Tag Archive | "gary kubiak"

Like, ERMAGERD, did you SEE the Ravens’ first possession?!?!?!?!?

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Like, ERMAGERD, did you SEE the Ravens’ first possession?!?!?!?!?

Posted on 08 August 2014 by Glenn Clark

BALTIMORE — I had the-umm-we’ll call it “opportunity” to check out some Diet Football from the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

It was neat. It looked kinda like football, it sounded almost like football, it even smelled a little like football.

Of course, we all know better. (We DO all know better, right?) That’s what makes the excitement of the team’s first offensive possession so frustrating.

I mean, just going back and READING the first possession is fun.

“Ray Rice six yard run. Joe Flacco to Dennis Pitta for 14 yards. Joe Flacco incomplete. Rice for five yards. Flacco to Jacoby Jones on a slant for 12 on 3rd and 5. Flacco to Kyle Juszczyk over the middle for 17. Bernard Pierce seven yard run. Flacco to Steve Smith underneath for nine yards. Rice off left tackle for six more. 49ers offsides. Pierce two yards for a touchdown.”

It’s like play-by-play porn. It was a 10 play, 80 yard, 4:59 box of magic goodness. For a second you kinda didn’t even care that it was the preseason. You just wanted to high five the person closest to you and say “DUDE I TOLD YOU GARY KUBIAK WAS GOING TO COME IN HERE AND FIX EVERYTHING! LET’S DO SOME JELLO SHOTS, BRAH!”

Just me? Sorry. I get carried away some times.

“It was nice”, Flacco said at halftime. “It felt good to get out here in a game-type situation and feel the nerves of a real game. I enjoyed being out there and doing it for real, and I thought we did pretty well. We moved the ball methodically, with precision and got it in the end zone.”

Nice? NICE? I’m going to need a little more enthusiasm out of you, Joe. It was a damn masterpiece! My snarky friends and I are going over to Steelers message boards tonight with the hashtag “LarryBrownMustDie” and start saying things like “You guys…I’m starting to wonder if maybe we should be worried about the Ravens. Did you see how well their first offensive series went now that they have Gary Kubiak?”

We’ll be doing it ironically, of course.

Things couldn’t possibly have gone better in the first view we had of the Gary Kubiak offense. There have been a multitude of opinions about the impact the former Houston Texans head coach could have on this team. Some have believed that Kubiak would be the perfect fit for a team that has historically been built on the running the ball. Some of wondered whether or not the Ravens have the offensive line and running backs to make his system work. Flacco’s role in a Kubiak offense has been hotly debated and we still didn’t know if the team had enough quality skill position players to make it work.

For a handful of plays, it all looked perfect. The O-Line blocked and the running backs ran (en route to over 200 yards rushing as a team for the night), Flacco was crisp in finding multiple targets, the receivers ran all sorts of routes using all parts of the field. It was as if Kubiak himself had walked up and whispered sweetly into your ear “it’s going to be okay.”

Every time we’ve wanted to believe this organization has turned a corner offensively things have seemingly blown up quickly. When we’ve thought a new quarterback, new receiver, new tackle or new coordinator would stabilize the unit we’ve instead been met with inconsistently a season, month, week or even a play later.

Ravens fans WANT to believe in that first drive desperately, and understandably so.

But alas, preseason. It doesn’t mean the offense won’t be adequate-or even quite good. It doesn’t mean the team hasn’t made great strides already in Kubiak’s system. It just means we don’t know. You simply can’t read much into ANYTHING you see in the preseason because it’s truly “diet football”. Nothing that happens is a real indication of what’s exactly going to happen when the football becomes real, but it’s not a guarantee it can’t be either.

Head coach John Harbaugh offered the best possible perspective at the end of the game.

“It was a good start for the offense” Harbaugh said after besting his younger brother Jim again. “To come back and answer and move the ball and execute like that, it’s a good first drive of the preseason.”

BUT….?

“But, you know what, don’t read too much into it. We’ve got lots of work to do…”

And against our wishes, we’ll have to do just that.

-G

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Five questions entering 2014 Ravens training camp

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Five questions entering 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 21 July 2014 by Luke Jones

John Harbaugh enters new territory this summer in trying to guide the Ravens to a bounce-back season after missing the playoffs for the first time in his tenure a year ago.

The seventh-year head coach is coming off his most difficult offseason in not only revamping his offensive coaching staff but dealing with the arrests of five different players, painting the organization in a more negative and embarrassing light than it’s faced in quite some time. Of course, the Ravens are hopeful they’ve made the necessary changes to rebound from an 8-8 season and return to the postseason playing in what appears to be a wide-open AFC North.

As rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans coming off injuries officially take the practice field in Owings Mills on Tuesday, here are five questions — of many others, quite frankly — to ponder:

1. Will different automatically translate to better for the Ravens offense? If so, how much better?

The easy answer is the 29th-ranked offense in 2013 couldn’t be much worse, so it’s no profound statement to say the unit will be improved under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who will bring a stronger emphasis on running the football. The real question is how much better the Ravens will be after averaging a league-worst and franchise-worst 3.1 yards per carry.

Kubiak has an excellent reputation dating back to his days with Mike Shanahan in Denver, but quarterback Joe Flacco’s adjustment to a West Coast offense centered around timing, excellent footwork, and shorter throws — not regarded as his biggest strengths — will be interesting to watch after he showed encouraging improvements as spring workouts progressed. Of course, the Ravens hope the free-agent signings of wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels in addition to a fully-recovered Dennis Pitta will provide the quarterback with consistent weapons he sorely lacked beyond wideout Torrey Smith last season.

Steve Smith was the standout acquisition of the offseason and has been praised for the leadership and swagger he’s already brought to the offense, but he has plenty to prove as a 35-year-old receiver whose yards per catch average has dropped in three straight years. Daniels figures to be a clear upgrade as the No. 2 tight end behind Pitta, but he played in only five games last season and must prove he can still gain separation entering his ninth NFL season.

The ultimate factor in determining how high the offense can climb will be the improvement of the offensive line with new center Jeremy Zuttah and the return of left guard Kelechi Osemele from season-ending back surgery. Zuttah will be an improvement over Gino Gradkowski with his physical style of play and will be a leader by example in the trenches, but you wonder if there will be some growing pains in making line calls with the veteran having spent more time at guard during his career. Osemele was impressive during spring workouts, but the Ravens need to see his surgically-repaired back hold up during the daily rigors of camp and the third-year lineman had to alter his workout practices as a result of the procedure.

And, of course, the Ravens still aren’t sure who will line up at right tackle, with Rick Wagner the favorite entering camp.

The offense will look quite different, but will there be enough improvement for the Ravens to climb back among the AFC’s elite?

2. How does maligned offensive line coach Juan Castillo fit with the Kubiak system?

After all the hand-wringing over Castillo and calls for him to be dismissed after the offensive line’s woeful 2013 campaign, the hiring of Kubiak all but eliminated that chatter. However, his seat will heat up again very quickly if his unit doesn’t produce immediately in 2014.

Players have dismissed any notion of growing pains last season, but it was clear the coexistence of Castillo and former offensive line coach Andy Moeller wasn’t a good fit. The bigger question this year will be how effectively Castillo implements Kubiak’s brand of stretch outside zone blocking that has produced a plethora of 1,000-yard running backs over the years.

Castillo demands a lot from his his unit before, during, and after practices, which made him a favorite in Philadelphia for so many years, but Harbaugh will have a difficult time sticking with his longtime colleague if the offensive line gets off to another slow start in 2014.

3. How many younger players are ready to make the jump to become standouts?

It’s no secret that the Ravens have undergone quite a transformation since winning Super Bowl XLVII, but a major key in rebounding from last year’s 8-8 finish will be the emergence of younger impact players, something there wasn’t enough of in 2013.

Torrey Smith and cornerback Jimmy Smith took sizable leaps last season, but others such as Osemele, safety Matt Elam, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, running back Bernard Pierce, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams must become more dynamic players if the Ravens are going to bounce back in a significant way.

Entering 2014, how many great players — not good or solid ones — do the Ravens currently have? Linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata might still be considered great around the league but are on the wrong side of 30 and not as dominant as they were a few years ago.

Yes, the Ravens will lean on the likes of veterans Steve Smith, Daniels, and Zuttah to upgrade their respective positions, but substantial improvement in 2014 will only come if the draft classes of 2012 and 2013 are ready to make a larger impact than they did a year ago. And if the likes of linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan can bring immediate impact as rookies, Baltimore will be that much more dangerous.

Simply put, the core of this roster needs younger and more dynamic talent to emerge.

4. What can we expect out of Ray Rice?

Even putting aside the ongoing saga of when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will finally make a ruling on a suspension for the embattled running back, it’s difficult to project what kind of player Rice will be entering his seventh season and coming off the worst year of his career.

The 27-year-old was noticeably leaner and faster during spring practices, but it’s difficult to measure elusiveness — or any ability to break tackles — when players aren’t participating in full-contact drills. Much like we ponder about the entire offense, it’s not difficult to envision Rice being better at a lighter weight and with a better offensive line in front of him, but it’s fair to ask if his days as a game-changing back are over.

It will also be fascinating to see if Kubiak views Rice as an every-down back or is more eager to continue to hand opportunities to the likes of Pierce, veteran newcomer Justin Forsett, or rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro even after the sixth-year back returns from his anticipated suspension. Rice split time with Forsett working with the starters this spring — Pierce was still limited returning from offseason shoulder surgery — but it’s difficult to gauge how much of that was Forsett’s experience in Kubiak’s system as well as the Ravens preparing for the suspension.

5. Is the commitment to winning strong enough top to bottom on the roster?

You never like to make generalizations about what’s currently a 90-man roster when referencing five specific players being arrested during the offseason, but it’s fair to question the overall commitment when your players make up more than 25 percent of the NFL’s total number of reported arrests since last season.

Most already expected Harbaugh to have a tougher training camp following the first non-playoff season of his tenure in Baltimore, but the poor off-field behavior lends even more credence to the head coach working his players harder than in past summers.

Make no mistake, there are countless individuals on the roster who are fully dedicated to winning, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the Ravens will be under the microscope in not only how they conduct themselves off the field but how they perform on it this season. The poor choices of several individuals unfortunately drew that scrutiny for the entire roster as critics question the organization’s leadership and overall character.

“We have good, really good guys,” Harbaugh said on the final day of mandatory minicamp last month. “Football matters to them. The more it matters to you, the less inclined you are to do anything to jeopardize that.”

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Kubiak in learning mode as much as Ravens players this spring

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Kubiak in learning mode as much as Ravens players this spring

Posted on 10 June 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the Ravens trying to revamp the NFL’s 29th-ranked offense from a year ago, the focus has fallen on quarterback Joe Flacco and his teammates trying to learn Gary Kubiak’s system this spring.

But as players try to grasp the terminology and master the precision and timing of the West Coast offense, the Ravens’ new offensive coordinator is doing plenty of his own learning during organized team activities. Kubiak spent the offseason learning as much as he could about his new personnel, but the former Houston Texans head coach is using spring practices to determine players’ strengths and weaknesses within his system.

The current objective is more about experimentation than perfection with the start of the season still three months away.

“I think that’s been my challenge right now as a coach — to watch,” Kubiak said. “I’m throwing the kitchen sink at them, and then I have to kind of watch and see what sticks and what they do best. When we come back for [training] camp, I’ll probably have to cut some things down, but they’ve been very receptive. We have plenty of time from a teaching standpoint, plenty of time on the field.”

Of course, Kubiak hasn’t started with a clean slate in terms of learning his players as he’s been reunited with wide receiver Jacoby Jones, who had a strong relationship with the coach in Houston. General manager Ozzie Newsome also added tight end Owen Daniels and running back Justin Forsett, two former Houston Texans with experience playing in Kubiak’s system.

Those players have acted as a tutoring system for the likes of wide receivers Torrey Smith and Steve Smith, tight end Dennis Pitta, and running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce as they try to grasp a new playbook.

“There are a few people in each place that kind of know the way I’ve done things and how I do things,” Kubiak said. “Jacoby has been a big asset, Owen’s been a big asset with Dennis, and Justin’s been a big asset with Ray. I think the way things got situated before we got to work has been a big positive.”

The vision of Kubiak’s West Coast attack has been evident during OTAs as the passing game has been centered around shorter routes based on timing, quite a shift from the emphasis on the vertical passing game that existed under former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in Flacco’s first five seasons. The deep ball will still be a factor with Flacco’s arm strength and speedy options such as Torrey Smith and Jones on the outside, but Steve Smith and Pitta will be the focal points in the short-to-intermediate passing game.

The 35-year-old Smith will be of particular interest during training camp as the Ravens view him as more of a possession receiver, which is a departure from his reliance on speed and playing outside throughout his career.

The timing and precision of Kubiak’s system requires quarterbacks to have exceptional footwork, making that one of the biggest points of emphasis for Flacco this spring beyond the mastery of the playbook and learning the responsibilities of every other player on the field. That focus has allowed Kubiak to develop a new appreciation for the seventh-year quarterback, who isn’t exactly known around the league for his mobility.

“I knew he had a big arm, but I had no idea how good of an athlete he is,” Kubiak said. “[He is] a very good athlete. The things we like to do, [moving] around, the zone-pass schemes that we like to run, I think fit to a lot of his strengths. We just need to continue to get better at them. But his progress and where he’s at right now, I couldn’t be happier.”

The Baltimore offense remains a work in progress with questions still surrounding the state of the offensive line as the right tackle position remains up for grabs and new center Jeremy Zuttah continues to adjust to his new surroundings. The group appears promising on paper, but offensive line coach Juan Castillo’s ability to teach Kubiak’s zone-blocking system will be scrutinized after a 2013 season that was nothing short of disastrous in terms of line play.

As Kubiak pointed out on Tuesday, plenty of time remains to work out the details — like how to handle the running back position with Rice all but guaranteed to be suspended to start the season — but the Ravens are using spring practices to mold a vision of what the offense will look like with new pieces and a new philosophy in place.

“That’s my challenge right now. Finding out what we do best and making sure I don’t overload them,” Kubiak said. “But I did think it was very important that we challenge them mentally as well as physically, especially throughout the course of OTAs. I told them that. I said, ‘Guys, I’m going to throw a lot at you. We need to go make some mistakes, but let’s go make them hard. We’ll figure it out and make sure on opening day we’re doing what we do best.’”

Tuesday practice attendance

With the Ravens in the midst of their final week of voluntary OTAs, a number of veteran players were absent from the field on Tuesday including linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Daryl Smith, defensive linemen Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty, and offensive linemen Eugene Monroe and Marshal Yanda.

Others missing from practice included defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip surgery), offensive lineman Jah Reid (calf strain), and wide receivers Kamar Aiken and Jace Davis.

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Ravens begin voluntary conditioning program on Monday

Posted on 21 April 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens officially returned to work Monday to begin preparations for the 2014 season.

Harbaugh and his staff, which includes new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and several other newcomers, began the first phase of the workout program on April 21. This portion is limited to two weeks of conditioning and strength training as well as physical rehabilitation. Many notable players and young players alike have been present on the first day in past offseasons.

“Good morning y’all!” wide receiver Torrey Smith wrote on his official Twitter account. “Thankful for another day of life and the opportunity to be back with the team.”

The second phase of the offseason schedule covers the next three weeks of the program. On-field workouts that include individual player instruction and drills as well as a practice conducted on a “separate” basis are permitted, but no live contact or team offense against defense drills are permitted.

The final phase of the offseason program consists of the next four weeks. During this period, teams may conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity, or OTAs. No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are allowed.

Besides the obvious physical preparations for the 2014 season as the Ravens try to make it back to the playoffs after a disappointing 8-8 season, this spring will be critical from a learning standpoint as players try to adopt Kubiak’s West Coast offensive scheme. Of course, the offseason training program will allow new free-agent additions such as wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels to get to know their new surroundings and teammates.

Nearly all workouts are considered “voluntary” by definition, but it’s privately expected that players attend regularly. In recent years, Harbaugh has praised his players for their attendance for offseason workouts.

The league’s collective bargaining agreement permits one mandatory minicamp for veteran players, which may occur during the third phase of the offseason. New head coaches are allowed to hold an additional voluntary minicamp for veterans.

Each club may also conduct a rookie football development program for a period of seven weeks, which may begin on May 12. During this period, no activities may be held on weekends except one post-draft rookie minicamp, which may be conducted on either the first or second weekend following the draft.

The date of the post-draft rookie minicamp will be released at a later date.

Here is the Ravens’ 2014 offseason training program schedule that was released earlier this month by the NFL:

First Day: April 21
OTA Offseason Workouts: May 28-30, June 3-5, June 9-10, June 12-13
Mandatory Minicamp: June 17-19

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Ravens agree to one-year deal with former Texans tight end Daniels

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Ravens agree to one-year deal with former Texans tight end Daniels

Posted on 03 April 2014 by Luke Jones

After weeks of discussions, the Ravens agreed to a one-year deal with free-agent tight end Owen Daniels on Thursday.

The 31-year-old reunites with new Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison, and tight ends coach Brian Pariani after working with them during his eight-year run with the Houston Texans. Daniels was a salary-cap casualty last month and told WNST.net that the Ravens immediately showed interest in his services.

Daniels is eager for a fresh start after the Texans finished 2-14 last season with Kubiak being fired in December.

“It was definitely an experience this past season for it to go the way it went,” Daniels told AM 1570 WNST.net on Thursday. “But I’m happy to have a new start. I have a ton of respect for the [Ravens]. It’s always been a tough battle.”

The deal is pending a physical scheduled to be completed on Friday.

A fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin in the 2006 draft — the same year Kubiak was hired as the head coach in Houston — the two-time Pro Bowl selection joins Dennis Pitta to form an impressive tight-end duo for quarterback Joe Flacco. Daniels was limited to five games due to a leg injury last season but has caught 385 passes for 4,617 yards and 29 touchdowns in his career.

Kubiak has always been praised for his use of tight ends in his West Coast offense, moving them around in various formations and substitution packages and frequently using two-tight sets.

“Baltimore was always on my radar after Kubiak signed up over there,” Daniels said. “They’re a good team, obviously. Who wouldn’t want to play for them? It just came down to them being the right fit for me. I’m super excited to get out there.”

Daniels’ best season came in 2008 when he caught 70 passes for 862 yards and two touchdowns to earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He was again invited to Honolulu in 2012 when he caught 62 passes for 716 yards and six touchdowns.

Since 2006, the 6-3, 249-pound Daniels has produced the eighth-most catches and the seventh-most receiving yards among NFL tight ends. He ranks second in career receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in Texans franchise history.

The Ravens are likely to continue looking to add a blocking tight end behind Pitta and Daniels on the depth chart as both are known for their pass-catching ability but neither is considered a strong blocker.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear new Ravens tight end Owen Daniels’ conversation with WNST.net host Nestor Aparicio HERE.

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Harbaugh addresses slew of topics at NFL owners meetings

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Harbaugh addresses slew of topics at NFL owners meetings

Posted on 25 March 2014 by Luke Jones

Speaking to reporters gathered in Orlando for this week’s NFL owners meetings, Ravens coach John Harbaugh touched on an array of topics ranging Tuesday morning, from the status of running back Ray Rice to the backup quarterback position.

A day after owner Steve Bisciotti made it clear that Rice would remain with the organization despite his legal trouble, Harbaugh reiterated his support for the troubled 27-year-old while acknowledging the obvious embarrassment felt over the Ravens’ three arrests this offseason that have prompted many to question team leadership. Wide receiver Deonte Thompson and offensive lineman Jah Reid were also arrested in a three-week period that started with Rice’s domestic violence incident in Atlantic City last month.

Harbaugh confirmed what many assumed in stating that newly-acquired veteran Jeremy Zuttah projects to be the Ravens’ starting center in 2014, replacing incumbent and 2012 fourth-round pick Gino Gradkowski.

“We traded for Jeremy for him to be the starting center. That’s the plan,” Harbaugh told reporters in Orlando. “[I] had a conversation with Gino yesterday. It was good communication and he’s in a good place. Gino’s a solid young guy. Jeremy is a more experienced center/guard in this league. The thing I liked on tape – we studied him pretty hard – he’s a big, rangy guy. He’s got length, he’s got size in there, he’s got experience and he’s also got, we think, a knack for the scheme we’re going to run offensively. He’s a good fit for us.”

The coach added that the organization would prefer to keep Kelechi Osemele at left guard and views second-year lineman Rick Wagner as the current starting right tackle among players under contract. Of course, the Ravens are expected to continue the search for more help in free agency and the draft, so the offensive line remains fluid beyond the four known starters: left tackle Eugene Monroe, right guard Marshal Yanda, Zuttah, and Osemele.

After recent reports that the Ravens were interested in quarterback Brandon Weeden before he signed in Dallas, Harbaugh confirmed that the organization is exploring the possibility of adding another quarterback. Current backup Tyrod Taylor has one year remaining on his rookie contract, but the head coach confirmed that the Ravens haven’t been overwhelmed with how the 2011 sixth-round pick has played in limited opportunities. Baltimore has carried only two quarterbacks on its 53-man roster in each of the last four seasons.

“We’ve been very happy with Tyrod, and we feel like he has a great future,” Harbaugh said, “but we have been a little disappointed how he’s played in games certainly. We feel like he’s a lot better than he’s showed. I know he feels that way too. We feel like Tyrod’s best football is by far definitely in front of him, but he’s only got one year left with us, so we need to add a quarterback into the mix, whether it be offseason or in the draft.”

The tight end position remains a point of discussion as Harbaugh confirmed interest in re-signing Ed Dickson while acknowledging interest in former Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels, who obviously has strong ties with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and new tight ends coach Brian Pariani. Dennis Pitta and University of Maryland product Matt Furstenburg are the only tight ends currently under contract.

Reporters asked Harbaugh about the status of retired linebacker Rolando McClain, whose rights are still owned by the Ravens. The coach didn’t completely rule out a return for the 24-year-old but added that he hasn’t spoken to McClain and remains skeptical unless he receives proof that the former Oakland Raider is working hard and is serious about returning to football.

“Who [is he] as a person right now? Has he grown up?” Harbaugh said of McClain. “He had a lot of growing up to do obviously. And how hard he’s working, how hard he’s working at Alabama right now. If he’s working his rear end off, then I’m kind of excited about him. If he’s not, then I’ve got no interest in him being on our team.”

Harbaugh confirmed that the Ravens will pick up the contract option for 2011 first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith as this is the first year we’ve seen this part of the rookie system come into play after the collective bargaining agreement that went into effect in 2011 standardized four-year contracts for all drafted players. The system does present teams a fifth-year option to use for first-round picks entering the final year of their rookie deals. The Ravens hope to sign both Smith and wide receiver Torrey Smith — also entering the final year of his rookie deal — to long-term extensions to keep them in Baltimore.

Baltimore is still looking to draft a safety despite last week’s signing of Darian Stewart, and Harbaugh offered praise for Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who is projected to be a first-round pick and regarded as the top safety in the draft. General manager Ozzie Newsome said at the start of the offseason that the Ravens would be looking to add a more athletic safety with 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam expected to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

“Safeties are interchangeable these days,” Harbaugh said. “There are certain traits you look for. I’m looking at the safeties now in the draft. You want tacklers and you want guys with range and you wants guys with ball skills.”

The Ravens would also like to add depth on the defensive line following the free-agent departure of Arthur Jones, but 2013 third-round pick Brandon Williams is the current favorite to take Jones’ starting spot.

According to the coach, Kubiak recently put the finishing touches on the Ravens’ new offensive playbook before it was then distributed to players. Harbaugh was also told that quarterback Joe Flacco has plans to get together with his wide receivers for informal throwing sessions before the start of the offseason training program next month.

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Steve Smith not looking to be Boldin, Andre Johnson in Kubiak’s system

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Steve Smith not looking to be Boldin, Andre Johnson in Kubiak’s system

Posted on 15 March 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope that much of what new wide receiver Steve Smith brings to the field won’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet every week.

That’s not to say Baltimore won’t take advantage of the remnants of the 14th-year receiver’s ability in a career that includes five Pro Bowl selections, 12,197 receiving yards, and 67 touchdown receptions, but Smith’s intangibles were equally attractive to an offense that lacked a vocal leader willing to ruffle some feathers when needed last year. Smith has occasionally come under fire for his willingness to speak his mind and tell others what they might not want to hear, but coach John Harbaugh told the veteran during his free-agent visit that the Ravens want him to be himself.

The Ravens signed Smith to a three-year, $11 million contract on Friday afternoon.

“We’ve added one of the top competitors in the NFL to the Ravens,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a released statement. “Steve is a proven player who has performed his best in big games and on the biggest stages like the playoffs and Super Bowl. He adds toughness to our offense, big-play ability, and leadership to our team.”

Those intangibles aside, what should the Ravens expect from a wide receiver set to turn 35 in May?

From the start of the offseason when Newsome and Harbaugh spoke about the Ravens’ need to add a wide receiver who can move the chains and pick up the tough yards after a catch, it sounded as though they were envisioning Anquan Boldin’s replacement as someone who can line up in the slot and make difficult catches over the short-to-intermediate middle portion of the field. The similarities in attitude between Boldin and Smith are clear, but the 5-foot-9 Smith has relied more on his speed on the outside throughout his career while Boldin is bigger and slower but has always made catches in traffic.

You can hardly blame Smith for not wanting to be compared to someone else after being one of the better receivers in the NFL over the last decade.

“I’m not Anquan Boldin,” said Smith when asked if he can fill the void of the former’s departure from a year ago. “I respect the heck out of ‘Q,’ and what ‘Q’ brings to the table is what ‘Q’ brings to the table. I’m Steve Smith, and what I bring to the table as a Baltimore Raven, I have to earn that, and my time on the field will display what I bring to the table.

“We play similar games; we want to win and we go all-out. But we’re also individuals, and I’m not here to replace anyone. I’m here to be myself.”

Determining what role Smith will play isn’t easy as many believe he’s lost a step after recording only 64 receptions for 745 yards last season, his lowest totals since 2010 when the Carolina Panthers were the worst team in the NFL with a 2-14 record. And the Ravens offense will clearly present a different look under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

Smith met with Kubiak to discuss what his role would be in the Baltimore offense, using the coach’s offenses in Houston as a point of reference. The former Texans coach really didn’t have any player in Houston who compared to Smith in terms of physical makeup, but the veteran made it clear he’s not expecting to have the extensive role of No. 1 wide receiver Andre Johnson during all those years he played with Kubiak.

This is good news for an offense that can’t put all its hopes in a veteran receiver whose best days are behind him. Until proving otherwise, Smith should be a complementary option to fourth-year receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta as the featured parts of the passing game while Pitta and 6-foot-4 wideout Marlon Brown profile as better red-zone threats.

Quarterback Joe Flacco certainly doesn’t need a veteran nearing the end of his career demanding to be the focal point of the passing attack, so Smith’s position had to be a breath of fresh air for Harbaugh and his coaching staff.

“I know his system. I’ve seen his system,” Smith said about his discussion with Kubiak. “I’ve seen the very creative ways they’ve gotten other guys the ball. I want to be a part of that. One of the things I’ve seen for myself — I don’t see myself in coach Kubiak’s system like Andre Johnson. I see the complementary dude of Kevin Walter. I see how he contributed and how he was instrumental in getting Andre the ball but also getting his own opportunities.”

Smith said new teammate Torrey Smith is going to be a “fantastic” player, but it was interesting that the former Panther went out of his way to compare himself to Walter, who never recorded more than 900 yards in Kubiak’s offense. Walter’s run with the Texans came to an end in 2012, but he served as Houston’s No. 2 wideout behind the Pro Bowl receiver Johnson for several years and averaged 732.8 receiving yards per season as a possession receiver from 2007 through 2010.

Kubiak’s use of Walter in the slot fluctuated from year to year as he ran 45.8 percent of his routes from that spot in 2012 but ran less than 20 percent of his routes there in 2009 and 2010, two seasons in which he eclipsed 600 receiving yards. In contrast, Smith was rarely used in the slot under current Panthers coach Ron Rivera the last three seasons — only 15.5 percent of his routes last season and less than 10 percent of the time in 2011 and 2012 –  and was only used in the slot about a third of the time from 2007 through 2010.

Given the perception of his declining speed and lack of previous work in the slot, Smith compares favorably to former Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason, who didn’t work very often in the slot after 2008 and caught 73 passes for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns at age 35 in 2009. The Ravens would be thrilled if Smith can post numbers even remotely approaching those of the 5-foot-10 Mason that season. He isn’t the deep-ball threat that he was in his prime, but Smith doesn’t need to be with Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones as available vertical threats on the outside.

Perhaps the Ravens will simply need to rely on Kubiak’s creativity to maximize Smith’s ability at this stage of his career, but there’s no questioning how pleased they are to acquire a player with his pedigree to add to an offense that finished 29th in the league last season. And they hope his addition will be part of the solution to put Baltimore back among the elite in the AFC, even if there’s more work to be done on the offensive side of the ball.

“I believe and the Baltimore Ravens believe that I can help increase the chances of us being successful,” Smith said. “So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to swing for the fence, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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790 Houston’s Zierlein believes Rice will “absolutely” fit in Kubiak’s system

Posted on 15 February 2014 by WNST Audio

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Truth — Bisciotti wouldn’t have minded a college coordinator for O.C.

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Truth — Bisciotti wouldn’t have minded a college coordinator for O.C.

Posted on 06 February 2014 by Drew Forrester

An interesting after-story has surfaced in the Ravens’ search for a new offensive coordinator.

It turns out owner Steve Bisciotti did, in fact, have a specific suggestion for John Harbaugh, but as we all now know, it wasn’t Gary Kubiak.

Bisciotti wanted Harbaugh to look away from the NFL and at least consider bringing in the “new hot offensive commodity” from the college ranks. His only suggestion in the hiring process of the offensive coordinator was, according to a source, “don’t just assume you have to hire someone from within the NFL in order for this to work.  Look at the new guy.  Don’t be afraid to find someone with new, fresh ideas.”

Interestingly enough, the 2008 coaching search in Baltimore focused on several “fresh” names, including Harbaugh, Jason Garrett, Brian Schottenheimer, Jim Caldwell and Rob Chudzinski.  Folks who remmeber that search will recall the “retread” name everyone  immediately brought up was Marty Schottenheimer, but he was never even seriously considered by the search committee.

“Steve loved the process we used to uncover John (Harbaugh),” says a team source.  ”It delighted Steve that we went away from the tried-and-true and hired a guy with no head coaching experience and it turned out to be such a great hire for the organization.”

It’s assumed based on the term “new hot offensive commodity” that Bisciotti’s formula would have perhaps included Auburn’s offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee.  As it turned out, Harbaugh went in a different direction entirely and scooped up unemployed Gary Kubiak to run his team’s offense in 2014.

Harbaugh, in fact, confirmed this element of the coordinator search during last Friday’s live interview with WNST from Super Bowl 48.  You can hear that interview here, and hear the head coach acknowledge that Bisciotti pushed for the consideration of a college coordinator or coach to take over the Ravens offensive opening.

“Steve wouldn’t ever stand up in the room and say, ‘This is the guy you’re going to hire’, because it’s just not his style.  But, he’s a big believer in looking everywhere for new people.  That’s what his core business has always been about and it’s a great way for any company to go about hiring new employees.”

Bisciotti didn’t get his way this go-round, as the hiring of Kubiak and Rick Dennison (plus a handful of other Texans’ staffers) was simply too good to pass up for a Ravens organization desperate for a new offensive philosophy.

But the process is worth remembering, as it once again reminds everyone that the Ravens are always capable of doing something different.

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Harbaugh not ready to anoint Rice ‘the guy’ in 2014

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Harbaugh not ready to anoint Rice ‘the guy’ in 2014

Posted on 02 February 2014 by Luke Jones

The hiring of Gary Kubiak as the Ravens’ new offensive coordinator has been overwhelmingly praised by most experts, but what it means for veteran running back Ray Rice remains to be seen.

Known to prefer bigger backs with better downhill ability in his days with Houston and Denver, Kubiak didn’t go out of his way to single out the three-time Pro Bowl selection with praise at his introductory press conference as Rice will need to rebound from the worst season of his career. The former Texans head coach didn’t say Rice wouldn’t be his feature back, either, but 2014 will clearly be a crossroads in the 2008 second-round pick’s career.

“If they’ll get downhill, we’ll do fine,” said Kubiak when asked to describe what kind of back he prefers in his system. “[They’ve had] some great running backs here that have been very successful. We told John [Harbaugh] we think they fit what we do very well. It’s our job now to go teach our system and get them comfortable with it. But, it always gets back to doing what your players do best. We’ve assured John that’s what we’ve got to do; that’s what we’ve got to go find out.”

Harbaugh made it clear on Friday that he expects to see a lighter Rice after he rushed for just 660 yards and averaged a career-worst 3.1 yards per carry this past season while dealing with the effects of a hip flexor strain suffered in Week 2. Of course, Rice wasn’t the only Baltimore running back to struggle as Bernard Pierce averaged just 2.9 yards per attempt in his second NFL season and underwent rotator cuff surgery earlier this weeek.

Entering the third season of a five-year, $40 million contract signed in 2012, Rice is assured of a roster spot in 2014 because cutting him would be more costly to the salary cap in dead money than it is to keep him, but the 27-year-old will need to prove himself worthy of being the starter like virtually everyone on an offense that finished 29th in the NFL last season.

“I think Ray’s determined to be the best he can ever be, and I know Gary likes Ray,” Harbaugh said in an exclusive interview with WNST.net. “It’s going to be up to all our players. Everybody’s going to have to come in and prove themselves. I’m not going to sit here and anoint anybody ‘the guy.’

“Ray Rice is a heck of a back in this league, but Ray has said — and I totally agree — that he can’t be playing at 216 pounds. He was 207 [pounds], I think, his first year. He’s not gotten fat, [but] he’s gotten thick through all the weightlifting. We’ve got to find a different way to train Ray.”

Rice vowed at the end of the season to come back in the best shape of his life, but it’s difficult to explain how much his poor production can be attributed to health and poor conditioning, the struggles of the offensive line, and even the reality of Father Time as he enters his seventh season at a position where the shelf life generally isn’t very long.

The Rutgers product also carried the ball an incredible 910 times in three seasons for the Scarlet Knights, which is additional wear on his legs that can’t be dismissed when looking at his entire body of work. Rice often dealt with defenders in the backfield as soon as he took the handoff in 2013, but he wasn’t able to show the same overall elusiveness while averaging a career-worst 5.5 yards per reception and ranking 34th in the NFL in yards after contact.

Harbaugh knows Rice has plenty to prove in 2014, but the head coach isn’t doubting the back’s ability if he puts in the work this offseason.

“Was he in the greatest shape of his life? No, he said he wasn’t,” Harbaugh said. “That’s on Ray. You’ve got to come back in the greatest shape of your life every year, especially as you get older. The older you get, the harder you’ve got to work. That’s just the way to keep even and give yourself a chance. Ray knows that. He’s going to have to come back in the greatest shape of his life. If he does that, I would not bet against Ray Rice.”

To listen to the entire interview with Ravens coach John Harbaugh from Radio Row in New York, click HERE.

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