to the media in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.

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