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Five numbers behind Ravens’ 19-13 loss in Denver

Posted on 15 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll ponder five numbers stemming from the Ravens’ latest game, this one being the ugly 19-13 loss to Denver to begin the 2015 season …

3.66 — Joe Flacco’s yards per attempt
Skinny: The pass protection was awful and his pass-catching targets were unable to create separation, making it no surprise that the eighth-year quarterback couldn’t throw the ball down the field. This was Flacco’s worst yards per attempt average since a loss in Houston on Oct. 21, 2012 (3.42) and the third-worst mark of his NFL regular-season career. His worst overall came in the 2009 playoff win over New England when a banged-up Flacco went 4-for-10 for 34 yards, a 3.40 average.

9 — Total catches made by Ravens receivers and tight ends
Skinny: Many expressed concerns over Flacco’s group of young receivers and tight ends, and Sunday proved to be a nightmare as even Steve Smith managed just two catches for 13 yards and couldn’t bring in the potential game-winning touchdown on the Ravens’ penultimate play of the game. Fellow starter Kamar Aiken was even worse as he lost a yard on his only reception. With or without rookie Breshad Perriman, this group needs to be markedly better for Baltimore to make any real noise this year.

27 — Consecutive games in which the Ravens defense hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher
Skinny: It was an impressive effort on the other side of the ball as the Ravens continued the longest active streak in the NFL of not allowing an opposing player to eclipse the century mark on the ground. With Brandon Williams dominating the line of scrimmage and C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith at the inside linebacker spots, the Ravens have to like their chances to keep this streak going. Meanwhile, the Broncos will need to average much better than 2.8 yards per carry to help Peyton Manning’s deteriorating arm.

56 — Yards of offense from Justin Forsett
Skinny: The 2014 Pro Bowl running back didn’t have much of a chance behind a less-than-stellar performance from the offensive line, but his output was lower than all but two of his regular-season games a year ago. Forsett’s numbers would have been even worse if not for his 20-yard run on the final drive of the game. With Buck Allen showing some promise in limited opportunities and Lorenzo Taliaferro possibly returning this Sunday, it will be interesting to see how the carries are distributed.

291 — Consecutive games (counting the postseason) in which Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, or Terrell Suggs has been on the field for Baltimore
Skinny: The 2015 opener brought the unfortunate end of a remarkable run in franchise history with Suggs suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the fourth quarter. This Sunday will mark the first time that the Ravens will play a game without any of the three best defensive players in their history since Oct. 11, 1998 when Eric Zeier was the quarterback and they lost 12-8 to the Tennessee Oilers as Lewis sat out with a dislocated elbow. Nothing lasts forever, but it’s strange thinking about the old guard of Baltimore defense that also included Haloti Ngata being no more — at least until next year.

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From Griese to Tannehill: Ed Reed’s career of interceptions

Posted on 08 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed did it all, but the interception is what he’ll most be remembered for in his 12-year NFL career.

He walks away ranked sixth on the all-time list with 64 interceptions in the regular season. His nine postseason picks are tied for first with three others — Charlie Waters, Bill Simpson, and Ronnie Lott — on the career list.

He led the NFL in interceptions three times (2004, 2008, and 2010) and twice led the league in interception return yards (2004 and 2010).

His 1,590 interception yards in the regular season are the most in NFL history while he added 168 more in the playoffs. Putting those together, Reed fell just two yards shy of a full mile in interception return yardage for his career.

In total, 46 passers — a full active roster on game day — were intercepted by the 2002 first-round pick from the University of Miami. Of that group, half went to a Pro Bowl at least once in their careers and six were starting quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl.

Only Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota, and New Orleans avoided throwing an interception against Reed. He never played a game against the Bears — he was injured for contests against them in 2005 and 2009 — and all of those teams except the Ravens played in the NFC.

Reed was right in expressing his love for Cleveland quarterbacks during his retirement press conference as his 12 interceptions against the Browns were his highest total against any team, but he also plagued Cincinnati 10 times. Pittsburgh came in third, but only three of those six interceptions came against Ben Roethlisberger despite nearly a decade of battles between the Steelers quarterback and the Ravens safety.

Brian Griese was the first interception victim when Reed was 24 and Ryan Tannehill was the last in the 35-year-old Reed’s final game in 2013.

Reed’s final interception in a Ravens uniform came against Colin Kaepernick in Super Bowl XLVII, the night he’d raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the only time in his career.

A 41-year-old Vinny Testaverde was the oldest quarterback on which the intercepting Reed preyed.

Brian St. Pierre was the most obscure to be victimized as he was picked off by Reed in his only NFL start.

Former New York Jets running back LaMont Jordan was the only non-quarterback to be intercepted by the ball-hawking free safety. It came during Reed’s 2004 Defensive Player of the Year season, and a holding penalty wiped out what would have been a 104-yard return for a touchdown on the play.

Carson Palmer threw the most interceptions (six) against Reed, but the future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning tossed the highest number (three) in the playoffs. It was a family affair for the Manning brothers as Eli was intercepted once by Reed in 2004.

Three quarterbacks — Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, and Jason Campbell — went five years in between throwing interceptions to Reed.

Campbell and Griese were Reed’s only victims to throw interceptions playing for two different teams. Campbell was the only quarterback that Reed intercepted both as a Raven and as a Jet.

Derek Anderson was the only passer to be intercepted by Reed in three straight seasons.

And even though they once played together in Philadelphia, Jeff Garcia and Kevin Kolb will forever be linked for throwing record-setting interceptions to the incomparable safety. Reed returned a Garcia interception 106 yards for a touchdown in 2004 and ran one back 107 yards for a score against Kolb in 2008. They are the two longest interception returns in NFL history.

In all, 73 interceptions and a Hall of Fame career no one in Baltimore will ever forget.

Passers who threw interceptions to Reed (including postseason)
1) Carson Palmer – 6
2) Peyton Manning – 4 (three in postseason)
3) Kelly Holcomb – 3
4) Derek Anderson – 3
5) Ben Roethlisberger – 3
6) Jason Campbell – 3
7) Tom Brady – 2 (one in postseason)
8) Chad Pennington – 2 (both in postseason)
9) Brian Griese – 2
10) Jon Kitna – 2
11) Ryan Fitzpatrick – 2
12) Andy Dalton – 2
13) Colt McCoy – 2
14) David Garrard – 2
15) Trent Green – 2
16) Charlie Batch – 2
17) Tony Romo – 2
18) Steve McNair – 1 (postseason)
19) T.J. Yates – 1 (postseason)
20) Jeff Garcia – 1
21) Kevin Kolb – 1
22) Trent Dilfer – 1
23) Colin Kaepernick – 1 (postseason)
24) Gus Frerotte – 1
25) Donovan McNabb – 1
26) Michael Vick – 1
27) Matt Hasselbeck – 1
28) Kellen Clemens – 1
29) David Carr – 1
30) Drew Brees – 1
31) Chad Henne – 1
32) Ryan Tannehill – 1
33) Brandon Weeden – 1
34) Matt McGloin – 1
35) Jeff Blake – 1
36) Marc Bulger – 1
37) Vince Young – 1
38) Brian St. Pierre – 1
39) Tommy Maddox – 1
40) Drew Bledsoe – 1
41) Vinny Testaverde – 1
42) Chris Simms – 1
43) Charlie Frye – 1
44) Eli Manning – 1
45) Sage Rosenfels – 1
46) LaMont Jordan – 1

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Ed Reed always kept everyone on their toes

Posted on 07 May 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The only certainty about Ed Reed over the years was to be ready for just about anything.

Announcing his retirement after 12 NFL seasons — 11 with the Ravens — and speaking to the Baltimore media, the future Hall of Fame safety tossed a few more laterals and certainly didn’t disappoint during his farewell press conference.

“This is home. Baltimore, I love the city, I love this organization,” Reed said. “I hope that I did more than I was supposed to as a Raven, bigger than any contract could ever explain as a player.”

In discussing the ceremonial one-day contract he signed with general manager Ozzie Newsome, Reed revealed that he lobbied for a three-day contract or even one more season with the Ravens. He was joking, of course.

At least we think he was.

From honestly expressing his love playing against Cleveland’s many quarterbacks to awkwardly dropping a 4-20 reference, Reed covered it all in his 45-minute press conference that also featured Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, and team president Dick Cass. He compared his early relationship with longtime teammate Ray Lewis to Mufasa and Simba from “The Lion King” and even worked in a final jab at the media for the perceived twisting of his words over the years.

It was just Ed being Ed, one of the greatest safeties in the history of the NFL and one of the most unique sports personalities Baltimore has ever seen.

Depending on the day of the week or even the hour in the day, Reed could be thoughtful or disinterested or cordial or surly with just about anyone. He was as likely to take a moment to introduce himself to a young and clueless media member covering his first training camp in Westminster as he was to grumpily walk by his closest teammates in the locker room without saying a word.

The only thing you knew about Reed — other than him being one of the best players in franchise history — was that you never knew. He liked it that way.

“I never thought about making it to the Hall of Fame,” said Reed, who is eligible for induction as soon as 2019. “I just wanted to be a great football player for my teammates. I was just studying and doing all that so that we could be our best. As everybody knows, this is a team sport, but an individual business. As an individual, I had to make sure I was taking care of my business.”

The 36-year-old says he hasn’t yet hung up his cleats despite announcing his retirement from the NFL as he continues to work out regularly and is currently busy coaching his 7-year-old son’s flag football team. Reed quipped that the latter experience doesn’t really make him want to be a coach, but he acknowledges that football is in his blood and has entertained thoughts of coaching at a higher level. This was evident late in his career when he quietly mentored the likes of Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, and Jimmy Smith while Lewis received the spotlight as the leader of the Ravens.

Despite not enjoying talking to the media for much of his career, Reed opened up on Thursday.

He shed light on his passion for helping others, which has been evident through various charitable endeavors over the years and his adoption of Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore early in his career. He spoke sincerely on the recent unrest in the city, emphasizing the need for youth to have sports and other positive avenues on which to focus beyond school.

Along with his nine Pro Bowl selections, 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year award, and Super Bowl XLVII championship ring, Reed’s contributions in the community — here and in his home state of Louisiana — make him an easy choice to be officially inducted into the Ring of Honor on Nov. 22. Of course, a trip to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame will follow.

“Deep commitment to the city of Baltimore,” said Cass, adding that Reed invited 26 Booker T. Washington students to every home game for over a decade in addition to the other contributions he made to the school. “The love that he felt for the city has been returned many times over by our fans and by the people in Baltimore who know that Ed is committed to the city. That deep commitment is returned to you in many ways.”

No, Reed didn’t have the storybook ending to his career in the same way Lewis did as he made the business decision to chase another payday with the Houston Texans. His final season with Houston and then the New York Jets was forgettable, but the 2002 first-round pick always moved to his own beat, even joking about his retirement as recently as April Fools’ Day last month.

Whether it was an ill-advised lateral on the field, the mixed signals about his contract and possible retirement in his later years, or the calculated and well-studied gambles that resulted in countless game-changing plays, Reed did things his way. No other player could provide you the full array of emotions in a matter of seconds, whether he was blocking a punt, recklessly flipping the ball to a teammate in heavy traffic, or intercepting a pass deep in his own end zone before sprinting the length of the field for a record-setting touchdown.

Everyone — coaches, teammates, media, and fans — was just along for the ride. And even if we rarely knew what was happening, what an exciting trip it was.

“When he told me later, yes,” said Harbaugh as he laughed when asked if he always knew what Reed was thinking on the field. “I was happy to hear about it.”

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Ed Reed to officially announce retirement on Thursday

Posted on 06 May 2015 by Luke Jones

After 12 NFL seasons, nine Pro Bowls, a Defensive Player of the Year award, and a Super Bowl trophy, future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed is officially calling it a career.

The Ravens will hold a 2 p.m. press conference Thursday to announce the 36-year-old’s retirement after he did not play during the 2014 season. Reed retires as one of the best players in franchise history and holds the franchise record of 61 interceptions before finishing his NFL career ranked sixth on the all-time list.

Owner Steve Bisciotti said earlier this year that Reed would be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at M&T Bank Stadium as soon as he officially retired from the NFL. Always an enigmatic figure during his time in Baltimore, Reed hinted that he was retiring as an April Fools’ Day joke last month before coming to his final decision.

Counting the postseason, the 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year scored a remarkable 14 touchdowns during his career. Not only making an impact as a ball-hawking safety, Reed is the only player in NFL history to score touchdowns off an interception, blocked punt, punt return, and fumble recovery.

The 2002 first-round pick often lived in the shadow of linebacker Ray Lewis, but Reed finally tasted championship glory in his final game with Baltimore, securing an interception in the Ravens’ 34-31 victory over San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII. Instead of retiring like Lewis, the University of Miami product elected to continue his career with the Houston Texans and the New York Jets during the 2013 season.

Reed was considered a great all-around player before suffering a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder late in the 2007 season, an injury that hindered his tackling ability in the latter stages of his career. Despite Reed’s physical limitations, opposing quarterbacks were forced to continue to account for the game-changing free safety on every play as his preparation and knowledge of the game were second to none. When playing the Ravens, four-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady famously wrote on his wristband a telling message about Reed’s potential impact on any given game:

“Find 20 on every play.”

Reed finishes his career with 643 tackles, 64 interceptions, six sacks, 113 pass breakups, and 11 forced fumbles.

He will be eligible for induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019, one year after Lewis.

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Thoughts on could-be, former, and never-were Ravens

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Luke Jones

The retirement of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu last week revitalized an old debate of deciding between him or former Ravens safety Ed Reed as the best safety of this generation.

The split between the fan bases in Baltimore and Pittsburgh is obvious, but it’s difficult to compare players who brought such different skills to the table. Polamalu was superior against the run, but many forget how effectively Reed played closer to the line of scrimmage early in his career before a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder hampered him physically. On the flip side, Reed was the superior ball hawk throughout their careers, but Polamalu wasn’t always the same liability in coverage that he became over the last few seasons of his 12-year career.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King stirred up Ravens fans by deeming Polamalu the best playmaking and instinctive safety of this era. He’s certainly entitled to his opinion, but Reed’s ability to make plays as a safety, a punt blocker, and as an occasional punt returner was as good as any playmaker I’ve seen short of Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders. In his prime, Reed may have been the greatest free safety in the history of the NFL as his calculated gambles often turned games around for the offensively-challenged Ravens of the time.

I’d take Reed over Polamalu because of his home-run potential, but I would have been happy with either one.

Like King does in evaluating these two great safeties, I’ve been guilty of using the term instinctive, a word that sounds like a compliment but sells short the amount of preparation each player put into his craft. Yes, these are blessed athletes who often appear to have a sixth sense for the ball, but the game-changing plays each safety made were the result of hours of film study and their years of experience on the football field.

It’s worth noting that the Pro Football Hall of Fame hasn’t been kind to safeties historically, but I just don’t see that applying to Reed or Polamalu when they are eligible for induction. As two of the centerpieces in arguably the best rivalry in the NFL over the last 15 years, both received plenty of mainstream attention and each won an AP Defensive Player of the Year award (an honor awarded to a safety just five times in 44 years). Even if they aren’t first-ballot guys — they should be, by the way — neither will wait long to receive the invitation to Canton.

Of course, Reed hasn’t officially retired, which is something with which he needs to come to terms. I’m always supportive of an athlete in his desire to play as long as he wants and to go out on his own terms, but the writing has been on the wall for nearly two years and no one wanted the nine-time Pro Bowl selection in 2014. It’s time for him to call it a career, which will allow the Ravens to induct him into their Ring of Honor this fall.

* After reports surfaced that the Ravens were among the teams showing the most interest in Michael Crabtree, the free-agent wide receiver came to terms on a one-year deal to join the Oakland Raiders Monday night.

The news wasn’t surprising as there were never any indications that Baltimore strongly coveted Crabtree, who was coming off a down season in San Francisco. Questions remain over his explosiveness and ability to separate from defenders following an Achilles injury two years ago, and he was never the type of burner that the Ravens currently need.

I’ll continue to remain skeptical of the organization’s ability to find a suitable replacement for Torrey Smith until it happens. The Ravens can talk up the likes of Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Michael Campanaro as much as they want, but they need a receiver to stretch the field and take pressure off the soon-to-be 36-year-old Steve Smith. The current group alone won’t cut it.

* King again fired up fans in predicting that Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon wouldn’t make it past the Ravens with the 26th overall pick, but it wouldn’t be a shocking development given their everlasting commitment to the ground game.

Anyone who watched Gordon play in the Big Ten knows he has the potential to be a special back and Ravens running backs coach Thomas Hammock is very familiar with him after they worked together in Madison. A running back hasn’t been selected in the first round since 2012, but it appears there’s a good chance of that changing in the upcoming draft.

Would Gordon satisfy one of their biggest needs? No, but Justin Forsett will be 30 and isn’t a long-term solution at the position.

I personally would look to a number of running backs who would be attractive in the middle rounds, but coming away with Gordon wouldn’t be surprising or necessarily a bad thing for the Ravens.

* The latest news about former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips being suspected of killing his prison cellmate is another reminder of how lucky the Ravens were to come away with Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth overall pick of the 1996 draft.

Had he given into late owner Art Modell’s preference to have Phillips, Ozzie Newsome might not still be the general manager in Baltimore today. At the very least, it’d be difficult to argue that the Ravens would have still won Super Bowl XXXV in only their fifth season in Baltimore.

More than anything, the Ravens might want to thank the Arizona Cardinals for surprisingly taking Simeon Rice with the third pick that year, allowing Ogden to fall into Newsome’s lap.

As the Ravens now begin their 20th season in Baltimore, it’s still incredible to think that Newsome selected two future Hall of Famers — Ray Lewis went 26th overall later in the first round — with the first two draft picks in team history.

* Per Pro Football Talk, the NFL is set to release the 2015 regular-season schedule on April 23.

Considering we already know the Ravens’ opponents, the announcement always comes with too much hype, but it’s intriguing to find out which matchups land in prime time.

I’m only guessing, but I’ll predict that the Ravens play a Thursday night road game in Pittsburgh, a Monday night home game against Cincinnati, and a Sunday night home game against Seattle.

Which games would you like to see in prime time this year?

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Suggs applying tough lessons from last season to bounce back in 2014

Posted on 18 June 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs spent a decade chasing the elusive Super Bowl glory he finally tasted at the end of the 2012 season.

But he couldn’t have imagined how difficult it was going to be defending that championship following the retirement of Ray Lewis and the free-agent departure of Ed Reed, leaving the Ravens without two Hall of Fame players and leaders who were the heart and soul of the organization. Of course, a myriad of reasons explained an 8-8 season in which the Ravens missed the playoffs, ranging from a porous offensive line and nonexistent running game to an otherwise-solid defense that struggled to create turnovers and get off the field in the fourth quarter.

Suggs and his veteran teammates said all the right things last season when asked how they’d possibly replace the leadership void created by the departures of Lewis, Reed, and other veterans, claiming there were more than enough voices ready to handle the changes. But the 31-year-old linebacker acknowledged Wednesday it was not only “very agonizing” to miss the postseason for the first time since 2007 but also draining going through his first season without two men who’d been older brothers to him for the first 10 years of his career.

“I had those older guys around to build, and it was a period of adjustment,” Suggs said. “It was weird, and it transpired onto the field — not having those guys there. But, the most [important] thing we can learn from last year about those guys not being there is those were once-in-a-lifetime guys — Ed Reed and Ray Lewis — and all we can be is ourselves. They’re not going to come walking through the door to help us win another championship. All you can be is yourself, and that should be enough.”

Even though Suggs posted double-digit sacks for the fifth time in his career in 2013, his play down the stretch didn’t help the Ravens’ push for a sixth straight trip to the postseason as he collected only one sack in the final eight games, leading many to speculate he was playing hurt. His 10 sacks were enough to earn him his sixth invitation to the Pro Bowl, but his play against both the run and pass deteriorated at an alarming rate with four games in which he posted one or no tackles.

With the Ravens needing a win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17 to sneak into the playoffs, Suggs and fellow pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil combined for one tackle and zero sacks in a 34-17 loss that resulted in the Ravens staying home in January. Asked to reflect on his up-and-down season at this week’s mandatory minicamp, Suggs didn’t hide behind what could have been the convenient excuse of saying he was hurt.

“One of the things was you get a little cold and you gain a little weight,” said Suggs about the second half of the season. “I probably put on a little too much weight down the stretch there. But that was one of my big focuses going into this year. Definitely, if I keep my weight down, I can have a strong finish. I think I was pretty much healthy.”

Head coach John Harbaugh went out of his way to praise Suggs for his conditioning level upon reporting to Owings Mills earlier this week. The veteran linebacker likes the changes made to both sides of the ball, citing the positive vibe created by the hiring of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

The linebacker also complimented the free-agent signing of veteran wide receiver Steve Smith, who isn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers like he did during Wednesday’s practice when he got into a scuffle with cornerback Lardarius Webb. It’s the kind of attitude that was lacking on the offensive side of the ball last season following the trade of wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

“It’s good to have that. We had it a few years ago in 81,” Suggs said. “And it’s good to have that fire back on that side of the ball, [to] have somebody who will go out there and jab back with us and compete.”

In addition to acquiring Smith and a few other veterans such as center Jeremy Zuttah and tight end Owen Daniels, the Ravens spent a large portion of their offseason re-signing their own players, including a four-year contract extension for Suggs. The deal did provide short-term relief in lowering his 2014 salary cap figure from $12.4 million to $7.8 million, but general manager Ozzie Newsome made a $16 million gamble in guaranteed money that Suggs’ second half last season was more of an aberration than a preview of what’s to come for a linebacker entering his 12th season.

So, who is the real Suggs at this stage of his career? The man who looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate while accumulating nine sacks in the first eight games last year or the worn-down player who failed to set the edge against the run and provided little pressure on the quarterback down the stretch?

The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, but Suggs appears determined to prove he’s closer to the player he was in the first half of the 2013 season based on what kind of shape he was in upon arriving at the team facility this week. And he made it clear he’s recommitted to just being himself after struggling to adjust to life without Lewis or Reed for the first time in his NFL career.

“You’re going to always have something to prove when you’re playing this game,” Suggs said. “You never want to hit your cruising altitude; you always want to be ascending with your game. You can always get better.”

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Flacco offseason noise meaningless in big picture

Posted on 02 June 2014 by Luke Jones

In case you haven’t heard by now, quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t organize offseason workouts with teammates and has apparently doomed the Ravens’ 2014 season almost two months before training camp begins.

At least that’s what some might have you believe as critics have used this revelation to question the seventh-year quarterback’s commitment to the organization after the worst season of his career in 2013. Or, maybe it’s just the latest example of the overkill of NFL coverage when there simply aren’t enough topics of substance to discuss in the offseason.

I’ll take some level of responsibility for the overreaction to Flacco not organizing informal workouts with teammates after I initially asked Dennis Pitta in early March if he’d talked to his best friend on the team about the tight end’s new contract and whether they planned to get together with other teammates to throw in the offseason. It was a question stemming from sheer curiosity and an effort to spice up what was otherwise a relatively mundane press conference following the announcement of Pitta’s five-year, $32 million contract five days earlier.

The reaction snowballed from there as many used Pitta’s initial response as a springboard to criticize Flacco for not eating, breathing, and sleeping football for all hours of the day and all days of the year.

Truthfully, the outcome of Flacco and his teammates refraining from getting together does nothing to significantly move the meter on where the Ravens’ fate will fall during the 2014 season. Yes, an argument could be made that it could provide a stronger rapport away from the Owings Mills facility, but the lack of any working knowledge of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system as well as an inability to contact coaches would have resulted in little tangible productivity.

Flacco must play better than he did in 2013 as the quarterback acknowledged again last week that he did a poor job of protecting the football in throwing a career-high 22 interceptions for the league’s 29th-ranked offense. Should that improvement come, it will be about putting in extensive preparation with Kubiak and taking advantage of better offensive personnel.

If he plays well in 2014, no one will remember that Flacco didn’t toss around the football with teammates at an undisclosed location in late March or early April. And if the quarterback plays poorly, heavy criticism will be there no matter what he did or didn’t do in the offseason.

In the same way that some critics squawk about veterans skipping voluntary organized team activities in the spring, these stories are only discussed when we’re more than three months away from real games being played and have little bearing on wins and losses by season’s end.

Reed back in Baltimore

Sunday was just another reminder of how good it is to see former Ravens safety Ed Reed maintain a strong relationship with Baltimore as he participated in cornerback Lardarius Webb’s charity softball game at M&T Bank Stadium.

There easily could have been hurt feelings when the Ravens allowed Reed to depart via free agency last year without even putting up a fight to keep him, but the sides remained amicable as the veteran safety returned for the visit to the White House as well as the Super Bowl ring ceremony last summer. It’s only a matter of time before the Ravens honor Reed with a one-day contract — if that’s what he wants, of course — to allow him to retire with the organization that drafted him in 2002, and we’ll see him in the organization’s Ring of Honor as soon as his playing days are over.

Many have called for the future Hall of Fame safety to retire, but there’s no reason why the 35-year-old shouldn’t try to continue playing if there’s a team who wants him and he’s healthy enough — a big question — with the nerve impingement in his neck and past hip issues. His play on the field is a far cry from what it once was as one of the greatest safeties in NFL history, but his leadership and football intelligence could still be assets for a team envisioning the right role for him at this late stage in his career.

As for Reed having a position in the Ravens organization after his playing days are over, it might be too soon to immediately hire him as an assistant coach, but the reputation he gained for mentoring young players late in his career as well as his vast knowledge for the game are talents the organization would be wise to use in some capacity.

Offensive line depth chart crowded

The development of the offensive line will continue to be a major storyline in the preseason as the Ravens decide who will be lining up at right tackle, but a simple look at the depth chart suggests some household names could be on the chopping block at the end of the summer.

The Ravens currently have 11 offensive linemen who either have extensive NFL experience or were drafted by the organization in recent years, a list that includes Eugene Monroe, Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel, Gino Gradkowski, Jah Reid, A.Q. Shipley, Rick Wagner, Ryan Jensen, and Will Rackley. That group does not include rookie free agent tackle James Hurst, who is held in high regard and was considered a sure draft pick by many experts before he fractured his leg in North Carolina’s bowl game in late December.

Of course, depth doesn’t mean quality depth as the Ravens will determine whether Wagner or Jensen can cut it at right tackle or elect to move Osemele from left guard to tackle and explore the possibility of a veteran like Rackley at the left guard spot. General manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh have also left open the possibility of adding another veteran tackle such as Eric Winston.

Regardless of how it plays out, holdovers from recent years such as Reid, Gradkowski, and Shipley should be looking over their shoulder this summer as it’s clear there is plenty of competition in an effort to improve what was an awful line a year ago.

Elam praised


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Former Ravens Safety Reed: “I Know I Can Still Play”

Posted on 02 June 2014 by Ryan Chell

The last time Ravens fans heard from Ed Reed in M&T Bank Stadium, they were welcomed with a less-than-stellar rendition of the popular Eddie Money song, “Two Tickets to Paradise” after the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

The future Hall of Famer did indeed return to Baltimore Sunday for Lardarius Webb’s 5th annual Celebrity Softball Tournament, which was the first time the event took place at M&T Bank Stadium.

And while there showing off his softball skills, Reed sent a message to Ravens fans and the rest of the NFL that he’s still looking for and is ready for a ticket to ride with an NFL team.

“I’m definitely preparing to play,” Reed told reporters during the game. “If I wasn’t, you would have heard something  by now…I learned a lot about the process last year, and I know my worth.”

Reed, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and a 9-time Pro Bowler, played 11 seasons in Baltimore before signing a 3-year, 15 million dollar deal with the Houston Texans in March 2013.

However, Reed lasted just seven games in Houston before being waived. He ultimately reunited with former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan in New York, where he played seven games for the Jets (five starts) finishing with 22 tackles and three interceptions.

Battling hip problems to start the year, Reed clearly wasn’t the Defensive Player of the Year-caliber safety he was in his earlier years in Baltimore and many signaled that decline as the end of his dozen years in the NFL.

But don’t tell that to Ed Reed.

“I know I can still play,” he said. “It’s a matter of a right fit.”

And while the Ravens returned this week for voluntary OTAs in Owings Mills, Reed has been getting ready for an NFL call by training between Georgia and Louisiana.

And with Reed waiting for that call, he knows what he wants and how to approach the season. He said he learned a lot about his desire to play football this year from his preparation going into the 2013 year-his first outside Baltimore.

“I’m not going to anybody’s training camp, ” Reed said. “I sat and watched the league last year from a different perspective, and I learned a lot, and I saw they had teams that needed safeties in the latter part of the year.”

Reed didn’t make his Texans debut till Week 3 last season-a 30-9 loss in his return to Baltimore.  During training camp with Houston, he missed workouts on the active PUP-list, and he said he needed that rest to prepare for the season.

And for those who are concerned about that level of determination from the safety, Reed said he’s not concerned with how people think about him.

“Right now, I’m just about taking care of me and getting myself back…I know you guys may question it, but I’m not worried about that. It’s about how I feel.”

The thought of a banged-up, 35-year old safety who could only be a part-time player who’s best days are behind him might not be the biggest draw for an NFL team.

However, Reed, who looked to be enjoying himself Sunday and said it was a pleasure to be back in Baltimore, is content though if this is the end of his NFL dream.

“I’m not worried about the end. I’m not under contract. I’m already at the finish line. I don’t need to sign with anybody.”

“I don’t have to put in any papers. I don’t have to sign anybody’s contract. I don’t have to go to any organization. Ed Reed and Barry Sanders…they did it their own way.”

Those following the game would imagine that if that were to happen, he would follow other elite players of his level to the coaching ranks in an effort to stay apart the game he loved for so many years.

Reed said he would be open to it and that he got a taste of it in 2013 with the Ravens, Texans and Jets.

“Being around Coach Harbaugh, being around Coach Billick, having so many defensive coordinators-I had a different perspective when I left and I definitely learned a lot…I always say I did more coaching when I was in New York because they have a bunch of young guys up there and those guys kind of gravitated to me.”

He’s just hoping that an NFL GM or Coach will gravitate to his football knowledge if it doesn’t equate to continuing his playing career-hopefully in a place he’s all too familiar with in Baltimore.

“I think I can help pretty much any organization if I’m a position coach, a consultant or whatever…I could see me working in the organization here. I could see me working for Ozzie, those guys and Mr. Bisciotti because I put so much into it, I know how they work, and they taught me so much.”

If anything, you can count on Ed Reed making one more trip to M&T Bank Stadium for his guaranteed induction into the stadium’s Ring of Honor and he knows what kind of reaction he’ll get upon that return.

“It definitely brings back memories,” Reed said. “Anytime I come into Baltimore, it brings back memories.”

“It’s always great to see Ed Reed,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “He’s like a big brother and anytime you’re around him, it’s a good time.”

‘It’s great to see Baltimore still loves him.”

Follow me on Twitter at @RyanChell87! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!


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An important #WNSTSweet16 during an important week for the Ravens

Posted on 06 May 2014 by Luke Jones

After taking a look at the rare not-so-great draft moments in the history of the Baltimore Ravens a week ago, this week’s #WNSTSweet16 recognizes an abundance of riches in ranking the most important draft picks in franchise history.

Though recent years have produced more singles and doubles than triples and home runs as they relate to the work of general manager Ozzie Newsome and his talented front office, the Ravens’ immense success over the first 18 years of their existence should be attributed first and foremost to the draft and an ability to recognize talent to fit their vision of a winning franchise. Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said last week that luck is a significant factor in finding impact talent year after year, but a simple look at this week’s list shows that 11 of the 16 choices came in the first round, a reflection of just how rarely the Ravens have missed early in the draft.

It’s important to reiterate this week’s list covers the most important — not necessarily the best — draft picks as certain selections came at critical junctures for a franchise that already boasts two Super Bowl championships in its young history. A simple question to ask in determining a draft pick’s importance was, “How critical was this player to winning a championship or at least enjoying an extended run of success?”

Cracking the top five is no easy task as the Ravens already claim one Hall of Fame player selected with their first ever draft pick while two other first-round choices are slam dunks for Canton in the not-so-distant future.

Without further ado, I present the #WNSTSweet16 Most Important Draft Picks in Ravens History:

Continue to next page for No. 16

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NFL Draft: Who will the Ravens take 17th overall?

Posted on 02 May 2014 by johngallo

In less than a week, we’ll know.

We’ll know who’s the Ravens’ first pick in the draft, a player who history says should be Pro Bowl-level good.

Of the Ravens’ 18 all-time first-round picks, 10 have gone on to make at least one Pro Bowl. The 10 players have been selected to 51 Pro Bowls as a group, led by Ray Lewis’ 13 and Jonathan Ogden’s 11.

But recent history paints another picture: The Ravens’ past four first-round picks – safety Matt Elam (2013), cornerback Jimmy Smith (2011), tackle Michael Oher (2009) and quarterback Joe Flacco (2008) – have yet to make a Pro Bowl. Flacco, however, is a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, which in my book – or whatever one you are reading – is more valuable than making a Pro Bowl.

The Ravens are picking at No. 17, which represents their highest pick since taking Flacco at No. 18 in 2008 – and all he did was turn into a $100 million dollar man with a Super Bowl ring.

The Ravens, clearly, have needs after going 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the first time in the John Harbaugh Era. But this year, the Ravens’ needs are much more glaring.

The media’s projection regarding who will be the next Raven is all over the place. While some agree on the position, they don’t agree on the player. How many different names have you seen linked to the Ravens at No. 17?

Harbaugh basically said the Ravens want to add a good person at every position. Really, like what was he going to say – that the Ravens were looking to enter training camp with gaping holes and a roster that includes mediocre draft picks?

“It’s important to add a running back, but we’ve got some other spots, too. It’s important to add an offensive lineman, a wide receiver, a tight end and some depth at quarterback. It’s important to add a safety, a corner, inside backer and a defensive tackle,” Harbaugh said at pre-draft press conference. “So, that’s where I’m at right now.”

Which is where, exactly?

Harbaugh and the Ravens have a list of guys they’re targeting, but they are not sharing.

I am.

Here are three guys I’d love to see don a Ravens cap after hugging Commissioner Roger Goodell in New York City on May 8.

No. 1: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

Height/weight: 6-foot-7, 309 pounds

What he did at the NFL Combine: Raise his draft stock considerably. His.4.87 time in the 40-yard dash, 30.5-inch vertical jump. 117-inch broad jump and 7.39-second three-cone drill all ranked in the top four among offensive linemen. He proved at the combine – and as a four-year starter at the University of Michigan – he has the speed to play in the NFL. However, his 39 reps of lifting 225 pounds tied for 11th with Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, well behind the 42 reps put up by North Carolina’s Russell Bodine. But it’s easier to improve a players’ strength compared to speed.

Why he’s a great fit for the Ravens: Quickly: If the season started tomorrow, who would start at right tackle? Raise your hand if you had Ricky Wagner, a fifth-round pick who played in all 16 games with two starts as a rookie last year. Upgrading an offensive line that was terrible in protecting Flacco and just as bad in creating holes for Ray Rice is critical if the Ravens are going to return to the playoffs. The Ravens have been superb at picking offensive linemen in the first round. Ogden (1996) played in 11 Pro Bowls and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame, while Ben Grubbs (2007) made one. The odd man out: Oher, who never lived up to his lofty expectations and signed with the Titans during the offseason.

No. 2: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

Measurements: 5-11, 199

What he did at the NFL Combine: Enough to justify being a first-round pick. His 4.51 in the 40-yard dash tied for 13th in his position, well behind the 4.37 put up by Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, who is regarded as the draft’s best defensive back. But Dennard’s best work was on the field, where he was an All-American and Jim Thorpe (nations best DB) winner at Michigan State who took away the receiver he covered.

Why he’s a great fit for the Ravens: The loss of Corey Graham creates a void in the secondary, as the Ravens need to address safety and defensive back. Dennard’s physical ability and toughness make him too good to pass up if he slides to the Ravens. With Dennard, the question could be, is he the next Chris McAlister, a three-time Pro Bowler the Ravens took in 1999, or the next Jimmy Smith?

No. 3: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

Measurements: 5-11, 207

What he did at the NFL Combine: Show he’s one of the strongest safeties in the draft, which makes him attractive to the Ravens since they need a complement to the speedy Matt Elam. Pryor’s 18 reps of 225 pounds tied for fourth at his position, well behind Brock Vereen’s 25, but Pryor is faster than Vereen. Pryor’s 4.58 in the 40-yard dash tied for eighth among safeties, well behind Florida State’s Terrence Brooks, who ran a blistering, 4.42.

Why he’s a great fit for the Ravens: Because the Ravens need someone to fill the huge shoes of future Hall of Famer Ed Reed, a former defensive player of the year and eight-time Pro Bowler. Reed was an absolute steal when the Ravens selected him 24th overall in 2002. Pryor could immediately replace James Ihedigbo, who signed with Detroit during the offseason.

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