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Ravens would be wise to stop focusing on big picture for now

Posted on 19 December 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens know they’re struggling at the wrong time of the season.

A three-game losing streak, an ever-growing list of injuries, and problems on both sides of the ball have caused the karma of a 9-2 start to disintegrate into a growing sense that they’re backing into the playoffs with two difficult games remaining and a 9-5 record. A change at the offensive coordinator position has created an even greater perception that the Ravens are a team in disarray.

But coach John Harbaugh’s message has been consistent over the last few weeks. And the words focusing on the big picture have been echoed throughout the Baltimore locker room.

“We’re going to do everything we can do and fight like crazy to become the team that we’re capable of becoming,” coach John Harbaugh said. “And we’re not that team yet. It’s a long season, but all of our goals and all of our dreams are squarely in front of us. And that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Even with the troubles surrounding the Ravens, the head coach is right. Contrary to the beliefs of many fans and media alike, Baltimore’s season isn’t over nor beyond repair. The Packers of 2010 and last year’s Giants are prime examples of that, even if the Ravens aren’t destined for the same championship track when 2012 is all said and done.

However, the focus cannot be on the accomplishment of making the playoffs for the fifth straight year or looking ahead to building on last season’s disappointment in Foxborough. Complacency can be a dangerous trap for a team that’s been so close to their ultimate goal of the Super Bowl in two of the last four seasons. To simply dwell on what could still happen in January while struggles in December are apparent comes across as dismissive or even cavalier if you discuss those goals too much.

Cautious optimism that injured players might return is acceptable, but viewing the return of Ray Lewis as the ultimate fix or holding optimism that Terrell Suggs can put forth a superman-like performance with a torn biceps doesn’t help the rest of the players on the roster. It only deflects the current problems and how to remedy them.

The Ravens also shouldn’t dwell on their poor play over the last three weeks. It’s true they fumbled the possibility of securing a first-round bye, but a division title and the ever-important home playoff game are only one victory away.

“There’s not really much you can do about the past,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “You have to just live in the present and move forward, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The present is Sunday’s meeting with the New York Giants, a team in worse position than the Ravens after losing four of their last six games to put their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. For Baltimore, any discussions of the postseason or potentially resting starters in Week 17 or hoping to get injured starters back cloud what’s important for a team that should only be worrying about the now.

It’s about tabling the big picture and their biggest goals and dwelling on the simple task of winning one football game. Perhaps it’s channeling former head coach Brian Billick’s ban on using the word “playoffs” in the Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV season or even borrowing a page from the 2012 Orioles after manager Buck Showalter trained his players to compartmentalize each game and series while the outside world wondered if they’d make their first trip to the playoffs in 15 years.

Injured safety Bernard Pollard didn’t seem interested in discussing the big picture or the Ravens’ ultimate goals before Wednesday’s practice. In his second year in Baltimore, Pollard has never been afraid to tell it like it is and his comments suggested the Ravens might be a little too comfortable with their current position.

“Everybody’s talking about [how] we’re in the playoffs,” Pollard said. “Who cares? The way we’ve played, who cares about the playoffs. With the way we’ve played, that’s going to carry over into the playoffs. And we don’t want that to happen. We have to come together.”

Even if the Giants are faced with a slimmer margin for error, the Ravens have to recapture that mentality where they feel as though there isn’t a next week or a second chance.

With so many factors working against them in recent weeks, they’d be well served in simplifying their approach by blocking out the past and the future. If not, the supremely-talented but inconsistent Giants will be ready to serve up the type of experience the Denver Broncos provided last week in embarrassing the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

“If you think that team is going to come in and lay an egg, we have our hands full,” running back Ray Rice said. “This team won the Super Bowl last year. They have a lot at stake.”

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McKinnie prepared for “possibility” of increased role

Posted on 19 December 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The running question that’s been asked throughout the season is still being posed as the Ravens prepare for their Week 16 matchup with the New York Giants.

When will Bryant McKinnie finally crack the lineup for a struggling offensive line? The veteran left tackle says he is preparing as though he might receive the call this week as the Ravens need a win to clinch their second straight AFC North title.

If the Ravens were to make a change — and there’s no indication they’re leaning in that direction — McKinnie would start at left tackle with Michael Oher presumably switching to the right side. This would leave rookie Kelechi Osemele to move inside to the left guard position.

For now, McKinnie says he will continue to prepare mentally while hoping to show enough during practice time to convince the coaching staff he is deserving of playing in games. McKinnie told WNST.net during the Ravens’ Week 8 bye that he expected to be named a starter at some point during the second half of the season but understandably took a softer stance when asked about the possibility of playing more against the Giants this Sunday.

“It’s a possibility,” said McKinnie, who hadn’t heard any indication from the coaching staff of a new rotation prior to Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve just got to wait and see.”

The Ravens have struggled to protect Joe Flacco all season as opponents have racked up 34 sacks against the Baltimore quarterback. In Sunday’s 34-17 loss to Denver, Flacco was sacked three times and the Broncos registered nine quarterback hits.

McKinnie has expressed confidence in his ability throughout the season, so it was no surprise to hear his response when asked what’s gone through his mind when seeing Flacco take beatings against opposing defenses with talented pass rushers.

“If I was out there, maybe some things would be a little bit different,” McKinnie said. “But there’s not too much I can do.”

The 33-year-old tackle didn’t miss an offensive snap while starting all 16 games of the 2011 regular season and both playoff contests, but his conditioning and weight came into question during the offseason and his late arrival in training camp appeared to be the last straw for coach John Harbaugh and the rest of the staff.

After the Ravens nearly released McKinnie and cut his salary by $1 million less than a week before the start of the season, Oher has started all 14 games this season at left tackle while the rookie Osemele has manned the right tackle spot all year.

“When we think [McKinnie] is the best option, we will put him in there,” said coach John Harbaugh last week when asked about the veteran’s status. “He is working hard at practice. He, obviously, has some ability [as a] pass-protector; that’s a big deal, no doubt about it. I would have no qualms about him going into the game. If we feel like he’s the best option at one position or another, we’ll do it. Right now, we think we have the best group of guys out there, but that could change.”

Though probably the best pass-blocking left tackle on the roster, McKinnie is a poor run blocker and the Ravens are not convinced he gives them the best chance to win after a tumultuous offseason that included continuing financial concerns. McKinnie was also graded as the Ravens’ lowest-rated starting offensive lineman during the 2011 season, according to Pro Football Focus.

However, the Ravens are in the midst of a three-game losing streak and have already purged their offensive coordinator from the organization, so nothing can be dismissed at this point.

Why would the Ravens finally make the change now?

“Because we’re at the end and you never know what can happen,” said McKinnie as he laughed softly.

The Ravens’ decision to part ways with Cam Cameron last week smelled of desperation, but it’s still difficult to envision McKinnie earning his starting job back now if he didn’t over the first 15 weeks of the regular season.

Listen to McKinnie’s conversation with AM 1570 WNST.net on Tuesday right here.

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Ravens to wear black jerseys in regular-season home finale

Posted on 19 December 2012 by Luke Jones

Sunday marks the Ravens’ final regular-season contest of the year at M&T Bank Stadium, and they’ll be going out in style as they wear their black jerseys against the New York Giants.

The Ravens announced Wednesday they will wear their alternate tops for the second time this season as they try to snap a three-game losing streak and lock up their second consecutive AFC North title. Baltimore wore the black jerseys in Week 13 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game in which the Ravens lost 23-20 on a Shaun Suisham field goal as time expired.

Sporting a 9-3 all-time record wearing their alternate jerseys, the Ravens have yet to decide their pants color for Sunday’s game.

Teams are only permitted to wear their alternate or throwback jerseys twice per season and are prohibited from wearing them in the postseason.

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Blame the Mayans? The purple sky is falling in Baltimore…

Posted on 17 December 2012 by Nestor Aparicio

Many in the Baltimore Ravens fan base had a community online celebration last Monday morning when offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was fired by head coach John Harbaugh via owner Steve Bisciotti.

“That’ll fix it,” some of the unsophisticated eyes said. “Clearly, Cam was holding Joe Flacco and the offense back.”

It felt like scapegoating then and it feels even less satisfying after yesterday’s 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos in a game where the final score wasn’t indicative of the lopsided nature of the day.

Fifteen days ago the Ravens were 9-2 after the “Hey diddle, diddle” miracle in San Diego. This morning, they’re 9-5 and the beneficiary of a playoff berth by virtue of backing in via the overtime loss of the Pittsburgh Steelers last night in Dallas.

It was hardly a time for celebration.

Hard times have come to the land of pleasant living and I don’t mean the tax rate hike.

Where to begin to assess the train wreck loss to Peyton Manning and the Broncos?

Harbaugh called it a “team loss” and he’s right about that. No sense in moving any particular names above the fold.

Quarterback Joe Flacco will shoulder the lion’s share of the blame, as it should be for the quarterback who is playing for a contract amidst what can only be deemed as chaos right now. The offensive line is in tatters, consistently getting beaten on failed run plays and often enough in the passing game to make it difficult for No. 5 to make plays. He hasn’t helped himself with poor judgment and errant throws.

The receiving corps continues to be depleted with the disappearance of Ed Dickson and a concussion suffered by Torrey Smith yesterday.

But the Flacco Pick Six interception to Broncos’ DB Chris Harris at the goal line in the waning seconds of the first half on Sunday will  forever be Ravens’ fans remembrance of an afternoon they’d sooner love to forget.

It was the worst pass of Flacco’s career and soon left him 100 yards away, winded, flailing, gassed and beaten by his own poor judgment. “I made a mistake,” he said. “There’s no other way to put it.”

Not only is Flacco’s stock teetering based on his dismal overall performance over the past month but the whole organization is dancing on the brink of the playoffs and extinction seemingly all at once.

And we’re only halfway through the “Manning Holiday Tour” as Eli Manning comes to Baltimore this week as the only guy getting more abuse than Flacco. The defending world champs were thoroughly trounced

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Ravens-Giants Week 16 game flexed to later start

Posted on 10 December 2012 by WNST Staff

As part of the NFL’s flexible scheduling policy for the latter portion of the season, the Ravens’ Week 16 contest against the New York Giants on Dec. 23 has been moved to 4:25 p.m.

Originally scheduled for a 1:00 p.m. start, the Ravens’ home finale will now be played later in the afternoon and will be televised on FOX with an NFC team visiting M&T Bank Stadium.

It will mark the defending Super Bowl champion’s first regular-season visit to Baltimore since the 2004 season.

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Panthers sign former Morgan TE Bryant

Posted on 12 June 2012 by WNST Staff

BALTIMORE, Md. – Former Morgan State tight end Lamont Bryant has been signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Carolina Panthers and will take part in Carolina’s minicamp that begins today.
The 6-5, 225-pound Bryant started 11 games in 2012 and ranked as the team’s leading receiver with 21 receptions (371 yards) and two TDs. He capped the season by being selected to the All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference First-Team.
Bryant’s stock rose on draft boards with a standout performance at the Morgan State Pro Day held in March. Bryant measured in at 6’5, 225, had an 80 1/4″ wingspan, ran the 40 in 4.45 and put up 19 reps on bench. He also registered a 10’3″ broad jump, a ridiculous 43″ vertical jump, and ran the short shuttle in 4.38.
In 2010, he recorded five catches for 55 yards (11.0 avg) in eight games. In ’09, he caught 18 passes for 251 yards (13.9-yard average) and two touchdowns on his way to first-team all-conference honors in 10 games.
The Newport News, Va., native was moved from quarterback to tight end in ’08 and saw action in five games on special teams, where he blocked two punts.
The last MSU tight end to enter the NFL was Visanthe Shiancoe who was drafted in the third round (91st overall) in the 2003 NFL Draft by the New York Giants and currently plays for the Minnesota Vikings.

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Foxworth says NFL had conspiracy against players

Posted on 23 May 2012 by WNST Staff

NFL PLAYERS FILE COLLUSION COMPLAINT AGAINST NFL, TEAM OWNERS

Washington, D.C. – The Class Counsel under the Reggie White settlement agreement and the NFL Players Association today filed a complaint, on behalf of the NFL players, charging the NFL, its clubs and their owners of collusion during the 2010 NFL season. The complaint details a conspiracy to violate the anti-collusion and anti-circumvention provisions in the White Settlement Agreement (SSA) by “imposing a secret $123 million per-Club salary cap for that uncapped 2010 season.”

The written claim is filed with the United States District Court of Minnesota, which oversees the SSA and alleges that the league and owners acted illegally and “solely by self-interest, unconstrained by their clear and unambiguous SSA obligations.”

“When the rules are broken in a way that hurts the game, we have an obligation to act. We cannot standby when we now know that the owners conspired to collude,” said DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA Executive Director.

“Our union recently learned that there was a secret salary cap agreement in an uncapped year. The complaint today is our effort to fulfill our duty to every NFL player. They deserve to know, above all, the facts and the truth about this conspiracy,” said Domonique Foxworth, NFLPA President.

The complaint cites John Mara, owner of the New York Giants, who also serves as the Chair of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee, as publicly confirming that the NFL directed teams to restrict players’ salaries during the uncapped year. When asked about imposed penalties for the Redskins and Cowboys, he replied: “What they did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap. They attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole … full well knowing there would be consequences.”

Such a scheme breaches express anti-collusion and anti-circumvention provisions of the SSA and the owners’ duty of good faith in implementing the SSA.

In the filing, it is alleged that the NFL and owners furthered their concealment by “approving the very player contracts that enabled the Redskins, Cowboys, Raiders, and Saints to exceed the secret, collusive salary cap” and, prior to and on March 11, 2012, failed to disclose to the players or the NFLPA “that the true reason for the then-proposed reallocation was to penalize the Redskins, Cowboys, Raiders, and Saints for not fully abiding by the Collusive Agreement.”

Also as described in the complaint, these collusion and other claims are entirely new and were previously unknown to the players and the NFLPA. They therefore were not asserted, and could not have been asserted, in the previous actions that were filed in either Brady. v. NFL or under the SSA in the White litigation.

The players and the NFLPA will be represented in these proceedings by Jeffrey Kessler, David Feher and David Greenspan of Winston & Strawn, LLP; James Quinn of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP; David Barrett, James Barrett, Daniel Schecter, Thomas Heiden and Michael Nelson of Latham & Watkins, LLP; Barbara Berens of Berens & Miller, P.A.; Mark Jacobson of Lindquist & Vennum, PLLP and DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director of the NFLPA.

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Strong Pro Day Helped Morgan TE Bryant Get to Baltimore

Posted on 29 April 2012 by WNST Staff

BALTIMORE, Md. – Morgan State tight Lamont Bryant has been selected by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent shortly after the conclusion of the three-day draft Saturday evening.

Bryant was the second of 12 undrafted free agent selections by the Ravens so far, joining North Carolina cornerback Charles Brown; Mississippi State offensive lineman James Carmon; Clemson fullback Chad Diehl; Georgia fullback Bruce Figgins; Slippery Rock wide receiver Devin Goda; UAB defensive tackle Elliott Henigan; Baylor defensive tackle Nick Jean-Baptiste; Tennessee fullback/linebacker Austin Johnson; Kent State defensive tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen; Alabama offensive lineman Alfred McCullough; and Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey.

The 6-5, 225-pound Bryant started 11 games in 2012 and ranked as the team’s leading receiver with 21 receptions (371 yards) and two TDs. He capped the season by being selected to the All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference First-Team.

Bryant’s stock rose on draft boards with a standout performance at the Morgan State Pro Day held in March. Bryant measured in at 6’5, 225, had an 80 1/4″ wingspan, ran the 40 in 4.45 and put up 19 reps on bench. He also registered a 10’3″ broad jump, a ridiculous 43″ vertical jump, and ran the short shuttle in 4.38.

In 2010, he recorded five catches for 55 yards (11.0 avg) in eight games. In ’09, he caught 18 passes for 251 yards (13.9-yard average) and two touchdowns on his way to first-team all-conference honors in 10 games.

The Newport News, Va., native was moved from quarterback to tight end in ’08 and saw action in five games on special teams, where he blocked two punts.

The last MSU tight end to enter the NFL was Visanthe Shiancoe who was drafted in the third round (91st overall) in the 2003 NFL Draft by the New York Giants and currently plays for the Minnesota Vikings.

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Former Morgan TE Bryant Hopes to Join Shiancoe at NFL Level

Posted on 24 April 2012 by WNST Staff

BALTIMORE, Md. — Keep an eye out for a Bear this week in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Former Morgan State Bear Lamont Bryant is ranked among the top prospected tight ends in the 2012 NFL Draft.
For Bryant, it is one more step after completing a solid collegiate career.
The Newport News, Va., native was moved from quarterback to tight end in ’08 and saw action in five games on special teams, where he blocked two punts. In ’09, he caught 18 passes for 251 yards (13.9-yard average) and two touchdowns on his way to first-team all-conference honors in 10
games.
In 2010, Bryant recorded five catches for 55 yards (11.0 avg) in eight games. He then led the Bears with 21 catches for 371 yards (17.7 avg) and two touchdowns and was selected to the First-Team All-MEAC Team last season.
Bryant’s stock rose on draft boards with a standout performance at the Morgan State Pro Day held in March. Bryant measured in at 6’5, 225, had an 80 1/4″ wingspan, ran the 40 in 4.45 and put up 19 reps on bench. He also registered a 10’3″ broad jump, a ridiculous 43″ vertical jump, and ran the short shuttle in 4.38.
Bryant is expected to be a late-round to priority free agent prospect, but that’s only a prediction. He most recently had workouts for the Oakland Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks.
The first round of the draft is Thursday, April 26.
*The last MSU tight end to enter the NFL was Visanthe Shiancoe who was drafted in the third round (91st overall) in the 2003 NFL Draft by the New York Giants and currently plays for the Minnesota Vikings.

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What would you do with Orioles reliever Kevin Gregg?

Posted on 16 April 2012 by Luke Jones

Simply asking the question will invite a myriad of responses ranging from a bucket of baseballs to a sampling of Old Bay — and hopefully nothing more malicious than those barbs — but I’m going to do it anyway.

What would you do with struggling Orioles pitcher Kevin Gregg if you were executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter?

His outing in Toronto on Sunday was particularly disastrous as Gregg entered in the sixth inning with a chance to keep the Orioles in a close 3-2 ballgame. Instead, he allowed the first six hitters he faced to reach, turning a one-run deficit into an 8-2 lead for the Blue Jays against what could only be described as a “B” lineup going to the plate for Baltimore.

Gregg has made it clear he’s unhappy with no longer being the closer, and Showalter doesn’t view the 33-year-old as one of his best options despite using him in a high-leverage situation with two runners on base that were left behind in the sixth by starter Brian Matusz on Sunday. New closer Jim Johnson, veterans Luis Ayala and Matt Lindstrom, and young Pedro Strop all appear to have leapfrogged Gregg in the manager’s late-inning hierarchy of trust, and Gregg’s 12.27 earned run average in his first 3 1/3 innings of work hasn’t done anything to change that notion.

It appears Gregg would benefit from a change of scenery after being booed by the home crowd during player introductions on Opening Day. There’s little point in debating the merits of former executive Andy MacPhail signing Gregg to a two-year, $10 million contract two offseasons ago to become the Orioles’ new closer. Everyone can see it was a poor decision, just as it was the year before when left-hander Michael Gonzalez was inked to a two-year, $12 contract.

Many point to Gregg’s $5.8 million salary as the reason why he will remain in Baltimore, but the money is already committed whether you keep him around or not. If the Orioles no longer view Gregg as one of their seven best relievers, there is little argument to continue what’s become an ugly situation for what used to be a solid-enough relief pitcher. With potential long-relief man Tsuyoshi Wada working his way back from an elbow injury and lefty Zach Phillips waiting at Triple-A Norfolk, there are options at Duquette’s disposal to replace Gregg if the Orioles choose that course of action.

Ultimately, it’s not Gregg’s fault the Orioles overvalued a reliever with decent save totals but lacking the peripheral numbers — his walks and hits per inning pitched had increased four straight years prior to coming to Baltimore — to justify a $10 million contract.

But the club is now faced with the question of what to do with the disenchanted reliever, who has done himself no favors in making excuses for his struggles and recently admitting to being tired in a two-inning stint against the Yankees last week.

Releasing him might satisfy a fan base out for metaphorical blood, but it leaves the Orioles on the hook for his entire salary with no chance of any type of return.

His trade value is lower now than it’s ever been despite the San Francisco Giants potentially looking for a late-inning reliever after learning that closer Brian Wilson will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the season. Even finding a team to take Gregg would be a challenge at this point, let alone trying to get something of value in return or to entice an organization to pay a significant portion of his remaining salary.

Perhaps the best move is to wait as the Orioles did with Gonzalez a year ago. Through the first two months of the 2011 season, the southpaw had a 7.79 ERA and appeared destined to be released after an ugly start to the year. However, Showalter and the Orioles stuck with him — picking their spots to use him in mop-up roles for a significant portion of time — and Gonzalez eventually began pitching more like the guy the club envisioned when signing him, posting a 2.17 ERA in his final three months with the Orioles.

As a result, the Orioles were able to trade him to the Texas Rangers for Strop at the end of August. The hard-throwing, 26-year-old Strop now appears to be a potential late-inning option moving forward.

So, before completely writing him off and cutting ties with Gregg, Duquette should take a long look at what happened last year.

History may not repeat itself and the Orioles may not be able to get anything for Gregg between now and the trade deadline, but the slim possibility is enough reason to stash him away in the bullpen for a little longer. There’s no reason to make a bad investment worse simply because it makes you feel better at the time.

The Orioles can only hope Gregg somehow straightens himself out in the coming days and weeks.

For the sanity of all parties involved.

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