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10 Reasons to Be Excited About the Ravens in 2011

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10 Reasons to Be Excited About the Ravens in 2011

Posted on 18 August 2011 by Thyrl Nelson

Honorable Mentions: Thanksgiving Day Football and the HarghBowl, Renewing Old Titans Rivalry, Dawan Landry and the Jags on Monday Night (week 6), Derrick Mason returns to Baltimore with Jets (week 4), Todd Heap returns to Baltimore with Cardinals (week 8), Matt Stover’s Ring of Honor Induction vs. CIN (week 11), Chance to Exorcise last season’s demons vs. PIT (week 1) 

 

Reason #10 – The Orioles are 47-74

 

How do you spell relief as a Baltimore sports fan? R-A-V-E-N-S. After another trying baseball season the Ravens loom as a harbinger of the return of credibility to the Baltimore sports scene. With expectations however, often come inordinate expectations. Our collective sports passion has been suppressed since January 15th and teased with the lockout pretty much ever since, as football returns let’s be determined to enjoy it. Anything can happen and often does in the NFL, and what happens in September, October and November to playoff teams rarely bears much relevance once the playoffs actually begin. When they do the Ravens will be there. Read on, you’ll see…

 

 

Reason #9 – New Faces Less Predictability

 

Even more than their inability or unwillingness to audible last season (a frequent complaint of fans) the Ravens seemed to leave little mystery about their pre-snap efforts, seemingly giving opponents a leg up through their straight forward play calling and dressing. While guys like Heap and Mason were reliable targets who Flacco seemed to have an instinctive idea as to where they would be at any given time, defenses also may have benefited from the predictability of the offense as a result. With new personnel groupings come new strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. Opposing teams as a result should be more challenged to figure the Ravens out pre-snap.

 

 

Reason #8 – Luck Follows Speed

 

This was one of my Dad’s favorite sayings and one I have come to accept in sports. What the Ravens gave up in comfort and experience in the receiving corps, they’ll try to make up for in increased speed and athleticism. As members of the wide receiving and tight end units struggle to command playing time and opportunities, renewed hunger should be a factor too.

 

 

Reason #7 – Rushing Improvements

 

Maybe it doesn’t fit the modern NFL protocol for team building but the improvements that the Ravens have seemingly made to their ground attack can’t hurt, especially for a team that struggled as mightily as the Ravens did with grinding out second half leads. Marshall Yanda is back and will ideally play guard, Ray Rice is running for a payday, Ricky Williams seems to be an improvement as a goal line back, Vonta Leach is a star maker (Steve Slaton / Arian Foster). As teams gear up more and more to stop the league’s prolific passing attacks, the Ravens ground game could be tough to deal with and should open up their aerial options too.

 

 

Reason #6 – The Rookie Talent Infusion

 

The Ravens have gone high risk / high reward in the last couple of drafts. In 2010 they suffered the risk, if 2011 brings forth the rewards they’ll be in interesting shape. Sergio Kindle was a steal (talent wise) in the minds of many, who fell to the Ravens because of “character concerns”, having suffered the byproducts of some of those concerns and missing all of last year, Kindle returns hopefully matured as a result of some tough lessons and realizations and ready to make the most of his second chance.

 

Jimmy Smith slid to the Ravens late in the first round of this year’s draft, again mostly due to “character concerns” If he proves himself to be top 15 talent without the other baggage the Ravens will be looking at a pair of potential impact rookies on the defensive side of the ball. Smith doesn’t need to be the proverbial island in the Ravens system, but if he eventually evolves to that, no one will complain. As a rookie that seems too high a bar to set or to predict, but what he should bring to the table will be exciting enough.

 

Torrey Smith was a name that some fans were tabbing for the Ravens first pick. His is a great story, and one that unfolded in our backyard. Tandon Doss is Flacco’s first endeavor into scouting, making him successful should be amongst the QB’s top priorities. Jah Reid may be called on to start at right tackle from day one. Anthony Allen and Tyrod Taylor are also interesting pieces to be developed and stored for future use.

 

 

Reason #5 – Storybook Ending

 

The ends of the Ray Lewis and Ed Reed eras in Baltimore have been eminent in the minds of fans for some time now. As age and injury begin to take their tolls on these warriors, it appears they too may be beginning to see it. Hopefully they’ll have the option of riding off into the sunset, together, on the crest of a Lombardi Trophy…or three.

 

 

Reason #4 – I like Cam Under Fire Too

 

So said Owner Steve Bisciotti as he wrapped up last season offering fans an echo of their own sentiments and answer to their question and an explanation for his decision to keep offensive coordinator Cam Cameron under the Ravens employ in one fell swoop. Let’s face it, there are few if any between DC and Philadelphia (and probably further) at present at a credible enough level of understanding to even discuss offense with Cameron much less question his strategies…including John Harbaugh. That seems to put Harbaugh in a uniquely safe position (unfairly I’m sure) seen as a manager of men but not a game planner. Given his special teams background, Harbaugh seems perceived as neither a master of offense nor defense, leaving his coordinators open to a greater level of criticism (or credit) than they probably deserve. Harbaugh has seemingly done little to dispel this notion so far.

 

As the screws tighten around Cameron, hopefully he’ll take it as a license to open things up a bit. If he starts unleashing the types of game plans that torch opposing defenses, we’ll all like Cam under fire.

 

 

Reason #3 – Pagano’s Defense

 

Although fans didn’t get their wish with Cameron, to some degree their hopes for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison were realized as he took a position at the University of Michigan. New defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano looks to return the fire to the defense that has been Baltimore’s trademark since the turn of the century. Baltimore’s legacy at defensive coordinator might be their proudest legacy (or simply a Ray Lewis trophy case of sorts) and didn’t begin with Rex Ryan. Hopefully it won’t have ended with Ryan either as Pagano looks to relight that torch.

 

 

Reason #2 – Flacco’s Show

 

The Ravens are looking for Joe Flacco to make strides in a number of areas. In addition to statistical improvements, it’s time for Flacco to take full ownership of the offense. As we look around the offensive side of the ball only Ben Grubbs (by 1 yr) has a tenure with the team that predates Flacco’s. For better or for worse, the offense is now Joe’s show both on and off the field. Let’s face it; the good old days on offense were never very good anyway.

 

 

Reason #1 – The Schedule

 

I’ll continue to declare it until history proves otherwise…the Ravens have the softest schedule this year that I can ever remember. Within the parameters of the NFL formula, it’s tough to imagine they could’ve written it any better for themselves. Fortunes change from year to year in the NFL, but because of the lockout this one should be different. Teams carrying continuity (especially the good kind) from last year to this are at an advantage. Bad teams have had little time to improve, new regimes have had no time to implement schemes and systems and young and developmental players from rookies on up all lost valuable time that could have been devoted to learning their crafts.

 

Even if none of that proves to be true, the NFC West has been less than mediocre for at least 3 years running and don’t look to be getting their acts together anytime soon. Games at St. Louis and Seattle and at home against Arizona and San Francisco (who’ll travel coast-to-coast on a short week) should all be seen as likely wins. Road games against Tennessee and Jacksonville should be seen as winnable. Of course there are the Browns (with a new head coach) and Bengals (whole new offense) for four games too.

 

Aside from a trip to San Diego and the obligatory trip to Pittsburgh, all of the Ravens “tough” games (PIT, NYJ, HOU, IND) are at home too. If they don’t get double digit wins from that schedule then they shouldn’t be in the playoffs anyway. Trust me they will…but so will the Steelers.

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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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It’s Only August, But No Concerns Addressed In Preseason Week 1 Loss

Posted on 11 August 2011 by Glenn Clark

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Just keep saying it.

It’s only August.

It’s only August.

The Baltimore Ravens are still a ways away from their regular season opener September 11 against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium.

It’s probably for the best, as they looked to be just about as far away from compete football in their 13-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

It’s only August.

It’s fair to assume the team would be behind where they might in others had they not lost OTA’s and the start of Training Camp due to the NFL lockout.

“Everybody is (behind where they would be in other years). Obviously we’ve got tons of work to do” said head coach John Harbaugh following the loss. “We’ve just gotta get better faster than the people that we’re going to play. That’s our job.”

It’s only August.

While starters played little time in Philly, the Ravens showed little cohesion throughout the exhibition contest.

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

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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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LB Brendon Ayanbajedo on new DC Chuck Pagano: “Chuck’s the kind of guy who wants to punch you in the mouth”

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LB Brendon Ayanbajedo on new DC Chuck Pagano: “Chuck’s the kind of guy who wants to punch you in the mouth”

Posted on 09 August 2011 by Ryan Chell

Over the weekend, the Ravens saw veteran WR Derrick Mason take his talents up 1-95 to New York to join longtime Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.

Several ex-Ravens have made the trip up to the Big Apple to follow in the footsteps of Coach Ryan, but several of the current defensive players here in Baltimore are putting a lot of faith in their newest defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, who is succeeding Greg Mattison after Mattison left to become DC at the University of Michigan.

Chuck Pagano

And Pagano-in his first several interactions with the media as defensive coordinator-is emphasizing the fact that he has just as much faith in his players to make plays as they have in him to draw them up.

“We’ve got some great guys,” Pagano said. “They’re passionate about football. They were really eager to get back in here and go to work after the long layoff, and the energy level’s great. They’re flying around having fun, and that’s all we can ask for.”

It will be on Pagano to try and re-direct a defense that finished 10th last year in the league in YPG (318.9) while keeping the respectable 4th-overall in PPG (16.9).

Baltimore finished 21th best in the league last year in passing yards allowed while focusing on the stopping the run will hopefully still be a tendency (5th best in the NFL).

Already, Pagano is getting comparisons to Rex Ryan when he was running the Ravens defense because Pagano comes with that same tenacity as Ryan did-while at the same time being loved and respected by the players.

“He’s a little more toward Rex’s style being emotional while Coach Mattison already kept a level head,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said at the podium last weekend. “Rex would get pissed off and bring the house, and I think [Coach Pagano] might be somewhere in between with his coaching knowledge…but the ability to relate to him, it’s awesome.”

“Everyone loves Chuck,” CB Lardarius Webb told Glenn Clark on “The Afternoon Drive” last week. “Chuck’s so smart, and he knows how to interact with the players. Everybody likes him. I can’t find a player who doesn’t like Chuck.”

Greg Mattison took a lot of heat last year for conservative play calls in key situations, and to some-including several Raven players-it didn’t seem like the Baltimore defense other teams were used to seeing on a weekly basis.

Webb thinks Coach Pagano is going to make people forget about the team’s struggles from a year ago and get back in key with what Rex Ryan had in store with this defense when he last left in 2008.

“I’ve seen a lot of defensive coordinators,” Webb said, “but all the ones for the Ravens always try to attack. That’s what we do, and if we’re not doing that, we’re not playing like the Ravens.”

Pagano agreed.

“When people put on our tape, it needs to look like we’ve got thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen guys out there. We need a smart football team…one that doesn’t beat itself, and plays with great fundamentals,” Pagano noted. “We expect to go out there and shut people out and play great defense.”

Johnson has noticed the changes already and is favor of them 100 percent.

“Overall with scheme, you can see his influence but he’s very aggressive. I really like his mentality and it’s been really great so far.”

Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said that in his opportunities with the first-team defense in training camp, he already sees Coach Pagano’s new aggressive style and tendencies.

“Chuck’s never scared,” Ayanbadejo said. “Chuck’s the kind of guy who wants to punch you in the mouth.”

Safety Haruki Nakamura-who probably knows Pagano the best out of anybody-agreed with his fellow defender about his boss.

“Chuck’s personality speaks for itself,” Nakamura said. “He acts like the good guy, but he has that dark side when coaching the defense.”

Ayanbadejo said that despite the fact that Pagano served as the secondary coach the last several years, Pagano made sure to forge relationships with everyone on the defense even outside his position guys.

Ayanbadejo said that can only help Pagano get the best out of them.

“We’ve been dealing with Chuck for four years now on all different levels.”

“He’s got a special relationship with every single guy,” he said. “You can go up to Chuck and talk to him because he started out as a position guy, and he wasn’t in this bubble.”

Pagano said the players have made the promotion that much easier on him and shown him that level of respect right back.

“I’ve known the guys, and they know me,” Pagano said. “They know my personality, and I know their personality. It was an easy transition.”

And we’ll get to see Pagano at work for the first time Thursday up in Philadelphia in Week 1 of the preseason.

“What we’re looking for is good communication, lining up and making the checks,” Pagano said Monday. “It’s all about being on the same page…so coming out of this first one, we’ll know more.”

Be sure to follow @WNST all week as we gear you up for Week 1 of preseason action! Follow me on Twitter @WNST and @RyanChell87 for everything Ravens! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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Derrick Mason makes it official; flying off with the Jets

Posted on 06 August 2011 by Ryan Chell

In a move that was expected for several days, fears finally become official for Ravens fans as the franchise’s all-time leading receiver, Derrick Mason, announced on Twitter that he’s signing a one-year contract with the New York Jets.

“Jet fuel is full; time to fly” he announced on his Twitter feed, @deemason85.

This news comes one day after the Ravens lost out on another free agent wide receiver acquistion in Malcom Floyd, who returned to San Diego signing a two-year contract.

Mason will be re-united with Jets head coach Rex Ryan-Baltimore’s longtime ex defensive coordinator-and a host of other former Ravens in New York.

“I’m looking forward to working under Rex and rejoining some familiar faces,” Mason said in a statement to ESPN and FoxSports.

“After a lot of very thoughtful and careful consideration, conversations with my family and prayer, I have decided to sign with the New York Jets,” he continued. ”I’m looking forward to working under Rex and rejoining some familiar faces.”

After playing his first eight seasons in Tennessee, the former Michigan State Spartan transferred his services over to the Baltimore Ravens-catching 471 balls for 5,777 yards and 29 TDs.

The Ravens will meet up again with Mason in Week 4 of the regular season when the Jets come to Baltimore October 2nd to take on in the Ravens in primetime.

With Mason gone, the Ravens will either stick with their receiving corps of Anquan Boldin, draft picks Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss, and free agent acquistion James Hardy, or they will look to add one of the few veterans left in free agency including Steve Smith(NYG), Jerricho Cotchery, or ex-Ravens Mark Clayton and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Cotchery was cut by the Jets last week after failing his physical and Cotchery told New York media last week that he was released to make room for Mason on the roster.

Be sure to follow WNST on Twitter as we get ready for the 2011 Ravens season! Hop on the Bus Trip to Philadelphia this week with us!

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

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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.

stadium

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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After Stadium Practice, Better Idea of What Ravens Will Look Like in Preseason Opener

Posted on 06 August 2011 by Glenn Clark

BALTIMORE — Following an annual open practice at M&T Bank Stadium in front of 24,078; fans will not have another opportunity to see the Baltimore Ravens again until their preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

Sunday’s practice provided some clarity for Ravens fans however, as the team gave a look at would could be expected at various positions.

QUARTERBACK:

There’s of course no question as to who the team’s starting quarterback will be Thursday (Joe Flacco). But with starters not expected to play much in the opener, the retirement of 2010 backup Marc Bulger has left the Ravens with little experience behind him.

Rookie Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech) has worked as the team’s backup in Training Camp, and will be likely to get the most snaps Thursday night after Flacco departs. Following Taylor is Hunter Cantwell, a practice squad QB a year ago who is currently the team’s third stringer. Cantwell did VERY limited work in Saturday’s practice and appears to clearly be behind Taylor on the depth chart.

The team could still make a move to bring in a veteran backup before Thursday night, but it would be unlikely a new quarterback would get significant playing time as early as Thursday after limited practice.

RUNNING BACK:

Once again, the team has no questions as far as starters are concerned. 2009 Pro Bowl RB Ray Rice and 2010 Pro Bowl FB Vonta Leach will patrol the backfield to open the game; but neither are expected to play significant time.

The RB position behind Rice is wide open at the moment. The most likely candidates to enter after Rice are Jalen Parmele and rookie Anthony Allen (Georgia Tech), who have each taken second team reps in practice. Parmele is more probable, but both are expected to see a number of plays.

Undrafted rookie Damien Berry (Miami) appears to be fourth on the RB depth chart at the moment, but should keep getting work. If the Ravens don’t add veteran depth at the position, he’s very much in the battle for a roster spot. The team also has undrafted rookie and Mervo grad Walter Sanders (St. Augustine) on the roster, he’ll likely see a few snaps in the second half of Thursday night’s contest as well.

The wild card in the group is veteran RB/ST Matt Lawrence, who missed all of the 2010 season with a knee injury. Lawrence has had very little participation in camp thus far (he did not practice Saturday), but would be expected to see playing time Thursday night if healthy.

Undrafted FB Ryan Mahaffey (Northern Iowa) could see snaps behind Leach.

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With Floyd out, is Derrick Mason returning to Baltimore?

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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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Malcom Floyd spurns Ravens; signs 2-year deal to return to SD

Posted on 05 August 2011 by Ryan Chell

Disappointment settled into Baltimore Friday, as FA WR and Ravens target Malcom Floyd signed a two-year deal this afternoon to return to the San Diego Chargers, per a league source.

The move was confirmed by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

“We have a lot of happy Chargers today with the return of Malcom,” General Manager A.J. Smith said in a team release. “He has been an integral part of our team and it’s great to have him back. He is a very talented receiver and that will just add to the continuity of our offensive unit.”

Floyd caught 37 passes for 717 yards and six touchdowns in 2010 despite missing five games. He enjoyed the best game of his career with eight catches for 213 yards against Oakland on Oct. 10.

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound receiver, nicknamed “M-80,” signed with San Diego as a college free agent in 2004 and caught Rivers’ first touchdown pass as a rookie.

The move now forces the Ravens to either go into the first week of preseason with the receiving corps they currently in camp (Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, James Hardy, Tandon Doss) or reach out to one of the available wide receivers available in former Giants WR Steve Smith, or former Ravens Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason-who could sign with the New York Jets or Tennessee Titans.

-A Team Release from the San Diego Chargers contributed to this report.

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