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Ravens defense aiming to make expectations reality in post-Lewis era

Posted on 03 September 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens heard the questions, the concerns, and the doubts about their once-proud defense in the weeks and months that followed their win in Super Bowl XLVII.

How would they survive without the retiring Ray Lewis, arguably the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history and unquestionably the leader and face of the franchise for their entire 17-year existence? What would they do to replace future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed’s presence in the defensive backfield as well as in the locker room? And how could they afford to lose younger talents such as Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Bernard Pollard, and Cary Williams in a quest to rebuild an aging and frequently-ineffective defense?

Those who downplayed Lewis’ departure because of his declining play over the final seasons of his career couldn’t overlook the colossal void in leadership and identity that needed to be addressed for an organization that both empowered and depended upon his presence. And after years of watching former Baltimore defensive players escape Lewis’ shadow before finding that the grass wasn’t greener elsewhere, the Ravens themselves will now see how they fare without him.

“In the spring, everybody was hitting the panic button on us because of the guys we lost,” Pro Bowl linebacker and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs said. “Even though we were very sad to see those guys go, the show must go on.”

The time for change was right as general manager Ozzie Newsome remembered what some had seemingly forgotten while basking in the image of confetti dropping in New Orleans in a storybook ending for the 2012 Ravens. Though praised for a “bend but don’t break” style that was good enough to complement quarterback Joe Flacco’s incredible postseason performance, the Baltimore defense finished 17th in total defense, tied for 12th in points allowed, 20th against the run, 17th against the pass, and tied for 15th in sacks.

Frankly, the defensive numbers and overall performance were un-Raven-like as Baltimore was weak along the defensive line as well as at safety, prompting Newsome to trade wide receiver Anquan Boldin and his $6 million base salary in 2013 to clear just enough salary cap space to rebuild the defense in terms of both talent and leadership. Defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears would provide improved depth upfront while free safety Michael Huff seemed like a good bet to, at worst, match the declining play of Reed for a fraction of the cost that the Houston Texans paid for the longtime Raven’s services in free agency.

The prize of the group, however, was Denver Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who was released due to a contract-restructuring snafu made by his former agent and joined the Ravens after signing a five-year deal worth a maximum value of $35 million. It appeared to be a bargain for a three-time Pro Bowl selection whose work ethic and leadership have been praised by everyone in the organization from the moment he stepped foot in Owings Mills in the spring.

“I think [it comes with] the way you play on the field and how you lead by example,” Dumervil said. “Leadership doesn’t come with talking or speech — it’s just how you carry yourself. I’ve always been a leader. That’s just natural for me, and I think I’ve learned how to follow before I can lead.”

After drafting four defensive players in the first four rounds of April’s draft, Newsome had one more trick up his sleeve in signing longtime Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith to a one-year deal on the same day the Super Bowl champs visited President Barack Obama at the White House. The 31-year-old has stepped in to play Lewis’ Mike linebacker position while looking like the team’s best player in the preseason, recording 14 tackles and a sack while showing steady ability in pass coverage.

Initially perceived as little more than an insurance policy for injured inside linebacker Jameel McClain, Smith has been praised by everyone in the organization, ranging from his new defensive teammates to quarterback Joe Flacco. Smith’s personality couldn’t be more different from Lewis, which might be a positive while handling such an unenviable task of replacing a legend.

“He doesn’t say a lot, because he’s just about business, and then you sit down and talk to him and realize the depth of his character and personality,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a great family man, he’s a mature guy, he’s a man. And he’s also – I really believe – one of the most underrated defensive players in football over the last eight [or] nine years. We feel pretty fortunate that he’s here right now.”

The common threads among the five veteran newcomers were the leadership qualities they displayed with their former teams. It was clear the Ravens weren’t simply placing the defensive leadership crown on the heads of Suggs and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata alone.

There was no replacing Lewis or Reed, but the Ravens appear to be pleased with their by-committee approach as they enter Thursday night’s opener against the Denver Broncos. On paper and in the controlled environment of spring and summer practices, the transition has appeared organic and seamless.

Suggs will be viewed as the new figurehead, but the 30-year-old has acknowledged repeatedly that he’s not looking to be the next Lewis and has appeared more subdued than in past seasons. Overall, it’s a Baltimore defense that lacks the bravado of past units without the camera-friendly Lewis out in front, but the quiet confidence veteran newcomers and young players alike have expressed seems appropriate in a new era.

“It’s different like in any organization when you lose guys that have been there for so long that they kind of assume those roles,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think everybody else kind of sat back and just said, ‘Well, that’s really kind of not my role. That’s kind of Ed [Reed] and Ray’s [Lewis] role.’ Now those guys are stepping up, and I don’t think it’s any one particular guy who’s saying, ‘OK, I’m going to be the new Ray Lewis.’ It’s just a bunch of guys collectively stepping up and showing some leadership.”

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Suggs not ready to stare own football mortality in face

Posted on 24 July 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs has never experienced a training camp quite like this as he enters his 11th season in the NFL.

Longtime teammates and mentors Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are no longer in the building, not to mention several other veteran leaders of the defending Super Bowl champions as the Ravens have undergone a more substantial makeover than any past champion in league history.

Those departures coupled with an injury-plagued 2012 season that limited the five-time Pro Bowl selection to just eight games and a career-low two sacks would make just about anyone ponder his own football mortality. But Suggs quickly dispelled any notion that he’s rapidly approaching the same age bracket as the retired Lewis or Reed, who will turn 35 in September.

“I’m 30, so I’m alright,” said Suggs, cracking a half-smile. “A lot of these guys were a lot older than me, but I’m 30. If you ask me, I’m probably entering my football prime right now. I’m not going to think about that this year definitely. At the end of the year, probably — I don’t know. It depends on how the year goes.”

And it might be a more important year for Suggs than most realize as he tries to show he is 100 percent after suffering a torn Achilles tendon on the weekend of the 2012 draft and a torn right biceps in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 2 of last year. The 2011 Defensive Player of the Year played courageously through significant pain, but he will be out to prove he remains closer to that award-winning performer he was two years ago than the pass rusher who struggled to make a consistent impact last season.

Suggs does have another year remaining on the six-year, $62.5 million contract he signed in the summer of 2009, but that deal carries a $12.4 million cap number in 2014, which is projected to account for roughly 10 percent of next season’s total cap. Unlike this season when cutting Suggs would have netted the Ravens only $1.8 million in cap savings to go along with $11.2 million in dead money, general manager Ozzie Newsome would gain $7.8 million in cap space if he decided to part ways with the 2003 first-round pick next winter.

Knowing the way in which Newsome and the front office view every player as a commodity with an appraised monetary figure, it’s likely that the Ravens will attempt to address that 2014 number in any number of ways — regardless of how Suggs performs this season.

Asked what he expects of himself this season, Suggs wouldn’t offer specifics, saying only that he plans to continue working hard while hoping to stay healthy. Noticeably slimmer this year, the elder statesman of the Baltimore defense is happy to just be able to take part in training camp this year, a notion he wouldn’t have expressed in the past. At this point last year, Suggs was more than two months away from even returning to the practice field.

“It put a lot of things in perspective with things I took for granted,” Suggs said. “Just like the opportunity to go to work and play with my teammates. Every football player will tell you reporting to camp is not really our happiest time, but it’s definitely needed to get our bodies in football shape. I wish I had the opportunity to do training camp last year.”

Dealing with a plethora of personnel changes to the defense has been made easier by the free-agent addition of fellow Pro Bowl linebacker Elvis Dumervil. Suggs paid compliments to former teammates Jarret Johnson and Paul Kruger but recognized Dumervil as the most talented outside linebacker he’s ever played with. The two have combined for a remarkable 148 sacks in their careers.

Asked how effective the pass-rushing tandem can be for the Ravens defense this season, Suggs paused and smiled before offering his answer.

“We can be pretty good,” Suggs said, “if everything goes according to plan and we keep everybody healthy. It’s going to take more than just us two though for the duo to work. There are other guys in the front. It’s a collaborative effort of everybody doing their job in the back end.”

It’s a task that won’t be easy as the Ravens will feature their first defense of the post-Lewis era and could feature as many as nine different starters from the starting defensive unit we saw in Super Bowl XLVII.

With the iconic leader affectionately known as “Mufasa” — a reference to the Disney movie “The Lion King” — and Reed now gone, Suggs admits feeling more responsibility as the longest-tenured player on the roster. However, he plans to remain his playful self in the locker room and on the practice field while acknowledging that the massive shoes of Lewis can’t be filled by any one player individually.

“It’s definitely going to be interesting to see what it looks like,” Suggs said. “I’ve said it before [about] his legacy. He has left a standard here, and every man on this defense will be held accountable in playing to that standard.”

The biggest question for Suggs is whether he can live up to his own impeccable standards that existed prior to the torn Achilles tendon, an injury from which many veterans are unable to regain their full explosiveness. Judging him too harshly on last year’s performance would be unfair after a remarkable — even unprecedented — recovery time of under six months, but the Ravens will be watching closely, hoping the Suggs who collected a combined 25 sacks in 2010 and 2011 resurfaces to lead a revamped defense in 2013.

His future — at least in Baltimore — depends on it.

“You can always do better, especially with this city,” Suggs said. “This is a league of, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ so I don’t want to rest on those laurels. I’m good with those mountains that I’ve climbed, but I’m into climbing more. That’s what we’re in this business for, so I’m looking for my next obstacle. We’ll just determine what that is in the near future.”

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Jameel McClain, John Harbaugh, Arthur Brown, Nigel Carr

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Baltimore Ravens: Bold Predictions for 2013 Season

Posted on 22 July 2013 by benheck

Baltimore’s rookies have officially reported to training camp at the team’s facility in Owings Mills, Maryland, and the veterans are just a couple of days away from joining them on a quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

Winning the Super Bowl is a tough task to complete, which makes repeating as Super Bowl champs twice as tough as Baltimore will have a huge target on their back heading into the 2013 regular season. Here are a couple of bold predictions and things to expect from Baltimore this season:

*Joe Flacco Records Career-highs in Passing Yards and Touchdowns

After signing his then-record-setting contract extension this past off-season, just about a month after winning Super Bowl MVP, Flacco has finally gotten the monkey off his back. Now that he’s financially set, you’d think he’d have less pressure to perform and can just sit back and throw touchdown passes. He’s a proven winner and at 28 years of age it appears he’s still got several more seasons of solid play for Baltimore. If a few of his receivers step their games up, there’s no doubt 2013 has the potential to be his most successful season stat-wise.

*Bernard Pierce Becomes Biggest Piece to Baltimore’s 3rd Down Offense

Though the carries will not be split 50/50 between Pro Bowler Ray Rice and second-year Temple alum Bernard Pierce as was originally stated earlier this off-season, Pierce is still poised to become a vital part in John Harbaugh’s offense. Pierce, in his limited role as a rookie, was incredibly effective with the ball in his hands and has the potential to see a lot of playing time in order to keep Rice’s legs fresh. In 2011 veteran running back Ricky Williams saw 108 carries behind Rice, but you can expect Pierce to see much closer to 150 carries and a couple of touchdowns as the team’s primary third down back.

*Dennis Pitta Emerges as Top 5 AFC Tight End

In his third professional season for the Ravens last season, Pitta’s career-highs improved drastically. His 61 receptions, 669 yards and 7 touchdowns were good enough for 2nd (tied with Ray Rice), 3rd and 2nd among his teammates, respectively. The loss of veteran wideout Anquan Boldin will allow for the 6’4″/245 pound tight end to see more targets from his quarterback. Not to mention the fact that Flacco will likely see even more control over the offense, and will be able to air it out more than he ever has after last postseason’s performance. No more Boldin and more confidence from Flacco equals a career season from Pitta.

*Rookie Arthur Brown Leads Team in Tackles

Obviously replacing future Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis is not an easy task, and second round selection Arthur Brown will have a lot of pressure on him to perform right from the get-go. But the drafting of Brown with the No. 56 overall pick was a very smart choice and he will be able to make an immediate impact on Harbaugh’s revamped defense. Brown was a tackling machine in his K-State days, posting two consecutive seasons with 100+ total tackles in his junior and senior seasons. The losses of linebackers Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe up the middle opens the door for the rookie to start from Day 1 in Baltimore, and he’ll be a key piece on defense.

*Houston Safety Ed Reed Records a Pick-Six Against Baltimore

Okay, so maybe this isn’t a positive prediction for the Ravens, but the home match-up between Houston and Baltimore on September 23 will obviously be a big deal. Not only is that the day that Ray Lewis will be inducted into Baltimore’s Ring of Honor, but it’s also when the franchise’s best free safety of all-time will make his return to M&T Bank Stadium after winning the Super Bowl with the team last year. It’ll be a highly-anticipated game for both sides, and in honor of his Baltimore playing days it’s only fair for Reed to record a pick-six against his former team. And I’m sure it would be tough for Baltimore fans to be mad at him for doing so, right?

*Baltimore Returns to Postseason, but Not as AFC North Champions

Like I stated before, it’s tough to repeat and Baltimore will be seeing the best of every team they play. And with a very young and talented team on the rise within their division––the Cincinnati Bengals––I can’t say that the Ravens will even be able to repeat as champions of the North. Expect a solid season both offensively and defensively, but Cincinnati is a very talented and overlooked squad that will need to be taken seriously in 2013. Baltimore will be in the postseason for the sixth consecutive season in 2013, but not as division champions.

The Baltimore Ravens will not be able to pull off the rare Super Bowl repeat, but that will not take away from the success that coach Harbaugh and Flacco will see in their sixth season together. The 2013 season will end with Baltimore posting its 11th winning season in its 18-year history.

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Ravens to add retired linebacker Lewis to Ring of Honor

Posted on 15 July 2013 by Luke Jones

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

The last time we saw Ray Lewis at M&T Bank Stadium, he was dancing a final time while holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy just two days after the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII victory.

The retired inside linebacker won’t have to wait long to enter the team’s Ring of Honor as the Ravens announced Monday that Lewis will be inducted on Sept. 22 during a Week 3 contest with the Houston Texans. Of course, that means former Ravens safety and Lewis’ longtime teammate Ed Reed will be on the opposing sideline in his first visit to Baltimore since departing via free agency this offseason.

Owner Steve Bisciotti has already said the organization plans to build a statue in honor of the 17-year linebacker, who retired after helping lead the Ravens to their second Super Bowl championship. The statue will not be ready for Lewis’ Week 3 ceremony.

Lewis becomes the seventh Ravens player to receive the honor, joining 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Jonathan Ogden, Peter Boulware, Jamal Lewis, Michael McCrary, Matt Stover, and Earnest Byner. Late owner Art Modell and eight Baltimore Colts are also members of the Ring of Honor.

A two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and 13-time Pro Bowl selection, Lewis is eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.

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Why the Ravens will survive offseason purge

Posted on 01 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

I just finished celebrating the Super Bowl victory when the Ravens began losing players. Some were to retirement while others were just released or traded. The losses include Carry Williams, Paul Kruger, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Ma’ake Kemoeatu, and Dannell Ellerbe. At first, this was troubling but Ozzie Newsome had a plan and executed it to perfection.

Overwhelming, yes. But the Ravens are set up for long term success at the right price. That is something I have always admired about Ozzie Newsome. Newsome doesn’t get attached to players and approaches football from a business aspect at all times.

I guarantee you Newsome and the Ravens front office were laughing their you know whats off when players like Kruger and Ellerbe signed with other teams. Not to say Ellerbe and Kruger are bad players but they are not worth $75 million combined. Not to mention Ellerbe has struggled with injuries his entire career and Kruger had one good season.

Replacing Kruger and Ellerbe will be Arthur Brown and Elvis Dumervil. The Ravens also have replacements lined up for Williams, Pollard, and Kemoeatu. But notice how I didn’t mention replacements for Boldin, Lewis, or Reed. No one can replace those players.

Boldin is the only loss that truly concerns me. The roster is filled with young receivers with high ceilings and raw ability but that only takes you so far. Boldin brought intangibles to the offense that personified the Ravens playing style. He was also the guy Flacco looked for in clutch situations. None of the young receivers like Deonte Thompson, Tandon Doss, or Tommy Streeter can replace Boldin but maybe Dennis Pitta can.

Look for the Ravens to use Pitta in more of a slot receiver role in 2013. With Pitta in the slot, they can utilize Ed Dickson who is a dangerous weapon when given the chance. Versatile rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk could also line up across from Dickson as a second tight end.

In a way, while they have lost Boldin, the offense has a chance to be more versatile. Replacing Boldin with a wide range of young fast receivers to stretch the field which fits Flacco’s skill set.

Expect the Ravens to make the playoffs once again. The defense has improved and Flacco can carry this offense. In addition, I dont trust the Bengals to make much of an improvement and the Ravens have owned the Steelers lately.

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Rice, Flacco among Ravens players named to NFL Network top 100 list

Posted on 21 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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The Ravens didn’t exactly needed more respect after winning their second Super Bowl title in February, but NFL players provided it anyway through the NFL Network’s annual top 100 list.

Nine players from last year’s championship roster were selected to the list voted on by players around the league. Three of the players — safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard and wide receiver Anquan Boldin — no longer play in Baltimore, but the Ravens have six remaining members on their projected 2013 roster to have received the honor.

Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice was the highest-ranked Baltimore player, voted 13th overall, while Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player Joe Flacco ranked 19th after coming in at No. 74 in last year’s edition. Flacco’s jump should be viewed as validation for what he’s accomplished in terms of wins and postseason performance in the first five years of his career despite regular-season statistics that wouldn’t make a strong argument for his inclusion in the top 20.

Reed was the third member of the 2012 Ravens to be included in the first 20 as he was ranked 18th. Others to make the list were Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (42nd), outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (56th), Pollard (87th), Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones (88th), Boldin (93rd), and tight end Dennis Pitta (100th).

Admittedly, I don’t put much stock into this NFL Network concoction nor have I paid much attention to the weekly televised specials, but it sparks interest and fun debate for fans during the offseason. Based on knowledge and conversations I’ve had about the voting process, I have my doubts over how seriously most players take the exercise, but the same could be said for virtually any list or rankings you see floating out there.

I respect players’ opinions when they do take the voting seriously, but those assessments are often incomplete since they simply don’t have the time to pay close attention to anyone besides their teammates or opponents over the course of a season. For instance, Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings — one of the best defensive players in the league — has no reason to study the players in the AFC North since he hasn’t played any team in that division since 2009.

Here’s the recap of the Ravens from last season’s team represented in this year’s list:

13. RB Ray Rice
18. S Ed Reed
19. QB Joe Flacco
42. DT Haloti Ngata
56. LB Terrell Suggs
87. S Bernard Pollard
88. KR/PR Jacoby Jones
93. WR Anquan Boldin
100. TE Dennis Pitta

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D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction Five Questions for Friday

Posted on 20 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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

As we try out a new segment “Five Questions for Friday” on The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction, I wanted to pick readers’ brains on the following topics.

(Update: Thanks to those who chimed in via Twitter, Facebook, and in the comments section below. You can catch Friday morning’s segment HERE.)

I’ve offered my own thoughts on each question and invite you to offer your answers in the comments selection below and I’ll share your insights on Friday morning.

1. If you’re only able to keep two moving forward, who would you choose among Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, and Chris Davis?

This question was brought up during Thursday morning’s show by Jonathan in Essex and it’s an intriguing one to ponder, particularly when you acknowledge the potential cost that each of these three young players will carry in the future.

Wieters and Davis are both scheduled to become free agents after 2015 while Machado isn’t currently scheduled to see free agency until after the 2018 campaign.

Machado is the easy first choice and Wieters would have been my second pick in spring training, but my answer may be changing as the season progresses and we see Chris Davis continue an MVP-caliber season. Even if this is Davis’ career year and he settles in as a first baseman capable of simply hitting 30 to 40 home runs in the typical year, he brings the type of power only a handful of players in the major leagues can provide.

However, Wieters’ defense and ability to handle a flawed pitching staff is a major reason why the Orioles have become a winning franchise over the last two years. He never did become Johnny Bench offensively, but he’s still a good offensive catcher with exceptional defensive skills, a rare combination among backstops in the game today.

If I’m choosing now, I’ll keep Machado and Davis, but a big reason why is the Orioles’ window for signing Wieters to a long-term extension continuing to close. The catcher will be 29 when he hits free agency after 2015 and will be looking for an expensive and lengthy contract, which is something I’m not crazy about doing for a catcher who will have much tread worn away from the tires by then.

2. After Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta, which player currently on the roster will be the most productive receiver for the Ravens in 2013?

Smith and Pitta are the easy choices for seeing a spike in production following the departure of Anquan Boldin, but it remains to be seen who else will emerge to become a bigger part of the passing game.

I’m not sold on Jacoby Jones suddenly become a consistent wide receiver in his seventh year despite the big-play ability, so I’ll go with Tandon Doss finally figuring it out in his third year to become a respectable contributor. Anyone in the media will tell you how well Doss has practiced over the last couple years, but limited opportunities and nagging injuries have prevented him from becoming a household name.

Many have written him off after being targeted only 20 times in his career and his disappointing showing in the wild-card round against Indianapolis, but he fits the closest profile to what the Ravens received from Boldin over the last three years. And he’s gotten stronger and quicker since entering the league as a fourth-round pick out of Indiana.

Of course, don’t forget the possibility of Ray Rice becoming an even bigger factor out of the backfield as a receiver, especially with the power-running ability of Bernard Pierce likely cutting into his total number of carries.

3. Of the four Orioles currently in line to be starters in July’s All-Star Game, how would you rank them in order of being most deserving? Which Orioles belong in the Midsummer Classic and which ones don’t?

Of the four players slated to be starters as of the last voting update, Davis is clearly the most deserving. After that, I’d be inclined to go with Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Nick Markakis in order from most to least deserving of the nod.

Jones continues to be very productive in a down year for American League outfielders. Meanwhile, Hardy is hitting .311 with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs since May 1 and continues to be an excellent defensive shortstop.

Markakis is a pick based mostly on the outstanding voting efforts of Orioles fans, but little about his solid-but-unspectacular season really screams All-Star starter if you’re looking at his numbers objectively. He ranks 15th among AL outfielders with a .761 OPS this year.

Aside from Davis, no Orioles player is more deserving of an All-Star nod than Machado, who leads the major leagues in hits and is on pace to set a new major-league record for doubles as he already has 33 in 73 games. It’s understandable that he ranks second behind 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera for third basemen, but it will truly be a shame if he’s left off the All-Star team.

Wieters currently ranks second among AL catchers and will earn consideration because of his defense and reputation, but his offensive numbers don’t hold up as well this year with a .702 OPS, which ranks behind Joe Mauer, Carlos Santana, Jason Castro, Ryan Doumit, and Salvador Perez among AL backstops.

4. Because everyone else has asked the question and I want to address it once before moving on, so who would be your four choices for the Ravens’ hypothetical version of Mt. Rushmore?

I suppose Pro Football Talk should receive the blame for getting this discussion rolling for the 32 NFL teams this spring, but I find it difficult to come up with a definitive foursome for a franchise that only has 17 seasons of history to its name.

The first three are elementary with Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, and Ed Reed, but choosing a fourth feels forced. Super Bowl XLVII most valuable player Joe Flacco would be my tentative selection for now, but Flacco has too much football ahead of him to definitively etch him in stone as one of the four greatest in franchise history.

Still, I’d include him before the likes of Ray Rice, Jamal Lewis, Matt Stover, and Terrell Suggs based on the first five years of his NFL career.

The truth is these types of exercises work much better for teams with extensive histories and it feels artificial for even successful teams with shorter histories such as the Ravens, let alone teams lacking any substantial prosperity like Jacksonville or Carolina.

5. What is your favorite superhero movie?

Yes, I realize this isn’t a sports-related question, but I thought I’d throw in a non-sports topic to discuss and I plan to see “Man of Steel” over the weekend.

The newest attempt at a Superman movie has received mixed reviews, but I’ll freely admit to being a nerd for superhero movies such as the Batman trilogy and saw “Iron Man 3″ in the theater earlier this spring.

“The Dark Knight” goes down as my all-time favorite superhero movie, but I also found “The Dark Knight Rises” to be much better than many gave it credit for as I thoroughly enjoyed Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane. It was impossible to match the psychotic performance of the late Heath Ledger as the Joker in the previous movie, but Hardy gave a more than respectable effort playing the homicidal man behind the mask.

How would you answer the five questions posed? Comment below and see if your answers make the cut for Friday’s show.

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Bisciotti anoints Flacco new leader of Ravens at ring ceremony

Posted on 10 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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

If there were any remaining doubts about who the new leader of the Ravens would be after the retirement of Ray Lewis and the free-agent departure of Ed Reed, owner Steve Bisciotti made it elementary during Friday’s ring ceremony.

Addressing the entire organization before unveiling the much-anticipated jewelry commemorating the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII victory, Bisciotti confirmed that sixth-year quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco will assume the role left behind by the two future Hall of Fame defensive players. No longer will Flacco just be entrusted to lead the offense but the 28-year-old will now be the principal figure of the entire roster, according to the owner.

“You are the leader now, like it or not,” said Bisciotti to Flacco, according to the team’s official site. “Not many guys do what you did in five years. Not many did it your way. Not many like the way you do it. But I said at the end-of-the-year press conference after last year’s [postseason] defeat that I think the fans of Baltimore will be rewarded by your low-key presence, and it will stand the test of time.”

It certainly has to this point as Flacco became just the second quarterback in NFL history — joining Joe Montana — to throw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in a single postseason. The 2008 first-round pick is also the only signal-caller in league history to not only advance to the postseason in each of his first five years but to win at least one playoff game per postseason.

Of course, no one should expect any dramatic changes in the quarterback’s personality or the camera-friendly flare of Lewis, but Flacco himself has acknowledged becoming more vocal over the years because he naturally feels more comfortable in his surroundings. Many have pointed out that Flacco is more vocal behind the scenes than what we see on game day and in interviews when he is often accused by critics of being too passive.

Flacco was rewarded with a six-year, $120.6 million contract this offseason, becoming the highest-paid player in NFL history at the time. Speaking to reporters after receiving his first championship ring on Friday night, the Baltimore quarterback expressed how touched he was to have been singled out with praise by Bisciotti during the speech.

“It was pretty cool,” Flacco said. “Steve is an awesome dude, a great owner, and this is a great organization. You can see how special of a night this is and how over the top they went for it. I think that just says a lot about him, and obviously, I’m honored that he would bring me up.”

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

Posted on 10 June 2013 by Glenn Clark

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

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

But as of today, that’s over.

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

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

It’s all in the past now.

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

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

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

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

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

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ravens celebrate Super Bowl glory with unknown in front of them

Posted on 05 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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WASHINGTON — In the days leading up to and immediately following their Super Bowl XLVII victory over the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans, Ravens coach John Harbaugh and his players shared a similar sentiment over and over with reporters.

It would be the final time we’d see that team — the 2012 edition — together as some number of players, coaches, and staff members would inevitably go their separate ways. It was a reminder to all to enjoy the moment in knowing they would never all be together again, and Wednesday’s visit to the White House was a reminder of that despite the euphoria experienced in meeting President Barack Obama and touring his famous home.

Several key members of that team were missing for various reasons, including Anquan Boldin, Bernard Pollard, Matt Birk, Cary Williams, and Paul Kruger, as even the most prominent celebratory experience still didn’t look quite the same as the moments following the Ravens’ 34-31 win when the confetti fell and the franchise raised its second Vince Lombardi Trophy. However, it was the sight of two players in particular standing behind Obama at the podium that reminded you how quickly life has changed for the Ravens barely four months after their Super Bowl title.

Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, together as the former leaders of the Baltimore defense and two of the biggest icons in this city’s sports history, stood with most of their former teammates for the first time since the victory parade in downtown Baltimore.

It’s strange thinking of them in the same way as the many Super Bowl XXXV players who have returned to Baltimore from time to time for celebrations, knowing they are now officially part of the franchise’s past.

“You can’t think about Baltimore without thinking of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, two of the greatest defenders who ever played the game,” Obama said. “Now, these two won’t be wearing purple next year. Everybody is going to have to get used to that.”

Because Lewis’ fate had already been known entering the postseason as he expressed his intentions to retire, Wednesday was a unique spotlight for Reed to say goodbye to the organization he called home for 11 years before signing a three-year contract with the Houston Texans earlier this offseason. It was refreshing to see Reed smile and appear to hold no ill will toward his former team after the Ravens showed little interest in re-signing the 34-year-old safety.

Reed’s decision to attend the White House ceremony as well as Friday’s ring ceremony in Owings Mills appears to quell any concerns about any significant rift between the sides, which is exactly what all parties emotionally involved hoped to see in terms of Reed’s willingness to return to celebrate the first title of his career. And you assume Reed will be back many times after his Week 3 visit to Baltimore as a member of the opposition for the first time.

While making a joke about Reed’s grandfatherly look, the 44th president inadvertently provided a reminder of why the Ravens decided to forgo a last-ditch effort at a repeat, instead looking forward to the uncertain future with a revamped roster that still includes many core players with a championship pedigree. It was a special day made to celebrate what the 2012 Ravens accomplished, but the unknown stares each one of them right in the face in different ways.

And we all know nothing lasts forever.

“Ed is getting some gray hair,” said Obama, drawing laughs from the franchise’s all-time interceptions leader. “I’m not the only one, huh? You’re like an old man. That makes me feel better.”

Reed recently underwent hip surgery and told the team’s official site that he’s unsure whether he’ll be ready to play for Houston in Week 1. It was a reminder of the side of the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year that the Ravens and fans had grown weary of in recent years as his career winds down and injuries have taken their toll.

Of course, the future Hall of Fame safety isn’t the only one undergoing change.

Lewis now looks at a new career in television as well as the opportunity to become a full-time fan watching his son playing at the University of Miami as the 38-year-old awaits induction into Canton in the summer of 2018.

Harbaugh now looks to try to become the first coach in Ravens history to guide his team to a second championship, which would not only trump Super Bowl XXXV coach Brian Billick but put him in rare territory in the history of NFL coaches.

And the remaining players on the roster welcome new veterans and rookies alike, trying to not only express what’s expected to be a member of the organization but to work toward defending their championship and advancing to the playoffs for a sixth straight year.

Sixth-year quarterback Joe Flacco tops that list of players as a Super Bowl MVP and a $120.6 million contract naturally puts more pressure on him to lead and to continue to excel behind center. The 28-year-old was singled out by Obama for his excellent playoff performance and how he was subsequently rewarded.

“Good timing with that contract up, huh?” said Obama, drawing laughter from Flacco and those gathered on the South Lawn. “That was some good timing. Capped off one of the greatest postseasons ever by a quarterback [with] more than 1,000 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions. I don’t know about you, Joe, but I would say that qualifies as elite.”

Even the commander-in-chief couldn’t resist using the “e” word, but that label brings a certain ambiguity that Flacco and the Ravens didn’t have to worry about on Wednesday.

No matter how much you’ve praised or haven’t cared for the decisions made by general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti this offseason, the future remains an unknown for all those with a piece in the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII championship.

But it felt like old times for just a few moments on Wednesday, just as it will for the ring ceremony and the occasional celebrations in the years to come.

Nothing lasts forever, but there’s nothing wrong with looking back at what you’ve accomplished from time to time, knowing that it can never be taken away.

And the Ravens experienced that in all their glory, most of them back together for the first time since that unforgettable week in early February.

 

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