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Pain plaguing Ravens offense starts with running game

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Pain plaguing Ravens offense starts with running game

Posted on 24 September 2013 by Luke Jones

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

To see the Ravens offense struggle through the first three weeks of the 2013 season isn’t surprising — or at least it shouldn’t have been.

There’s no underselling the losses of tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Anquan Boldin — the pillars on which quarterback Joe Flacco relied last season — and how they would impact the passing game in the early stages of the season. Growing pains were expected as Flacco is still developing chemistry with every pass-catching target not named Torrey Smith, but the Ravens figured they could rely on their running game more heavily, especially in the early stages of the season.

But the results haven’t been there. In fact, the Ravens have one of the worst running games in the NFL through the first three weeks of the season in averaging just 2.6 yards per carry, ranking 31st in the league and only ahead of 0-3 Jacksonville. With Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, highly-regarded backup Bernard Pierce, and Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach in tow, there’s simply no excuse for the overall lack of production.

“It’s going to be important, and we have the people to do it,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ve got some big, strong, tough offensive lineman, and we have really good backs. Our fullback [Vonta Leach] is the best blocking fullback in the league. The run game is something that has to happen for us.”

But it hasn’t and there have been a number of factors working against the Ravens through the early stages of the season. It would be unfair to overlook the fronts the Ravens have played as Denver, Cleveland, and Houston all rank in the top 5 in rushing yards per attempt surrendered. Expecting Baltimore to be gashing opponents in the running game would be unreasonable, but it still doesn’t excuse such an ineffective ground attack.

The absence of reliable targets in the passing game has prompted opposing defense to often play an extra defender in the box, creating problems when it comes to the simple number of blockers against defenders. Whether attempting to run to set up the pass or to throw to open up the running game, the Ravens have been spinning their wheels more often than not with an offense ranking 30th in total yards and 20th in passing yards. It’s the old chicken-or-the-egg question in which the Ravens are trying to figure out whether their passing game can breathe life into the running game or vice versa.

The Ravens are working with a new center in second-year lineman Gino Gradkowski, who replaced the retired Matt Birk and is responsible for making the calls for blocking assignments at the line of scrimmage. Besides the void in leadership, the Ravens have also been challenged up the middle by beefier defensive linemen against the undersized Gradkowski.

And Baltimore is even dealing with a new voice on the coaching staff as run-game coordinator Juan Castillo is running the show for the offensive line and the implementation of his inside zone blocking schemes appears to be a mixed bag at best thus far.

But the Ravens’ problems in the running game run deeper than the aforementioned variables as even reliable run blockers such as Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher have struggled more than you’d typically expect so far.

“We do feel like we understand it and we’re working on it,” Harbaugh said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that it can be corrected. We’re not getting the production from the run game that we should, but we also feel like we’re on our way to getting that done. We just have to do it; you just have to go out there and get it done.”

A look back at the Ravens’ performance in the running game against Houston makes it difficult to pinpoint one specific problem above the rest. All five starting linemen missed assignments at different points, Pierce missed several running lanes, the Texans stacked eight men in the box on occasion, and backside pursuit was even a problem as defenders dragged down ball carriers from behind on a few occasions. Whether it was running to the strong side or the weak side of the line, it didn’t seem to matter as Pierce’s run off right tackle for 25 yards to end the third quarter was the only real bright spot for the ground attack.

Again, the Ravens have played talented defenses this season, but the sum of their talented parts hasn’t added up to even marginal success in most cases. Even in the fourth quarter when many credited the Ravens for wearing down Houston, they managed only 28 yards on 13 carries and needed to rely on Flacco’s arm for third-down conversions.

“One guy here, one miss there, one bad target in another place, each time that’s what holds you back,” Harbaugh said. “Their safeties do a great job of tackling, so they limit you from the big runs. Our run game is not where it needs to be. We’re going to go to work on that — we have been working on it. We’ll continue to do so, and we need to make that important. One thing we’ve seen that, philosophically, we’re going to stick with it.”

Of all the factors working against the Ravens in the running game, perhaps the most surprising has been the play of the left side of the offensive line. While veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie has never been known as a strong run blocker, left guard Kelechi Osemele has looked nothing like the blocker we saw in last year’s postseason when many thought he had the potential to be a Pro Bowl lineman.

Harbaugh wasn’t willing to place blame on any one player or unit in explaining the running game struggles Monday, but it’s apparent the offensive line hasn’t been on the same page. And even when it has been, running backs haven’t made the proper zone reads.

“All of our guys are going to point the finger right back at themselves,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the kind of guys we have. I would characterize it more of being in sync, more in terms of working together more efficiently – combination blocks going to the right guy with the right technique at the right time. Those things – it’s not just a matter of just one-on-one knocking somebody off the ball. That’s not the way it works. It’s way more complicated than that up front.

“There’s a precision to the run game, too. It’s something that we don’t quite have ironed out yet against good fronts, and we’ve got to get there. That’s what we’re working on.”

Whether it’s a matter of still adjusting to Castillo or simply getting used to Gradkowski over the veteran Birk, the Ravens must improve with their ground attack to alleviate the pressure on Flacco and an undermanned passing game. On paper, the personnel is simply too good to be so unproductive — even against talented front sevens.

The real gauge for how severe the run problems are will come on Sunday when the Ravens travel to Buffalo to take on a Bills defense that’s surrendering 4.3 yards per carry and 155 yards per game on the ground. Even if Rice misses his second straight game with a left hip flexor strain, there’s no excuse for the Ravens not to make substantial progress with their running game against an underwhelming opponent.

To their credit, the Ravens haven’t abandoned their commitment to run — their 88 rushing attempts rank 10th in the league — but that only goes so far when you’re gaining minimal yardage on first and second down and putting Flacco and the passing game in difficult third-down situations. They know it needs to be an important part of their identity in 2013, but the production on the field hasn’t backed that up.

“It’s something that we think is important,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to be able to run the ball here. It is a part of our DNA, and it is part of who we are as a football team.”

And it’s a side of the Ravens they need to start showing if their offense is to make strides as the season progresses.

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Our Ravens/Texans “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens/Texans “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 22 September 2013 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches each (Tim Horsey played the role of Ryan Chell for Week 4.)

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 30-9 win over the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday…

Glenn’s Pats…

5. Gino Gradkowski

 

4. Dean Pees

 

3. Haloti Ngata

 

2. Torrey Smith

 

1. Daryl Smith (Pat on Both Cheeks)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ravens-Panthers preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Panthers preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 21 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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

After witnessing disappointing performances in each of the Ravens’ first two preseason games, all eyes will be on the starting offense in the all-important third summer contest treated as the “dress rehearsal” for the season opener.

Most starters are expected to play the entire first half with some being pulled a little earlier and others receiving action in the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers in a nationally-televised contest on Thursday night. Much attention will be paid to the wide receiver position where the Ravens have been unable to find trustworthy options beyond third-year wideout Torrey Smith to this point in the summer.

The Ravens also hope to gain further clarity in the competition for the starting center position between Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley after each started a game with the first-team unit in the first two weeks.

“This is going to be important. It’s going to be important the way we play,”  said coach John Harbaugh, who labeled last week’s first-half performance as being as poor as any he had seen in his six years in Baltimore. “We want to win every game, and I really am proud of the way our guys have found ways to win. But we also want to play well, and that means every little thing we look at, whether it’s run blocking or run defense or the way we make checks and adjustments, the decisions we make at quarterback. We want to play good, solid football.”

Thursday marks the sixth time the Ravens and Carolina have met in a preseason contest with Baltimore holding a 4-1 advantage. However, the Panthers enjoy a 3-1 edge in regular-season meetings despite the Ravens winning the last meeting between these teams in 2010.

The Ravens will see three familiar faces on the Panthers roster as safety Haruki Nakamura, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, and quarterback Derek Anderson all spent time in Baltimore to begin their respective careers.

Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 15-7 in the preseason and have won 14 of their last 18 exhibition contests. Baltimore is 42-27 in all-time preseason play, winning eight of its last nine played at M&T Bank Stadium.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to produce an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will be in question. Cornerback Lardarius Webb and right guard Marshal Yanda have begun practicing on a full basis in recent days as Harbaugh described each as having a good chance to play in the third preseason game of the summer, but no decision had been made as of the final day of media availability this week.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: TE Ed Dickson (hamstring), WR Deonte Thompson (foot), LB Jameel McClain (neck), OL Ryan Jensen (foot), DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee), TE Dennis Pitta (hip)
DOUBTFUL: LB Adrian Hamilton (wrist)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), CB Lardarius Webb (knee)
PROBABLE: OL Ramon Harewood (knee), LB Bryan Hall (hamstring), RB Bernard Pierce (knee), WR Marlon Brown (knee), RB Anthony Allen (undisclosed)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. S Matt Elam

The first-round pick has chased veteran James Ihedigbo in the battle at strong safety all summer, but Elam appeared to close the gap last week, receiving some extensive time with the starting unit in addition to playing in sub packages. The hard-hitting safety finished with six tackles, including one for a loss, and has shown an impressive nose for the football throughout the summer.

Secondary coach Teryl Austin acknowledged Elam is still learning the finer intricacies of the Baltimore defense, but the Ravens aren’t at all unhappy with the 32nd overall pick of April’s draft. He may not start Week 1, but that’s probably a bigger credit to the play of Ihedigbo than an indictment on Elam’s development so far.

2. WR Aaron Mellette

The rookie from Elon has two touchdown catches on two targets in the preseason and is slowly climbing the depth chart to the point where he’s received extensive reps with the first-team offense over the last week of practices, which is both a compliment to him and a commentary on the alarming state of the wide receiver unit. At 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, Mellette certainly has the size to play in the NFL and he’s shown more toughness in recent weeks to make catches in traffic in both practices and games.

He doesn’t fit the profile of a receiver who will line up in the slot, but Mellette is certainly putting himself in prime position to grab a spot on the 53-man roster. If he can be productive working with Joe Flacco and the starters on Thursday night, the Ravens might be looking at Mellette as a real contributor sooner rather than later.

3. C Gino Gradkowski

Gradkowski appeared to gain some separation last week after a disappointing outing from Shipley with the starting offensive line, but this battle is still a little too close to predict who will definitely be lining up with the first team against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 5. It appears that Gradkowski received more reps with the starters this week, which could be an indication of who the Ravens are leaning toward right now.

Neither player has risen significantly above the other, but Gradkowski has been steadier in the first two preseason games and was a fourth-round pick a year ago with the sole thought of becoming the heir apparent to the retiring Matt Birk. The biggest question is whether Gradkowski or Shipley is big enough to hold up against the beefier defensive tackles in the league, but the impressive guard combination of Yanda and Kelechi Osemele certainly quell concerns in that department.

4. FB Kyle Juszczyk

The Harvard product got off to a slow start during camp and virtually became a forgotten man after the return of Vonta Leach, but the Ravens have been using Juszczyk in more creative ways over the last week or two of practice, occasionally lining him up at tight end and even putting him in the slot. He’s shown consistent hands and could be viewed as a third tight end and H-back if offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is willing to be creative with the fourth-round selection.

Juszczyk’s work on special teams might be his best opportunity to see playing time in his rookie season and the Ravens are using him in all phases of Jerry Rosburg’s units. He is also working as the lead blocker on the kickoff return team, which could spell trouble for Anthony Allen’s security on the 53-man roster if the Ravens prefer newcomer Delone Carter or Bobby Rainey for the No. 3 running back job.

5. TE Dallas Clark

The 34-year-old tight end has caught nearly everything thrown his way in practice and has looked much like the player who used to torment the Ravens as a member of the Indianapolis Colts years ago, but we’ve yet to see him in live-game action. Clark looks smaller than his listed 6-foot-3 height and 252-pound weight — but with apologies to Ed Dickson, who is more of a straight-line route runner — he might be the best option the Ravens have in trying to replicate Dennis Pitta’s role in the offense.

The Ravens plan to use Clark and veteran slot receiver Brandon Stokley extensively in Thursday’s preseason game to see if they can be the elixir for their woes in the passing game. If not, concerns will only grow with the regular-season opener just two weeks away.

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Mixed bag to be expected in Ravens’ preseason opener

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Mixed bag to be expected in Ravens’ preseason opener

Posted on 08 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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

The Ravens’ preseason-opening 44-16 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers provided much of what you’d you expect to see in the first exhibition game of the summer.

Some good, some bad, and much unanswered from the starting units with almost a month of preparation remaining until the start of the regular season. We did learn that the Baltimore backups were far superior to the Buccaneers’ reserves, but that’s not the type of information that will offer much for the Ravens’ aspirations to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

A revamped defense showed versatility and strong play from veteran newcomers such as inside linebacker Daryl Smith (five tackles) and defensive end Chris Canty (a sack on the opening series) but also featured communication breakdowns in the secondary that led to a few big plays surrendered in the passing game, including a 61-yard completion to tight end Tom Crabtree to end the first quarter. With so many new pieces in place, it will take time to for Dean Pees’ unit to get on the same page, but the front seven looks quite formidable on paper, especially with healthier versions of Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata in the mix.

The addition of Smith has eased concerns over the status of Jameel McClain as the former Jacksonville Jaguar carried over a strong start in training camp to Thursday night, showing a good nose for the ball and solid ability in pass coverage. He cemented his status as the overwhelming favorite to call the signals for the Baltimore defense in Denver on Sept. 5.

Canty played exactly how the Ravens hope he will this season as a 5-technique defensive end, holding his ground against the running game and showing a good burst as a pass rusher on the opening series of the game when he sacked Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman on third down.

Offensively, the pass protection held up well enough aside from blitzing linebacker Lavonte David coming untouched to sack quarterback Joe Flacco on the Ravens’ first offensive series. Two plays later, Flacco forced a pass attempt to wide receiver Jacoby Jones that was picked off by former Baltimore defensive back Danny Gorrer.

Center Gino Gradkowski made the start over former Indianapolis Colt A.Q. Shipley and appeared to play solidly with a starting offensive line sans Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, who continues to work his way back from offseason shoulder surgery.

It wasn’t an impressive debut for the wide receivers as Flacco turned to running backs Ray Rice, Vonta Leach, and Bernard Pierce more frequently in his two series of work. Torrey Smith was the only wide receiver to register a catch — making two receptions for 16 yards — with the starting quarterback in the game. Jones, Tandon Doss, and Deonte Thompson were targeted five times Thursday night and recorded just one combined reception with a couple drops mixed in there as well.

While those three have received the most attention in the much-discussed battle for the second and third receiver spots, the standout receiver of the night was LaQuan Williams, who made a tough 21-yard touchdown catch early in the second half after recovering two fumbles as a special-teams performer in the second quarter, one of them in the end zone for a touchdown late in the first half. A forgotten man after finishing last season on injured reserve, Williams may have earned himself a few more reps with the starting offense after Thursday’s outing and was in the mix as a wide receiver as a rookie in 2011.

Needless to say, the voids left behind by Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin were apparent, but the Ravens are fully aware that Flacco will need time to develop chemistry with a new batch of targets. And that doesn’t mean a veteran addition won’t become a reality at some point between now and September.

Above all, the special teams shined as Justin Tucker connected on all three of his field goal tries, Brynden Trawick blocked the punt recovered by Williams in the end zone, and Bobby Rainey had a 58-yard kickoff return. With only a handful of spots on the 53-man roster realistically up for grabs, this is where coach John Harbaugh wants to see younger players excel and Jerry Rosburg’s units did not disappoint.

Truthfully, the final score doesn’t offer an accurate picture of how the starters performed as the Ravens trailed 6-0 early in the second quarter when most key starters had already begun exiting the game. Flacco finished his night 7-for-9 for 57 yards and an interception as he couldn’t find open receivers down the field and the defense did plenty of bending without breaking after giving up some big plays in the first half.

It’s important not to overreact to any one player’s performance in one practice game, but backups such as Williams, outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton (a sack and an additional quarterback hit), and cornerback Asa Jackson (an interception) made strong statements for roster consideration with their performances Thursday night. Often criticized by portions of the fan base for not being good enough to be the backup quarterback, Tyrod Taylor threw two touchdown passes and showed an increased willingness to stay in the pocket, attempting 23 passes and just five runs in his extended period of work.

A preseason win is better than a preseason loss, of course, but we knew no questions would be resolved following Thursday’s tilt with the Buccaneers.

The wide receiver position remains a mystery, which would have been the case regardless of how Jones, Doss, and Thompson performed.

Gradkowski appears to be the current favorite to be the starting center, but Shipley will still receive his opportunities.

The inside linebacker position appears to be looking clearer with the strong play of the veteran Smith, but Josh Bynes and Arthur Brown will continue to fight it out for the starting weakside inside linebacker spot next to Smith.

Rookie Matt Elam is still chasing veteran James Ihedigbo for the starting strong safety spot but showed the same physicality that impressed scouts and coaches after watching his tape from his days at the University of Florida.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway from Thursday’s game was the aftermath of Moe Lee’s fourth-quarter interception in which the rookie foolishly tried to lateral the ball as he was going to the ground. Though former Ravens safety Ed Reed may have been smiling somewhere if he caught a glimpse of that play, the coaching staff certainly wasn’t amused.

However, it wasn’t Harbaugh or his assistants who ran to correct the rookie defensive back as the veteran Suggs calmly walked onto the field and explained to Lee why that wasn’t a smart play. It was the kind of defensive leadership the Ravens need following the retirement of Ray Lewis and the free-agent departure of Reed.

Yes, it was only one example of what you’re hoping to see from the 30-year-old linebacker and longest-tenured Raven, but a snapshot is all a preseason game is really worth in the scope of the entire summer.

And looking into the photo that was Thursday night, there was good and bad to take back to the practice field over the next week and beyond.

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Ravens face several question marks on offense

Posted on 26 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

In exactly two weeks, the Baltimore Ravens will play their first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Until then, we have training camp to diagnose the Ravens. Training camp will not be without intense competitions as the team has a few holes to fill.

Let’s start with the wide receiver position.

Anquan Boldin’s departure from Baltimore to San Francisco was well documented. Boldin was a stud in the postseason. Even if he wasn’t open, he found ways to make catches in clutch moments. But, the Ravens decided to move on and traded Boldin to the 49ers for a late round draft pick.

As of now, Jacoby Jones is projected to play across from Torrey Smith, the team’s unquestioned number one receiver. Behind Jones, the Ravens don’t have many options. Tandon Doss hasn’t proven anything and Tommy Streeter and Deonte Thompson are project players. True, Deonte Thompson has great physical abilities but those will only take him so far. In addition, Jones’s impact on the offense is a question mark in itself. When faced with a larger role in Houston, Jones struggled. If Jones struggled with Andre Johnson, how productive can he be with Torrey Smith?

Replacing Boldin’s production will fall on the shoulders of Dennis Pitta. Pitta is a versatile tight end that has played out wide at times throughout his short career. I expect to see Pitta play a hybrid role this season, switching between a slot receiver and tight end. Playing in the slot will allow Ed Dickson to make more of an impact in the passing game. Don’t forget, before Pitta broke out last season, Dickson had 54 receptions for 528 yards and five touchdowns in 2011.

If that weren’t enough, the Ravens can throw rookie Kyle Juszczyk into the picture. Juszczyk won’t play the role of a traditional full in Jim Caldwell’s offense. Therefore, Caldwell could use him as a third tight end in certain packages.

Matt Birk was an unheralded piece to the Ravens postseason run. With the offensive line struggling, the Ravens made some changes. Bryant McKinnie was plugged in at left take. This forced Michael Oher to the right side and Kelechi Osemele to left guard. Matt Birk held the offensive line together and redeemed himself after a putrid performance against the Patriots and Vince Wilfork in the 2011 AFC Championship.

Replacing Birk will be just as important as replacing Boldin. Gino Gradkowski is the favorite thus far but veteran AQ Shipley could take the job.

When the Ravens line up against the Broncos, expect Gradkowski to be the starter. Gradkowski was drafted to be the eventual replacement to Birk and played well in spot duty last season.

As for Joe Flacco, many are projecting a regression. Well, I don’t buy that for a second. An average completion percentage is a common argument against Joe Flacco. Flacco’s completion percentage last season ranked 19th in the league at 59.7 percent. But, that must be taken in context. Joe’s strength is down field passing which doesn’t bode well for any quarterback’s completion percentage.

Plus, did you see Joe Flacco in Jim Caldwell’s offense? Caldwell took over in week 15 against the Broncos. While Flacco struggled against the Broncos, he heated up against the Giants and didn’t look back. Flacco only threw one interception to 15 touchdowns with Caldwell calling plays.

The Ravens offense has a lot of potential this season. Although Boldin and Birk are gone, their replacements have the ability to step in and produce. Flacco has the opportunity to make his first Pro Bowl and with him at the helm, the Ravens will always have a chance to win another Super Bowl.

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Baltimore Ravens 2013 Season Preview Part Three: Predicting the Biggest Positional Battles

Posted on 06 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

It’s no secret the Ravens are a different team. Starters that must be replaced include Carry Williams, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe, Vonta Leach, and Anquan Boldin. Paul Kruger is also gone but he was more of a role player that rotated starts with rookie Courtney UpShaw.

The following are my projections for the most heated roster battles.

Receiver:

Torrey Smith is the only receiver guaranteed a starting spot. Jacoby Jones is a veteran but struggled in Houston when given a larger workload. Therefore, Jones will be competing with Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter, David Reed, and LaQuan Williams. So far, Thompson has made the most of offseason workouts. According to reports, he displays great hands and improved route running ability to go along with his blazing speed.

When the Ravens face the Broncos on Sept. 5, Jacoby Jones will start across from Torrey Smith. He is experienced and made plays when given the opportunity last season. The third receiver will be Danton Doss with Deonte Thompson winning the fourth receiver spot on the depth chart. Doss’s skill set translates well to the slot receiver position. His hands, physicality, and ability to get upfield after the catch will make him a nice weapon for Flacco.

Cornerback:

I am a huge Jimmy Smith fan. Smith has too much potential to be the Ravens nickel corner. If he can put everything together, he will be starting opposite Lardarius Webb. Corey Graham would then be the team’s nickel corner. Successfully defending two passes to Michael Crabtree towards the end of the Super Bowl will be positive plays for Smith to build upon.

Chykie Brown could be a sleeper to receive playing time this season. He showed promise last season and played frequently towards the end of the season.

Inside linebacker:

John Harbaugh and the Ravens have a lot of options at inside linebacker. Jameel McClain will likely start. Therefore, the competition really comes down to Arthur Brown and Darryl Smith. Brown was a second round selection in the 2013 draft and is projected to be a defensive rookie of the year candidate. But Smith brings experience and proven ability at inside linebacker. In the beginning of the season, I think Smith will start on running downs and Brown will play on passing downs. Brown has excellent coverage ability and when paired with McClain, they could make up a great duo in pass coverage.

Bryan Hall could also receive playing time pending the training camp competition. Hall played along the defensive line last season but is making the switch to inside linebacker. Hall could play in certain blitz packages but for the most part, will be a special teams player.

Nose tackle

After a solid 2011 season, many thought Mount Cody would break out in 2012. But Cody struggled. He was consistently pushed around and made little impact against teams with great running games. Ozzie Newsome has made an effort to improve the middle of the defense through the draft and free agency. Brandon Williams was drafted in the third round and Marcus Spears and Chris Canty were signed in free agency. Spears and Canty won’t play nose tackle but they will improve the middle of the defense.

I think Brandon Williams will win the starting job. Cody had hip surgery which could explain his poor play in 2012. If Cody can get healthy and play like he did in 2011, the Ravens will have a great rotation at nose tackle.

Center

Replacing Matt Birk will be difficult. Birk was a great leader and will be replaced by either Gino Gradkowski or AQ Shipley. Gradkowski was drafted out of Delaware in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. Gradkowski was projected to be the starter once Birk retired but Shipley played very well for the Colts last season. He played so well that he earned a plus 6.9 rating from Pro Football Focus.

Gradkowski is the early favorite but Shipley is a solid veteran that could start should Gradkowski struggle.

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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

Posted on 11 June 2013 by Glenn Clark

Honorable Mention: WNBA-Indiana Fever @ Washington Mystics (Sunday 2pm from Verizon Center live on Monumental Network); MLL: Denver Outlaws @ Chesapeake Bayhawks (Saturday 6:30pm from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium live on CBS Sports Network); Boxing: Bryant Jennings vs. Andrey Fedosov (Friday 8pm from Bethlehem, PA live on NBC Sports Network), Arash Usmanee vs. Art Hovhannisyan (Friday 10pm from South Orange, NJ live on ESPN2), Mikey Garcia vs. Juan Manuel Lopez (Saturday 10:45pm from Dallas live on HBO)

10. Sting (Wednesday 8pm Pier Six Pavilion), Darius Rucker (Saturday 7pm Pier Six Pavilion); Of Monsters And Men (Tuesday 5:30pm Merriweather Post Pavilion), The xx/Grizzly Bear (Sunday 6pm Merriweather Post Pavilion), Alice Cooper/Marilyn Manson (Monday 5:30pm Merriweather Post Pavilion); The Go-Go’s/The Psychaelic Furs (Thursday 8pm Wolf Trap); The Dan Band (Friday 8pm Power Plant Live); Cold War Kids (Tuesday 8pm Rams Head Live); Cris Jacobs Band (Friday 8pm 8×10 Club), Rebirth Brass Band (Sunday 8pm 8×10 Club); The Zombies (Monday 8pm Rams Head on Stage); Aaron Lewis (Tuesday 8pm Fillmore Silver Spring), Hanson (Saturday 8pm Fillmore Silver Spring); Animal Collective (Tuesday & Wednesday 7pm 9:30 Club); Kings of the Mic feat. LL Cool J, DJ Z-Trip, Ice Cube, Public Enemy, De La Soul (Wednesday 8pm Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric); The Olms (Wednesday 6pm U Street Music Hall); David Byrne & St. Vincent (Thursday 8pm Meyerhoff Symphony Hall); Mac McAnally (Friday 9pm State Theatre); KC & The Sunshine Band (APG Federal Credit Union Arena); Mike Doughty (Thursday 8pm Sixth & I Historic Synagogue); Black Sabbath “13″, Jason Isbell “Southeastern”The Lonely Island “The Wack Album”, Goo Goo Dolls “Magnetic” and Jimmy Eat World “Damage” available in stores/on iTunes (Tuesday)

I’ve posted this video of Darius Rucker doing “Wagon Wheel” with Old Crow Medicine Show before, but just to remind everyone that I’m a Rucker guy-I’m posting it again. It’s the type of thing that doesn’t suck.

For not being remotely American, there’s quite a nice amount of Americana about Of Monsters And Men…

You may remember Rebirth Brass Band from their performance at the Howlin’ Wolf as part of WNST.net’s massive purple parties in New Orleans. I vividly remember the weekend as “The Greatest Weekend of My Life”…

Everything Kevin Van Valkenburg says is more important than everything I say. Kevin Van Valkenburg wants you to listen to Jason Isbell. For what it’s worth, so do I.

9. Bill Cosby (Saturday 8pm Wolf Trap); Frank Caliendo (Thursday-Sunday DC Improv); George Wallace (Saturday 8pm Lincoln Theatre); Jay Pharoah (Friday-Sunday Baltimore Comedy Factory); Oz The Great And Powerful” and “House of Cards Season One” available on Blu-Ray/DVD (Tuesday); This Is The End (Wednesday) and “Man of Steel (Friday) out in theaters

You know Bill Cosby and I are close personal friends, right? Because we are. Almost as close as Caliendo and I…

Also, I would like to see “This Is The End”. It’s a comedy that might actually be funny. In 2013. Just cancel the awards shows.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ravens acquire center A.Q. Shipley from Indianapolis

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Ravens acquire center A.Q. Shipley from Indianapolis

Posted on 09 May 2013 by Luke Jones

Needing to fill their void at center, the Ravens have acquired A.Q. Shipley from the Indianapolis Colts to compete with second-year lineman Gino Gradkowski for the 2013 starting job.

General manager Ozzie Newsome will send a conditional pick in next year’s draft to the Colts in exchange for Shipley, who made five starts and appeared in 14 games during the 2012 season. The 6-foot-1, 309-pound lineman was a seventh-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009 and spent time on practice squads in Pittsburgh (2009) and Philadelphia (2010) before signing with Indianapolis last year.

Considering the Ravens invested a 2012 fourth-round pick in selecting Gradkowski, you’d expect him to have the inside track in emerging as the retired Matt Birk’s replacement. He appeared in 16 games during his rookie season, serving primarily on special teams and saw limited time at center.

Shipley would be the ideal fit for a role similar to the one held by veteran Andre Gurode in 2011 when he served as Birk’s backup and filled in at both guard positions as well.

According to Pro Football Focus, Shipley earned a +6.9 grade in 476 offensive snaps last season. The Ravens drafted Colorado State-Pueblo lineman Ryan Jensen in the sixth round of last month’s draft to presumably offer some competition to Gradkowski, but the addition of Shipley diminishes the rookie’s chances of making the 53-man roster.

Shipley was a four-year letterman at Penn State and was an All-America selection, Rimington Trophy winner, and Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year as a senior. He is a native of Moon Township, Pa. and attended Moon Area High School in Pittsburgh. 

The Ravens also announced Thursday morning that they’ve released rookie guard Jeff Braun, who played at West Virginia and attended Winters Mill High School in Westminster.

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Pierce practices on limited basis, vows to play on Sunday

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Pierce practices on limited basis, vows to play on Sunday

Posted on 16 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Held to just 14 rushing yards on five carries before leaving the game with a knee injury, Ravens backup running back Bernard Pierce vowed to be ready to play against New England in Sunday’s AFC Championship.

The rookie practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday as it appears he’ll be on track to spell Ray Rice when needed against the Patriots. Pierce rushed for a game-high 103 yards in the wild-card playoff victory over Indianapolis and had averaged just below 6.3 yards per carry in the five games leading into Saturday’s divisional round.

“I’m feeling good,” said Pierce, who twice confirmed he would play on Sunday. “A lot of people have questioned about the whole playoff thing and the AFC Championship, so I’m just taking advice, sitting back, and just learning.”

Running back Anthony Allen and offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski both practiced on a limited basis in red non-contact jerseys as each player was listed with a head injury on Wednesday’s injury report. Wide receiver David Reed was also limited with a thigh injury that dates back to last week.

Cornerback Asa Jackson (thigh) was the only player on the 53-man roster not to take part in Wednesday’s workout in some capacity.

Players were very loose during the open portion of practice as Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs sang the songs “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G. and “Lose Yourself” by Eminem respectively. Bernard Pollard and Jacoby Jones tossed a boomerang back and forth during the early portion of practice.

However, the most bizarre scene of the day in Owings Mills was wide receiver David Reed sporting a Lee Evans No. 83 jersey during practice. I’m still not sure what to make of that one or why the garment was still in the building in Owings Mills.

For New England, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (non-injured related) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (forearm) did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. Gronkowski is expected to miss the remainder of the postseason after re-injuring the forearm on which he underwent surgery earlier in the season.

Defensive end Chandler Jones (ankle) and running back Danny Woodhead (thumb) were among the Patriots’ limited participants on Wednesday. Jones, the younger brother of Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones, had his ankle rolled in the Patriots’ 41-28 win over Houston in the divisional round.

“He’s doing a good job not telling me anything,” said Arthur Jones about his younger brother. “He’s not telling me anything, but I think he is going to be out there. He’s a hard worker. I know he’s getting treatment on it hard.”

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Asa Jackson (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Anthony Allen (head), G Gino Gradkowski (head), RB Bernard Pierce (knee), WR David Reed (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Anquan Boldin (shoulder), CB Chykie Brown (shoulder), DT Terrence Cody (ankle), LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle/back), DT Arthur Jones (thigh/knee), FB Vonta Leach (knee/ankle), LB Ray Lewis (triceps), LB Albert McClellan (shoulder), DE Pernell McPhee (thigh), DT Haloti Ngata (knee), S Bernard Pollard (chest), S Ed Reed (shoulder), CB Jimmy Smith (abdominal), WR Torrey Smith (back), LB Terrell Suggs (achilles/bicep), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

NEW ENGLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Alfonzo Dennard (non-injury), TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Marquice Cole (finger), DE Chandler Jones (ankle), OL Nick McDonald (shoulder), DE Trevor Scott (knee), RB Danny Woodhead (thumb)

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Our Ravens/Bengals “Slaps to the Head”

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Our Ravens/Bengals “Slaps to the Head”

Posted on 30 December 2012 by Glenn Clark

After Baltimore Ravens victories, Ryan Chell and I award players who made positive contributions with “Pats on the Ass” during the “Nasty Purple Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net.

The Ravens fell to the Cincinnati Bengals 23-17 Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, meaning there were no Pats to be awarded.

So instead of offering “Pats on the Ass”, Ryan and I again offered “Slaps to the Head” postgame. A slap on the side of the head from a coach tends to come along with them saying something along the lines of “you’ve gotta do better than that.”

Same rules as there were with Pats. Two offensive players, two defensive players, and a Wild Card (Special Teams player, coach, or another Offensive or Defensive player). One player gets “two slaps” (or a slap on both sides of the head), it’s the opposite of a “Player of the Game” honor.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches after each game.

Here are our five Ravens that have “gotta do better than that.”

Glenn Clark’s Slaps…

5. Tyrod Taylor

4. Chykie Brown

3. Terrence Cody

2. Bryant McKinnie

1. John Harbaugh (Two Slaps)

(Ryan’s Slaps on Page 2…)

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