Tag Archive | "Gano"

Not Auto-Matt-ic: Paging Stover...Matt Stover!

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Not Auto-Matt-ic: Paging Stover…Matt Stover!

Posted on 31 August 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

Just in case you’re wondering, the Ravens have NOT contacted Matt Stover about their kicking needs for the game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 13. Not yet, anyway.

But, of course, there are more than just a few people around the Charm City who think that might not be a bad idea.

And the team is led by head coach John Harbaugh, who spent his entire existence in the world of special teams and kickers and punters. This has to perturb Harbaugh more than most coaches.

The kicking game and life in the NFL is a strange one. Here is this macho game played by the biggest, fastest and toughest guys in our culture and along comes a little kicker with it all on the line to win the game on his foot and the 40 yards between the line of scrimmage and goal posts.

It’s not a cruel joke or coincidence as much as it’s weekly reality in the NFL.


After he made the game-winning kick in Tennessee last January, the Ravens jettisoned Matt Stover for three reasons, really:

1. He wasn’t their best bet on kickoffs, which forced them to carry an extra man on the roster
2. He cost them a lot of money (more than $1 million per year) as opposed to a rookie who’d earn 40% of that
3. He wasn’t getting any younger and his distances seemed to get shorter each year, even if he was considered “automatic” inside of 45 yards

Now, with just this lame preseason finale in Atlanta awaiting on Thursday, the Ravens appear to have two young kickers but no one that they can truly trust with big games on the line.

Both Graham Gano and Steve Hauschka have managed to both do something that Stover never did in 14 years in a purple helmet: they’ve manged to make us actually think about the kicking game.

Stover was so automatic, so universally forgotten about that his presence was a bit of a security blanket. Like Ray Lewis has been at middle linebacker. Like Jon Ogden was for many years at the left tackle spot.

Think about all of the kicks Stover made over the years. How many of them do you really remember?

Sure he missed a few biggies – one in the AFC Championship Game in Oakland back in 2001 as I recall. His most memorable miss is almost certainly the 0-13 Miami 2007 “gimme” that contributed to Brian Billick’s ouster as head coach.

But he just came in, made the kick, praised Jesus and ran back to the bench.

Well, over the last three preseason games, not only have we witnessed the competition drama of these two nice young men trying to fill the shoes of a “once a generation” kicker, but we’ve had the “hold our breath” drama over whether the three points is actually going up on the scoreboard on something most Ravens fans have viewed as “Auto-Matt-ic”.

Neither one of them is stepping up even remotely to the level of confidence we had with Matt Stover.

So, will the Ravens call Matt Stover?

Probably not. (For all of the same reasons they had eight months ago.)

Will the Ravens regret not calling Matt Stover?

Only time will tell.

But Stover is available, in shape and waiting by the phone. (For the record, I hear he’s enjoying his first August off in 24 years…)

And if I know that much, you can bet that Ozzie Newsome can’t be too far away.

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone…

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A different kind of ‘Dear John’ letter

Posted on 13 August 2009 by Alexander Pyles

Dear Coach Harbaugh,

It’s been a while since we’ve chatted, John, but I still can’t believe how quickly these last several months have passed. It’s wonderful to think that, in just a few hours, I’ll be sitting in M&T Bank Stadium watching your Ravens take the playing field for the first time in the 2009-10 NFL season.

I suppose not much has really changed since we last talked, John. Back in January, I was deliriously happy with the season you led your team on. The entire Raven fan base was proud of you. The only thing, we thought, the only thing, is that we’ve got to find some way to get quarterback Joe Flacco a few more weapons in his sophomore season. We liked the three-headed running back, John. We liked the aggressive, opportunistic and ball-hawking defense. Even in the passing game, we liked the toughness of Derrick Mason and the cool of Flacco.

But, we cried out almost universally, just give the fella a little more help next season.

With the addition of six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk and first round pick Michael Oher, the offensive line appears to have gotten better. Willis McGahee is in camp — and healthy — and Ray Rice is a year older and wiser, making him the current front-runner to get the majority of the carries out of the backfield. Add in Le’Ron McClain’s bruising running and what should be improved blocking skills after a year playing with Lorenzo Neal, and the running backs seem to have collectively improved as well.

But wide receiver is about the same, John.

Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams will be Flacco’s guys outside. Mason’s a pro, he’s proven — but the other two must showed marked improvement if the Ravens are to get through the Steelers in the AFC North. Tonight marks the offense’s first opportunity to show that they have improved from 2008 to 2009.

Here’s what I’ll be looking for tonight, John:

1) Wait. Mason and Clayton are both out for tonight with injuries? Oops. Well, there goes the idea that the offense will have the opportunity to show improvement.

Or does it?

With their top two receivers off the field, Ravens coaches will be able to see which of the remaining wideouts — a group led by the tantalizingly-measurable Williams — are capable of performing well in a game situation. Young guys who otherwise may not have seen the field should be given the opportunity to accrue snaps with the first team.

It may be wishful thinking, but in the quarter-or-less Flacco and the first team is likely to play in this first preseason game, it’d be encouraging to see the QB hook up with a receiver for a long gain. Not only would it perhaps shine the spotlight toward a receiver that could help the Ravens this season, but it’d help ease the fears of some fans who have been reading reports that Flacco has been inaccurate on the long ball for much of Training Camp. One deep strike may be all it takes.

2) It’ll be interesting to see how the running backs are handled. Rice should receive the start, but that doesn’t mean much. How many carries will he be given compared to McGahee and the fullback McClain? In what situations will those carries be given? Last season, Rice was often the third-down back. Does McGahee — a decent receiver out of the backfield — take that role?

The only situation that should be covered is short yardage, where surely Cam Cameron will turn to the 260-pound McClain, who gained more than 900 yards and scored 10 touchdowns last season.

Right, John?

3) If Washington comes out running the ball, we may get to see the impact of Kelly Gregg returning to the defensive line. Gregg missed all of last season with injury, allowing fellow defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to take the spotlight on the line.

Ngata responded by putting together a Pro Bowl-caliber season, and is being recognized as one of the top tackles in the league heading into 2009. Adding Gregg back into the mix further strengthens the interior of the defense, already perhaps the team’s greatest strength.

4) You were the special teams coordinator in Philadelphia before coming to Baltimore, John, so let’s talk about your specialty.

Who’s going to return kicks for your Ravens?

Reports have stated that Chris Carr may have a leg up on Yamon Figurs, who started last season as the team’s kick returner. Rice was also catching punts while I watched last Friday’s special teams practice, however.

I’m guessing, John, that Rice is your last choice to be the primary kick returner, given how integral he is expected to be in the offense this season.

Still, there’s certainly a competition taking place right now, perhaps most directly between Carr and Figurs. Figurs may feel he has something to prove after his poor performance in the role last season — he certainly has the speed to make a game-changing play.

It will be interesting to see how touches are handled in punt-return situations this evening.

5) The other special teams point, John, is of course the kicking situation. Reports have second-year man Steve Hauschka and rookie Graham Gano in a virtual dead heat. Both have strong legs and both are making kicks in practice.

Of course, we all know things are different in game situations, John. And in clutch situations.

In a preseason game you won’t be able to simulate the intense pressure of a fourth quarter 40-yard attempt with the game on the line in the AFC playoffs Divisional round. That’s the luxury of having a guy like Matt Stover as your kicker: you’re quite confident he can make that kick against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.

With Hauschka and Gano, it’s considerably less certain.

That doesn’t mean you throw in the towel just because you can’t simulate that kind of adrenaline rush. Even though tonight is just a preseason game, the performance and demeanor of Hauschka and Gano in a live situation, in front of 70,000-plus, can still be a telling and educational experience for the coaches evaluating the two kickers.

I’m excited, John, for sure. Let’s get this one kicked off and see where we’re at.

Your pal,

ap

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Live from Brawl-minster: Ravens get chippy in heat, Harbs cancels p.m. practice

Posted on 08 August 2009 by Luke Jones

1:47 p.m. — As fans continue to wonder about the status of Terrell Suggs and Samari Rolle, Harbaugh is not providing much clarity on either player.

“No, nothing really new on that.  They’re both just rehabbing, and that’s where we’re at.”

Suggs injured his heel on Sunday, and Rolle is the only player remaining on the physically unable to perform list.

1:41 p.m. — Harbaugh did not seem upset nor surprised with the morning practice skirmish.  He simply reiterated his preference for the battles in between the whistles.

“We’ve had a lot of scuffles before the whistle gets blown, I can tell you that,” Harbaugh said.  “Those are the scuffles we’re most interested in.  The other ones are irrelevant.  We don’t mind them.  We don’t want them.  We don’t not want them.  We don’t care about them.  The ones before the whistle gets blown—those are the ones that matter.  Our guys have had plenty of those.”

Here are Harbaugh’s comments on the Michael Oher calf situation:

“It doesn’t look serious.  He pinched it, as Bill [Tessendorf] put [the injury report] in there.  It may be a little bit of a calf sprain.  It will be a rehab issue for a little while.”

12:32 p.m. — A few reminders if you’re planning on heading out to Westminster in the next few days.

This afternoon’s practice has been cancelled.  The next practice will take place tomorrow afternoon at 2:45 p.m.  It is open to the public.

Monday morning’s practice is CLOSED to the general public.  The team will have an open practice at 2:45 p.m.

Monday morning’s practice will be open to the media, so WNST.net will have all of the Ravens updates you want and need.

12:30 p.m. — Brendon Ayanbadejo was working out on the other field during practice.  He’s still recovering from a sprained toe.

Suggs walked out to the field for the final moments of practice, wearing sneakers and still limping slightly.

12:27 p.m. — We saw our daily long touchdown to Justin Harper this morning, as Troy Smith threw a deep one to the second-year receiver.  Harper beat Evan Oglesby on the play.

While Harbaugh is pleased with Harper’s ability to stretch the field, he still wants more consistency out of the 6-3 receiver.  He wants Harper to make the tough catches in traffic, an area in which he’s struggled.

12:24 p.m. — Ray Rice continues to show great moves in the open field.  This morning, Rice caught a pass in the flat and put a tremendous move on Jason Phillips, leaving the rookie in the dust.  Rice continues to get the majority of the first-team reps at running back, but McGahee is still right behind him.

McGahee was seen with an ice pack on his left knee yesterday morning, but he was back out there today with no apparent problems.

12:21 p.m. — Tight end L.J. Smith appears to be finding his way in the Ravens’ offense.  He caught several passes today and seems to be regaining his speed after tweaking a hamstring at the beginning of training camp.

If healthy, Heap and Smith have the potential to be a pretty formidable duo at tight end, a major help to Flacco with the uncertainty at the wide receiver position.

12:16 p.m. — As previously reported, it was an ugly day offensively.  Dropped passes and interceptions were the story of the morning before the big fight.  In addition to Walker, Chris Carr also picked off Flacco.

Despite the rough morning, Flacco did have some nice throws including a nice 17-yard out pattern to Marcus Smith (who was playing Mason’s position with the starting offense) and a long, beautiful touchdown to Smith later in practice.  Considering Smith has had a quiet starting to training camp, it was good for him to make some plays this morning.

12:14 p.m. — Cornerback Frank Walker had another good day, breaking up several passes and picking off Joe Flacco during 11-on-11 drills.  Walker is the most physical corner on the roster and has the ability to play bump-and-run coverage, unlike most of the Ravens’ cover corners.

12:09 p.m. — It was an “over 30” day off for Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Derrick Mason, Kelly Gregg, Trevor Pryce, and Matt Birk.

Harbaugh gave a few injury updates after practice.  Oniel Cousins sustained a sprained left ankle, but the head coach said he should return soon.  Terrell Suggs (heel) and Samari Rolle (shoulder/neck) continue to rehab their respective injuries, but Harbaugh did not update when the two will return.

Oher suffered a right calf strain or “pinch” as Harbaugh described it.  The coach did not seem concerned about the injury, but Oher did not return to practice.

12:03 p.m. — It was a difficult day for Gano, but his morning ended in triumph.  After missing kicks from 35, 48, and 53 yards, Gano had a 36-yard attempt with the afternoon off riding on it.  The rookie kicker hit it, and Harbaugh cancelled the afternoon practice to reward his team for all of its hard work.

Gano’s leg was tired today, according to Harbaugh.  He came up short from 53 yards, a distance he had easily been making throughout training camp.

Gano did make field goals from 43, 47, and 51 in addition to his 36-yarder at the end of practice.

10:49 a.m. — John Harbaugh cancelled the afternoon practice today in his post-practice comments. More to come…

10:38 a.m. — Well, we had our first skirmish/melee of training camp in the heat this morning as the offense and defense knocked heads in a team-wide shove-around (apparently started by Paul Kruger and Joe Reitz) with various players involved, including Chris Chester, Jameel McClain & Jared Gaither. It’s hard to say what caused it, but the defense was shoving the offense around pretty good for the second day in a row.

Other morning notes: Michael Oher had a right calf cramp and left practice early. In general, the offense was sloppy and unproductive through much of the morning practice, in front of the usual large weekend crowd here in Westminster. Lots of dropped passes and interceptions.

Perhaps the fight helped matters. After the mini-brawl, the offense looked more focused and was more productive.

Tavares Gooden got limited reps early but didn’t participate later in practice. Jared Gaither was back and took plenty of live reps.

Graham Gano struggled early in the practice (plenty were talking about Matt Stover) but he hit a 36-yarder to end the morning session.

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Seven Ravens rookies

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Ravens rookies a big hit at The Barn

Posted on 17 June 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

Seven of the Ravens rookies for 2009 joined the WNST crew at The Barn last night for a Miller Lite event packed with purple fans and laughs. We’ll be running the audio on AM 1570 over the next few days and the audio vault here at WNST.net and video platform of wnsTV will also have the evidence.

We did brief conversations with different sets of guys, most of whom drove together from Owings Mills not knowing what to expect when I accosted them an invited them to Carney for what has become an annual event.

Paul Kruger and Jason Phillips did the first segment and admitted to being “lost” from time to time in the early going back in April.

Next up with was kicker Graham Gano (who admitted to being nervous because of the “public speaking” angle of live radio) and running back Cedric Peerman, who talked about Al Groh’s pro set offense at Virginia.

And finally, the trio of Lardarius Webb, Jason Cook (an undrafted free agent fullback who has been very impressive in OTAs) and Davon Drew joined me to close out the evening with some laughs. Webb provided the best comedy of the evening with some tales about his fandom of Ed Reed.

Seven Ravens rookies
Seven more Ravens. Seven more good guys who spent an evening out in the community having fun with their new fans. They were an impressive, polite and good-natured bunch of guys who make it easy to root for them in Westminster next month.

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Draft Grade For The Ravens

Posted on 28 April 2009 by Neal Bortmes

Immediately following the draft I thought the Ravens did a poor job, and I was very upset with their effort for several reasons.  First I thought that Ozzie was swindled out of a fifth round pick when he traded up three spots to draft Michael Oher.  He gave up a 5th round pick to move up from 26 to 23 when the Eagles only gave up a 6th round pick to move up from 21 to 19.  The Eagles selected Jeremy Maclin, who could be a steal considering his appearance among the top 10 in most mock drafts.  According to the NFL draft pick value chart Ozzie gave up 700 pts. (pick 26) and 27.6 pts. (pick 162) for 760 pts. (pick 23) for a total gain of 32.4 pts.  While Tom Heckert the Eagles’ GM gained a total of 60.6 pts. when he traded the 21st pick (800 pts.) and 195th pick (14.4 pts.) to get the 19th pick (875 pts.).  This obvious discrepancy had me miffed for a while.  I also had wanted them to trade down to the second round to get more picks a la the Patriots (who I thought had one of the best drafts) because the best value was clearly in the top half of that round. 

 

 In the second round the Ravens selected Paul Kruger DE out of Utah.  I think he is an undersized DE for the NFL (6’4” 263 lbs.) and it appears as if he is a project due to his lack of elite speed (5 sec. 40) and elite strength (24 reps at 225).  His selection was a surprise to me considering he is going to be a 23 year old rookie with only two years of college experience (in the Mountain West).  Kruger has some character concerns having been severely stabbed at a house party last year, one to which the cops were called for other infractions only to find out about the stabbing after they arrived.  Kruger also has only one kidney having lost his due to a car accident as a child which could present significant health concerns in the future.  I thought the Ravens should have traded down to acquire more picks or possibly selected Jarron Gilbert who at 6’5” and 288 lbs. is bigger, stronger, and faster than Kruger although he is a project as well coming out of a weak football conference (WAC) too.

 

 The Ravens’ 3rd round selection had me puzzled to say the least.  Lardarius Webb is from a non-FBS school in Nicholls State and he is considered a tweener, which means that the Ravens have to basically create a position for him as he lacks the ideal size-speed ratio to play corner or safety in the NFL.  He too has character concerns which caused him to be dismissed from Southern Miss.  One would have thought the Ravens learned their lesson on lightly regarded defensive back prospects from small schools with the recent failure of David Pittman whom they selected in the third round of the 2006 draft.  My first thought was that the brain trust is more eager to prove they can successfully draft a small school DB than to make a sound third round choice.  Typically the Ravens do extremely well in the first round and later rounds (4-7), but they more often than not select busts in the second and third rounds.  D.J. Moore was still available and had a better grade according to the experts on ESPN and the NFL network as well as more production at a higher level in college.

 

 I was also surprised that the Ravens did not select a kicker in the draft considering they let Matt Stover go in the off-season.  The selection of Davon Drew was the most perplexing potential blunder because James Casey and Cornelius Ingram, players with superior measureables and production, were still on the board.  For all of these reasons I would have given the Ravens a C on Sunday night, but after a day or so I have tried to reexamine the Ravens’ effort. 

 

 Upon further review I think the Ravens did an adequate job.  Their best decision by far was to trade up to select Michael Oher, although I still think they gave up too much when compared to the Eagles deal; however New England is a shrewder trading partner than the new Browns’ front office (Mankok) so one may have to expect they would ask more in a trade.  Oher has the potential to be a rock at right tackle for years, and if he pans out he will solidify a very young and talented offensive line for the foreseeable future.  He was rated higher than 23rd on many teams’ draft boards and I saw him in the top ten in several mock drafts so they got tremendous value with his selection.

 

Kruger is still a toss-up to me but when I listened to Eric DeCosta described him on the Comcast Morning Show with Drew Forrester I had a better feeling about him.  I suppose he is a high motor guy in the mold of Michael McCrary but he still needs to gain size to be effective on the end.  His age and injury history are also concerns.  The Ravens should have moved back from the second round at that point to grab a different pass rusher such as Gilbert, Michael Johnson, or Lawrence Sidbury.  http://www.ksl.com/?nid=635&sid=6285559&autostart=y  I am still not impressed with Webb having further investigated him although Mel Kiper likened him to Bob Sanders.  If he can play as effectively as Sanders then he would be a steal but I think the David Pittman scenario is more likely.  The selection of Davon Drew still has me scratching my head in light of the talent still on the board.  Eric DeCosta mentioned in his interview that several players did not pass the Ravens’ physical so I can only hope he was explaining the reason for not taking Casey or Ingram.  If nothing else the Ravens added to their depth at DB, rush linebacker/DE, and TE.  Davon Drew could provide insurance if Quinn Sypniewski cannot recover properly from his season ending injury of last year.  http://beta.sling.com/video/show/136305/12/Draft-Prospect:-TE–Davon-Drew  Jason Phillips was a very good value pick in the fifth round as he was extremely productive for a very good defensive football team.  He should help fill the void left by the departure of Bart Scott, although he is probably a rotational player at best.  Phillips is recovering from a meniscus tear he suffered at the combine.   

 

 

 

I really think the steal of the Ravens’ draft has to be Cedric Peerman.  Peerman had a very good season for a terrible Virginia team last year, he is also said to be one of Al Groh’s favorite players and a high character guy.  He has some injury concerns but is a tough runner who had the fastest 40 time at the combine of any RB.  I think even with the Ravens’ depth at RB he will make the team.  The Ravens’ draft has been made stronger by their additions of rookie free agents. http://video.yahoo.com/watch/4853302/12935650

 

 

 

 

Their signing of Eron Riley is particularly intriguing because he has very similar measurables to Heyward-Bey, as he is taller (6’3” compared to 6’1 5/8”) and almost as fast with a 4.3 second 40 time.  Riley does need to add bulk and gain strength, but he also had more receptions (61 to 42) and TD’s (8 to 5) than Heyward-Bey last year on an arguably worse football team in the same conference.  The second excellent pick-up was obviously Graham Gano as the reining Lou Groza award winner he lead the nation in field goals per game (2.18) as well as leading all kickers in points per game (9.5), and his 5 made field goals from beyond 50 yards were the most last year.  He will compete with Steve Hauschka to be the starting kicker; however he could also serve as a backup punter having also punted for Florida State last year.  He is believed to be the only punter ever to be named the MVP of a bowl game when he was named the Most Valuable Player in the Champs Sports Bowl.  http://rivals.yahoo.com/video/recruiting-football/Graham-Gano-Cantonment-28523  http://video.yahoo.com/watch/4853301/12935654  

 

 

The Ravens were able to address their needs for a place kicker and a speedy wideout through free agency so in retrospect I think the Ravens earned a solid B from me.  They traded up to get Michael Oher which was a fantastic move and they were still able to recoup another pick.  I know that the Ravens’ front office has far more experience scouting and selecting players than I do but if you are still reading this blog than you care about my opinion as well, plus the draft is so much fun because of the debate it creates.  As always only time will tell how the Ravens fared in this year’s draft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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